An allergic reaction to clothes is quite common and is typically caused by the textile dyes, glues, formaldehyde finishing resins and chemical additives present in the fabric. The allergic reaction typically results in a type of allergic skin inflammation known as allergic contact dermatitis 3. Speak with your physician if you develop an allergic skin inflammation for proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Causes of Allergic Reaction to Clothes
An allergic reaction to clothes is mostly caused by the glues, dyes, tanning agents, chemical additives and formaldehyde finishing resins used in the processing of the fabric as opposed to the fabric itself. Clothing or fabric that has been contaminated with oils, grease, creosote, pitch or coal tar can cause an allergic reaction such as folliculitis or acne.
Urushiol is a type of oil present in ivy and oak plants. When this oil gets in contact with your clothing, allergic contact dermatitis can result. Metallic dust particles including arsenic trioxide as well as antimony trioxide can adhere to your clothes and cause allergic contact dermatitis and red, elevated, blistering lesions.The waistband and brassieres used in pants and underwear can cause allergic contact dermatitis in the areas of the skin they have been in contact with 3.
- An allergic reaction to clothes is mostly caused by the glues, dyes, tanning agents, chemical additives and formaldehyde finishing resins used in the processing of the fabric as opposed to the fabric itself.
Immune Response to Clothing
Allergy to Nylon
During an allergic reaction, IgE antibody cells recognize chemical structures used in the processing of fabrics and clothes as foreign and dangerous. These IgE plasma cells begin producing IgE allergic antibodies that enter systemic circulation. The newly produced antibodies bind to pro-inflammatory mast cells lining the skin. When bound to IgE-specific allergic antibodies, mast cells degranulate and release histamine and other immune mediators into the bloodstream. Histamine is an important immune mediator that dilates and increases the permeability of blood vessels. This enables fluids and toxins to leak to the upper layer of the skin, resulting in the skin inflammation observed during an allergic reaction.
- During an allergic reaction, IgE antibody cells recognize chemical structures used in the processing of fabrics and clothes as foreign and dangerous.
- These IgE plasma cells begin producing IgE allergic antibodies that enter systemic circulation.
Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction to Clothes
Allergic contact dermatitis is one of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction to clothes 3. It causes redness, swelling and inflammation of the skin, as well as itchy, elevated blistering lesions. The blisters often break and leak fluids that eventually crust over, making the skin scaly. Chronic itchiness and inflammation causes the skin to darken and become cracked and leathery. Acne and folliculitis can result from oil contamination from clothes. Symptoms of folliculitis include itching, pimples and a rash near hair follicles exposed to the fabric. Blistering and red lesions are also observed when metallic dust particles in clothes combine with sweat.
- Allergic contact dermatitis is one of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction to clothes 3.
- Blistering and red lesions are also observed when metallic dust particles in clothes combine with sweat.
Treatment and Consideration
Histamines & Acne
If you know you have a clothes allergy, the best treatment is strict avoidance. You should also consult your physician about taking an allergy test to determine the precise additive that's causing the allergic reaction. Topical corticorsteroids and calcineurin may be recommended by your physician to relieve the itching and skin rash. Antihistamines are effective in relieving the itching, redness and inflammation.
- If you know you have a clothes allergy, the best treatment is strict avoidance.
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- American Journal of Contact Dermatitis; Pratt M et al; Disperse Blue Dyes 106 and 124 Are Common Causes of Textile Dermatitis and Should Serve as Screening Allergens for This Condition; March 2000
- National Institutes of Health; Dermatitis
- National Institutes of Health; Contact Dermatitis
- World Allergy Organization: IgE in Clinical Allergy and Allergy Diagnosis; May 2003
- Zukiewicz-Sobczak WA, Adamczuk P, Wróblewska P, et al. Allergy to selected cosmetic ingredients. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013 Oct;30(5):307-10. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.38360
- Alikhan A, Maibach HI. Allergic contact dermatitis. Chem Immunol Allergy. 2014;100:97-100. doi:10.1159/000358608
- Burkemper NM. Contact dermatitis, patch testing, and allergen avoidance. Mo Med. 2015 Jul-Aug;112(4):296-300.
- Mowad CM, Anderson B, Scheinman P, Pootongkam S, Nedorost S, Brod B. Allergic contact dermatitis: Patient diagnosis and evaluation. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016 Jun;74(6):1029-40. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.02.1139
- Tan CH, Rasool S, Johnston GA. Contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. Clin Dermatol. 2014 Jan-Feb;32(1):116-24. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2013.05.033
Danielle Stevens is a graduate of George Washington School of Medicine and is currently a resident fellow at Georgetown University Hospital. Stevens is interested in pediatrics and gynecology as well as pediatric surgery. Stevens has been writing professionally since 2008 for The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Words and Numbers, and Prime Inc.