If you suffer from the occasional (or frequent) outbreak of skin rashes, perhaps as well as looking for pests, you should take a closer look at what your clothes are made of.
Textile production makes use of chemicals which are contained in dyes, treatment agents and finishing agents. When garments produced from these textiles are worn by people, the chemicals can cause skin irritations, particularly in people with sensitive skin. This skin reaction is known as dermatitis.
Skin irritations are also a frequent occupational hazard amongst factory workers.
What Causes Textile Related Skin Ailments?
Some of the chemicals associated with causing skin rashes include:
- Anti-wrinkle resins. These are formaldehyde-based and are used on fabrics that are treated to resist wrinkles.
- Azo-based chemicals. Prevalent in most commercial dyes.
- Which is the main component of many dyes, and is therefore likely to contaminate a large number of textiles.
- Flame retardant additives. Which are found on any fabric labelled as flame-resistant.
- Metals such as cobalt, nickel, mercury and chrome. Found mostly in buttons of garments such as jeans.
- Latex and rubber. Found in stretchy materials such as spandex.
After wearing garments containing these substances, skin rashes will appear depending on the level of skin sensitivity or the length the fabric is worn. For some people, rashes will occur within mere hours while for others, it can take days for the symptoms to be visible.
The rashes will normally appear in areas such as thighs, armpits, groin area, crook of the elbow, back of the knees, or the neck, as these areas have sensitive skin, trap heat and sweat more than other parts of the body.
Who Is most At Risk?
- Young children and infants – Children and infants are the most affected by chemical-related dermatitis because their skins are sensitive as their immune systems are not fully developed to fight off skin irritants.
- Women more than men – Women are more prone to textile-related dermatitis because fashion dictates that they wear more fitting clothing. They are also known to choose brighter colored fabrics, thus falling victim to the most dye exposure.
- People with sensitive skin – People with sensitive skin have a higher likelihood of suffering from a severe case of dermatitis.
- People exposed to high temperatures- Those who work in hot environments or sweat a lot during the day are also more prone to severe cases of rashes.
- Textile industry workers – Workers in textile industries are very prone to skin conditions. Known as irritant contact dermatitis, the rashes and skin diseases experienced by textile factory workers result from direct contact with textile-processing chemicals.
Textile factory workers are most at risk due to; constant exposure to chemicals (such as resins, fabric dyes, finishing acids and salts and gases produced during treatment processes), poor work safety regulations in most factories and low literacy by majority of factory workers makes it challenging to educate them or enforce high safety standards.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Textile-Related Skin Dermatitis
Due to the large number of chemicals and other irritants involved, tests have to be performed to establish the cause of the rashes. Diagnosis can take a while because clothing labels do not contain the list of chemicals contained in the textiles.
A Layman’s Guide on How to Recognise Textiles Which Cause Rashes
- Heavily dyed garments have more dyes and therefore more harmful chemicals than milder coloured clothes.
- If you work or live in a hot or humid place, avoid wearing tight clothing especially if the fibre is synthetic.
- Be aware that clothes that contain ‘wrinkle-resistant’, ‘dirt-resistant’, ‘anti-bacterial’ ‘odour-free’, ‘non-iron’ or such other enhancements have been treated with additional chemicals to give them these qualities.
- If a garment label reads ‘wash-separately’, it means that the dyes might bleed onto your skin because the garment is not colour-fast.
- If you have sensitive skin, it might be worth trying to wear textiles un-dyed fabrics made of natural fibres.