It may surprise people to learn that clothing and accessories can actually cause eczema flare-ups. I often get contact dermatitis, a type of rash that results from my skin coming into contact with an irritant. There are two main types of contact dermatitis:
- Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common and isn’t caused by an immune system reaction. Instead, the irritant directly damages skin tissue.
- Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your immune system has a delayed reaction to an irritant that touches the skin, like how people typically react to poison ivy.
For me, contact dermatitis occurs when I use or wear a product or item that has one of my many allergens. This includes ingredients that are in makeup and body cleansing products, but also in clothes and accessories.
Dust Mites: The Invisible Allergens on Clothing and Accessories
My dust mite allergy is consistent and life altering. I do all the typical things to handle the allergy: my mattress and pillows are enclosed, my house has no carpet, there are no curtains in my bedroom, my couch is leather, etc. I take it even further, though, because I know that dust mites can be on my clothing.
When I wear a sweater that I haven’t washed recently, for example, it might give me a rash -- and after I wash it, it no longer makes me itchy. Coats, scarves, and hats that aren’t enclosed will gather dust and cause flare-ups, too. Sometimes, if I wear a new garment and don’t wash it first, it makes me itchy. I’ve concluded it’s because it was likely in a dusty warehouse.
I also use HEPA-filtered vacuums and steamers to clean my coats and hats, I wash my sweaters often, and I keep my hats and accessories enclosed. This helps minimize clothing flare-ups caused by my dust mite allergy.
Metal Allergies Limit Jewelry Options
Everyone reacts to metal jewelry differently. I have family members that can’t wear gold below 18 karats, for example. I myself get a rash when I wear copper jewelry or fake-gold jewelry (which I assume is because it probably includes copper). I can sometimes wear sterling silver, but not any gold (regardless of karat), except for my gold wedding ring. I’ve been patch tested by an allergist to determine my metal allergies. Results showed I have none, even though I’m at the point where I can really only wear plastic, non-metallic jewelry.
It doesn’t make sense, and I wish I knew exactly which metals my body rejects so I could purchase the right jewelry for me. I have tried to wear enough metal jewelry, though, to know I should avoid it. So I shop for wooden or plastic items with no metal clasps. It’s not easy, but it makes my pieces even more special once I find them.
Wearing the Best Materials
Even if you don’t have allergies that cause contact dermatitis, wearing the right clothing can improve or worsen flare-ups of atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. Loose-fitting cotton clothing that lets your skin breathe is best. On the contrary, polyester clothing will overheat you, causing sweat and irritating eczema. I’ve read that superfine wool can be good for people with eczema, but I haven’t tried that type of wool clothing. However, the wool sweaters I have tried were a terrible idea -- in general, itchy people should probably avoid wool clothing.
The cleaning process can turn a non-triggering clothing item into an allergen if it’s cleaned with triggering materials. Keep your skin allergies in mind when cleaning your clothes. For example, I have many allergens that are in cleaning products, including the fragrance. So I’m careful with the fabric detergent, stain cleaners, odor eliminators, fabric softener, dryer sheets, and dry-cleaning services I use to clean my clothing. In general, I use the fewest products possible.
Clothing Can Carry Allergens
An article of clothing may be fine for your skin, but if it’s been in contact with an external allergen, it may still cause a reaction. Picture this: Your partner goes on a walk wearing a sweatshirt and is amongst plants and pollen that you avoid due to allergies. If you wear this sweatshirt before it’s washed, those allergens could still be on it and could cause a reaction. It’s safe to always keep in mind where your clothing has been before putting it on your body.
The Known Unknowns
Be aware of how your body reacts to your clothing and look for patterns. Are you always itchy when you wear a certain item? Even if you don’t know why an item is causing a reaction, avoid it altogether to be safe. I recently realized that my new Teva sandals were causing my ankles to flare up where the straps touch my skin. Sandals! I would probably not have made the allergy connection 10 years ago, but now, nothing surprises me and I do my best to listen to my body. I don’t know why my Teva sandals cause a rash on my ankles, but I avoid them, nonetheless.
Pay Attention and Act Quickly
Most importantly, pay attention to your body. An eczema flare-up starts with a small itch. Have you noticed you’ve scratched a little, for just a few times, but in the same spot where a new article of clothing or accessory touches your skin? Notice any little bumps? Take it off or change your clothes before it gets worse!
The best thing you can do for your eczema is to control your flare-up when it’s in the early stage, before the area starts spreading and you are red, inflamed, and unbearably itchy. This leads to uncontrolled scratching, bleeding, and likely scarring. No article of clothing or accessory is worth an eczema flare-up!
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