I Am Allergic To Clothes!

And no, I am not going to join a nudist colony!Frog Laughing

Last November, I wrote about a strange little white bump on my back. I came to the conclusion that I have a spandex allergy. Since the first little white bump and itching started, I have had numerous bouts of hives and dermatitis. I have been learning a lot about textile and clothing allergies. The stuff I found out is pretty scary. Did you know that they put formaldehyde in fabric used to make clothes with? I didn’t believe that when I first read it.

They say that people with autoimmune problems are more susceptible to getting allergies – that makes sense because an allergy is also an immune response to the substance you are allergic to. People with allergies also have a lower risk of getting cancer (other than bladder cancer), so I guess there is at least one positive in having allergies!

The dermatitis that I had turned out to be nummular dermatitis. Nummular means coin shaped. One of the causes can be a formaldehyde allergy. Medscape has a good article on formaldehyde allergy that you can here (you have to subscribe to Medscape, which is free, before you can read the article). I came across this article after I read that Japan has the lowest levels of formaldehyde in their clothing and the US allows the most. They have several companies listed in Table 4 of that article that meet Japanese clothing standards.

Washing InstructionsOne frustrating thing with clothing allergies is that labels don’t have to contain everything that is in the fabric. Chances are if you have a pair of sweat pants, they claim to be 100% cotton but they have elastic in – elastic is not made from cotton. Nor do you see labels that say “formaldehyde” or “latex” (which is also common in clothing) on them.

I bought dye free detergents and am slowly going thru all my clothes and re-washing everything. At first I was trying to wear a few things that I knew were safe. Actually, the Medscape article linked above says to do that on Table 5, which contains a list of safe clothes. One problem is their safe list includes spandex, and if you have a spandex allergy, that is obviously not a safe item for you.  I didn’t want to put things that I washed back into my closet and dressers until I took the other stuff out, so I was living out of a laundry basket for a few weeks. I finally started going thru clothes and have made a big dent in my closet and am done with everything in my dressers. Most of what is left to do in my closet is stuff that needs ironed and I hate to iron so … I have the stuff in my closet sorted between needs washed, safe and “iffy” clothes.  I have one dresser drawer with “iffy” clothes.

Dresser Drawer

Apparently things that are 100% cotton or 100% polyester should be safe, but not things that are a cotton/polyester blend. I had a bunch of tops that were part cotton and part polyester. I decided I am going to try those before just giving them away. I started a list of things that are giving me problems and will wear it at least twice before it gets tossed.

I gave away everything that had spandex in. It surprised me how many things had spandex in. I had a bunch of turtle necks that I normally would wear in the winter under sweaters or sweatshirts and almost all of those had spandex in. I have a neighbor that hasn’t worked for awhile and her unemployment ran out so I asked her if she wanted anything and she did.

According to the Medscape list, Liz Claiborne clothing should have low amounts of formaldehyde. I wore a Liz shirt the other day that is 100% cotton but it made me itchy. I don’t even think I had it on for an hour before taking it off and I had another shirt on underneath it.

Liz Wear

For now, it is trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t.


  1. Hi Cathy, yes, I have left most of the tags on. Actually that helped me in going thru clothes now because I have a couple that I did cut off and now I don’t know what material was used. They were cut-off pre-allergy days. I have a few things that are down the left side too and that is annoying.

  2. (Long but informative post ESPECIALLY for Diabetics in second part with a link)
    I am glad to hear that you’ve found the cause of your rash, but I see you have kept the tags in your shirts. I find them and the nylon thread that attaches them to the garment, to be one of the most annoyingly itchy things on the planet! I have no allergies to material that I know of, but have dry skin from Sjogren’s and thryoid disease. I am not a doctor either, but a concerned patient.
    I have invested in a seamstresses’ best friend, a seamripper; which looks like a fishhook with a tiny red ball on the smaller portion of the business end, to ease in the insertion to the seam, in order to remove these tags.
    I am also finding some tags are put into the lower left side of a shirt,down near where you would tuck into pants or skirt. Annoying also! Who knows what the TAGS are actually made from! I say we all vote for those types Hanes first came out with that are so like an iron on shirt, except in those lighter-colored garments, this is a great idea. But who knows if we aren’t going to be allergic to the dye colors/ chemicals that the iron on portion is made from! Vicious circle!
    OTOH, though this hopefully doesn’t happen to many, there are a few to whom it has. I would like to take this opportunity to warn those in the Diabetic Community to rashes of a more sinister kind ie; those caused by “internal prescription agents”. We now are becoming aware that some medical tests, such as an MRI with Gadolinium Based Contrast Agents (in my case, 10 MRI’s with MAGNEVIST) can ALSO cause there to be rashes of a certain type and a host of illnesses given the name of Gadolinium Associated Systemic Fibrosis or Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis a/k/a Nepheogenic Fibrosing Dermopathy.
    Although rare, we often do not consider that we ARE prescribed these drugs, perhaps only once to as many as 10 times in a patients’ lifetime. (as is my exposure).
    These agents are “supposed” to chelate out of patient’s bodies and put simply, in those with already fragile health, ARE NOT! yet we continue to have studies done exposing us to even MORE contrast agents pursuing an answer to that which harmed us IN THE FIRST PLACE!
    A “peau’d’orange or skin of the orange” rash/dermal is one of the skin reactions. Lesions and yellowing in sclera of eye are some others. Although this usually happens in those with pre-existing kidney disease, as to those who are DIABETIC being part of that patient population, is why there are warnings about the use of GBCA’s! It would behoove even those patients WITHOUT pre-existing Kidney Disease, to determine with doctors who order any MRI’s, is it TOTALLY NECESSARY, that they have Gadolinium Based Contrast Agents that are not chelating as they are supposed to; or are there
    Other MRI/film studies for diagnostic work up.
    I would like to save others’ the problems I am facing

    • Cathy, I wanted to add that when I started having these weird allergy problems, I started reading more about the things that I was having problems with. It totally amazed me to find out that we have stuff like formaldehyde in our clothes. That is not something I would have ever thought possible. My problems started with the memory foam and I only realized that after figuring out I had a spandex allergy. I did not realize that I was sleeping on petroleum or I never would have used that pillow. Even when I started complaining about all the problems I was having, no doctor ever suggested that it could be the pillow let alone ask what I was sleeping on. The spandex problems had actually started a year before and those symptoms were ignored also. My sister is a nurse and she thinks that my problems started because of putting foreign substances like a pump and CGMS into my body. I really have to wonder about that myself.

      A couple months ago on CNN, there was a guy talking about tomatoes. He said he was behind a truck that tomatoes were falling off and he wondered why they weren’t splattering. I happened to have just bought tomatoes so went in the kitchen and threw one in in the sink – it didn’t break open like you think they would. Needless to say, my brand new tomatoes went in the trash and I will never buy a store-bought tomato again!

      • Kelly I had known that the memory foam was a petroleum product and when I touched it for the first time in a store, did NOT like what I felt or smelled. When i laid upon it (this wAs a mattress) I did not like how it felt either! I have an issue with my olfactory senses as with Sjogren’s not having enough moisture, scents are carried directly to brain and with my skin. I am currently being worked up for the Gadolinium issues. I have been found to have retained “contrast matter in bowel” , “fibrosis of bowel” and a slew of other issues as well. If I have to pull my docs kicking and screaming
        into doing biopsies, I will. They have these findings and are trying to dissuade me from further testing under the guise of “there are side effects to a bowel prep” (I’ve done so twice-nary a problem) to “if we do a biopsy-you COULD WIND UP HAVING AN ILEOSTOMY OR COLOSTOMY BAG FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!) yes surgeries may have side effects but so does retaining a poisonous metal in your body that should NEVER BE THERE IN THW FIRST PLACE. In any event, I am having blood and urine tests first, even if negative, I have to have biopsy done just to prove to them (medical community) that a patient KNOWS her body and when something’s just “not right”
        OTOH about tomatoes: the reason for this is commercially grown tomatoes are gassed to et them to market. My sister is a fruit importer in a major coastal city. Those tomatoes have virtually no flavor and are mealy to boot. Homegrown is best if you trust that the soil in your community is free from runoff of chemicals others’ put on their lawns. The lesser of bad things we put into our bodies, the better off we are!

      • Cathy, when I first started using the memory foam, I never noticed a funny smell. The very last pillow I bought not too long before I tossed it was the only one that had a strange smell. Unfortunately, doctors don’t seem to listen to us and understand that we know when something is not right. Can’t even count the number of doctors I talked to about the memory foam problems!

        I couldn’t remember what they said was done to the tomatoes, but now that you mention it, that is what they said.

  3. Hey,
    I am a Belgian woman and I have a textile allergy as well. Not to formaldehyde, but to the dyes used in synthetic cloting. It took the doctors 1.5 year to find what I have…. As a result I can only wear clothes in 100% cotton, viscose, linen, wool or silk. Needless to say this is horrible to live with, certainly as a woman…. It’s almost impossible for me to find trousers in winter period… Also a pair of jeans is pretty difficult to find… And the problem is that for my work, I need to be well dressed; not easy with the allergy I have. I cannot wear coloured stockings; the only thing I can support are white socks… I’m always cold in winter… Ever since I’m been diagnosed with this terrible allergy, I’m desperately searching for someone who has the same allergy…

  4. Sorry that this took so long to approve Leen. It is very hard finding clothes when you have allergies. Fortunately, I don’t have to get dressed up much anymore or I would be in trouble. I have heard that it is hard to find dress clothes! I am not able to wear stockings because of the spandex – if there are some out there, I haven’t found them. Have you tried the socks on Cottinique? They are white and a little heavier than the ones I orginally tried – I thought I would freeze to death in the winter with those ones.

  5. I also have this problem but I am finding out it is in food and also our homes and its like I can’t get away from fremaldahyde! I’d there a support group out there!???? Please help!

    • Hi Faith, I am sorry that you are having a problem too. It is very hard to get away from it! I don’t know of any support groups for allergies, although I am sure there are some. Try Googling “allergy support groups” and I am sure some will come up. Good luck!

  6. Sara street says:

    What about Hanes 100% thirst? Wearing this shirt for less then an hour, started me itching! What have you found out?

  7. Sara,

    A lot of clothes have formaldehyde in and that is a common allergen. It could be from formaldehyde but unfortunately, clothing manufacturers don’t have to label what they use to process the clothes so it really could be about any chemical that you are reacting to. If I buy something I have a problem with, then I won’t buy that buy brand anymore.


  8. Hi guys i think i have something similar. I am also a doctor and the fact that i work with gloves even though latex free doesn’t help very much. But i have got nummular dermatitis…the same you have and its so much trouble for me to find anything that i can wear as believe it or not most pure cotton things have other things in them. If you find something that helps you please let me know as well as i have started scarring now and in 6 months i look like i have got burns on my body. Wish i could do something
    Tried everything. Please help.


    • Hello Pri, strange… you wrote your message in May; I only got it in my mailbox a few days ago… But I wanted to reply 🙂 Do you know what causes your allergy??? Because in my case, it was all derivates from PPD or paraphenyleendiamine which is a fixator, used for fixating color to clothing that contains synthetic components. Fi 99% coton and 1% elastan needs PPD to be able to fixate the color to the fabric. Pure fabric is colored with other dies, and need no PPD to fixate it. (I’m Dutch speaking, so if i write strange things; it’s because I’m not English 🙂
      The solution for me was: absolutely NOT dying my hair (higher concentration of PPD): this could be fatal for me! Most people get the allergy because of dying their hair, or having a tattoo… But I never did any of those (never colored my hair, have no tattoos…)
      And I could not wear any clothes who are a combi of organic fabric with synthetic fabric, and no pure synthetic clothes; so only 100% pure cotton, silk, wool etc… Mixed fabric was only possible if it was white (or light colours), but even then I reacted often on the stiching (lining) used… So for a year or two I had a horrible life… Because it’s not easy to find clothes who don’t contain elastan, spandex, nylon, polyester etc etc… For men it would be easier: more trousers without spandex, more shirts in pure fabric etc…
      I had a period that I was completely dressed in white or pale colours (it was in winter, so you can imagine everyone looking at you…)
      When I found trousers I could wear, I instantly bought multiple pairs of them…
      After 2 years, it became really impossible to find clothes I could wear and I really wanted to have a pair of jeans that felt a bit more comfortable. So I bought a pair of jeans (Citizens of Humanity); because I tink there beautiful, and I wanted for once have a pair that I liked, and that were soft etc… Even if it meant that I had bumps again (and lost a lot of money :-))And guess what: I didn’t react… no bumps, no itching… It all went well! I weared them for a couple of hours in the beginning. Then for a whole day. Then 2 days in a row…
      And I became euforic; bought another pair… Sometimes the allergy came back, and I wore pure fabric again, for a couple of days. To get a long story a bit shorter: at this moment: I never wear pure fabric anymore… I wear things that normally I may not; but for the moment, everything goes fine… Very rarely, I have 3 or 4 bumps on my legs; I put some corticoid for a few days, and they disappear.
      So my life completely changed (again); after total desperation and wearing only white or pale clothes, of pure fabric (if colored) for a couple of years, I started re-introducing ‘bad’ fabric (colored) again, and apparently my body sort of overcame the allergy, although my dermatologist had warned me that a contact allergy is something I would have for the rest of my life… I hope it never comes back, because it has an enormous impact on who you are, and how you feel… It felt as if I had lost my identity somehow. Someone who has not had this kind of allergy, cannot imagine how much impact it has…
      So I hope you find a way to deal with it… you find the energy to cope… And that you find clothes you CAN wear, without being itchy or bumpy all the time.
      And maybe… who knows… you overcome it, as I did… Good luck!!!!!
      Sorry for the long response 🙂

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