Fabric, Skin, and our Planet

I did it again. I forgot to cut the label off my new pair of dress pants and started an itchy red rash at the back of my waist. It’s automatic to come home and toss anything new in the washer before wearing, but the reaction to whatever is in the latest shiny labels is new and it hasn’t yet become the norm. Which brings me to thoughts of fabrics, allergies, and the planet.

From painter to fabric store

When arthritis forced me to leave my heavy job as a painter, I went from the frying pan into the fire. I started working at a fabric store as I built up my previous business as a seamstress. This started a very long journey of cracked, peeling, and bleeding hands. With my eczema and allergies, why would I think a job working with fabric was a good idea?

Fabric and eczema flare-ups

Often just the fabric dust floating in the air caused new flareups. Certain areas of the store were worse than others. Even the innocuous notions have elastics that contain latex. Home Dec has many upholstery fabrics with a rubber (latex) backing, while others seem to contain the world’s worst dyes and chemicals. The quilting section with its colourful cotton was, for the most part, a safe haven.

Silk is safe from eczema

Some days when a new shipment arrived I knew the moment I walked in the door it wouldn’t be a great day. Fashion fabrics were always a complete surprise, one might cause no problems, and another from the same family would start an immediate burn. Silk was usually a safe bet. If most of us in the atopic dermatitis world could afford to live completely in silks, our skin would thank us.

Sewing with hand eczema

Sewing beautiful fabrics with rough bleeding hands became a series of frustrating experiences when the cotton gloves would end up sewn into a seam or hem. Most nights I wore my cotton gloves over Watkins medicated ointment, or over Clobetasol cortisone cream in an attempt to heal. Retirement has since been the best healer.

Fabric research

In researching fabrics, trying to learn as much as possible, I discovered not just the things that might cause an allergic reaction, but things that cause a reaction for our planet. That seemingly innocent cotton, for instance, has caused the 4th largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea, to dry up!.

Cotton and water consumption

It takes 10,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of cotton, meaning it takes about 2,700 liters to make 1 cotton t-shirt. When you buy clothing you, therefore “use” water from wherever the cotton was produced.1 Growing bamboo uses much less water and less pesticides, but apparently just as many chemicals in its production.

Formaldehyde in fabrics

Another discovery was how much formaldehyde is in our fabrics. Formaldehyde resins are used to provide unique finishes on different fabrics including, among others, waterproof, anti-wrinkle, even the chlorine resistant finish on our bathing suits. Formaldehyde was declared the Contact Allergen of the Year for 2015 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS).2

What other fabrics are harmful to skin and the planet?

There are so many more instances of why some fabrics are better - or worse, for both our bodies and the planet that it would take a book to cover them all. These are just a few that have personally impacted my own life. Have you discovered which ones are the most comfortable and safe for your own skin?

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