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SKIN ALLERGIES: CLOTHING AND SHOES

 

When it comes to clothing, shoes and other apparel, allergic people are better off with natural fibres and materials than with synthetics. Cotton is about the best all-around fabric -affordable, durable and attractive. Watch out for permanent-press, wash-and-wear or other types of wrinkle proofing - they usually contain formaldehyde, a common cause of grief for people with sensitive skin. Same for cotton that's been sized - coated with starch, glues, vegetable gums and (would you believe it?) shellac to give fabric a stiff, polished or glazed finish. Cotton clothes that are usually sized are organdy, pique, costume fabric, some sheets and mosquito netting. Sanforizing and mercerizing do not leave any chemical residue on cloth and are usually safe.
Linen and silk are rarely allergenic - and not necessarily too costly, if you shop carefully.
Nothing beats wool for warmth and good looks. Allergy to natural, unprocessed wool is extremely rare. Itching from wool is caused more by mechanical irritation than allergy. Layering wool clothes over cotton undergarments or a scarf can reduce itching.
If you react to wool no matter how soft or fluffy it is, chances are you're actually allergic to either the dye or shrink-proof chemicals in the fabric, or to its dry-cleaning treatment. If you are truly allergic to wool or can't find untreated wool, substitute thick cotton sweaters, all-cotton corduroy pants, chamois cloth or suede. Try to wear those fabrics in layers. Mohair is also relatively non-allergenic.
For some reason, truly wool-sensitive people seem to tolerate coats made of Persian lamb, a great find at thrift shops. (By the way, people allergic to cat hair may not tolerate fur coats made of wildcat, ocelot or leopard - even if they can afford them.)
Synthetic cloth and apparel should not be part of your ward­robe if you have temperamental skin. They're treated with all manner of chemicals. And synthetics may be doubly irritating since they do not 'breathe' or absorb perspiration. The most familiar synthetic fibres are polyester, acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon, rubber, spandex, triacetate and metallic’s, although they go by various trade names. Stick to the natural fibres mentioned earlier. They are available in most larger department stores and specialty boutiques.
Dyes, contrary to popular belief, are not a common cause of clothing allergy. The problem is more likely to be with one of the finishes we mentioned earlier, or with a laundry additive. But when dyes are in fact the problem, it's the darker, more concentrated colors (notably black and dark blue) that contain allergenic chemicals. Some people who react to dark-toned stockings, for example, find they can wear lighter shades with no difficulty. And the dyes that are used in synthetics tend to cause allergy more than the dyes used in natural fibres, cotton, linen or wool. So you see, allergy to one dye does not imply allergy to alldyes. And that variation also explains why so many people can comfortably wear natural fibres but not synthetics.
Although modern dyes are considerably colorfast, clothing dyes can be loosened by perspiration. You may find you can wear that bright pink T-shirt around the house with no reaction, but you itch like crazy if you wear it while playing golf in 90-degree heat.
Dry cleaning processes use any of various potent solvents - alcohol, petrol, kerosene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, acetone, benzene, naphtha, turpentine or ether. Air out dry-cleaned clothing and blankets thoroughly before wearing them. Sensitive people may have to wait up to three weeks to give fumes plenty of time to dissipate. If you still react, buy only clothing and blankets that are washable, laundering them your­self with Woolite or some other mild, fine-fabric detergent.
When the culprit is formaldehyde, no amount of washing will get rid of the problem. Sometimes you can actually smell the formaldehyde (sometimes called formalin) when ironing a garment or pulling clothes from storage. We spoke to one woman in Dallas who was so sensitive to formaldehyde that she couldn't take more than a few minutes to shop for apparel -rummaging through racks of formaldehyde-laced garments and trying on one dress after another triggered her symptoms. Because formaldehyde is used chiefly in synthetics or to make cottons wrinkle resistant, you can avoid the chemical by sticking to untreated, all-cotton fabrics.
Don't forget that shoes and accessories could be allergenic, too. If your feet give you trouble, they'll heal faster - and stay healed - if you wear all-cotton socks and change them at least once during the day, especially in warm weather. (If possible, change your shoes, too.) By all means, change your running shoes or sneakers after working out or participating in sports. And never wear tight boots, especially for long periods.
Occasionally, a person who is allergic to the chemicals used to tan leather will have to invest in custom-made vegetable-dyed shoes. The problem can be partially avoided, however, by wearing canvas shoes in the summertime.
Watch out for synthetic belts, hats, gloves, handbags, watch-bands, suspenders, bras, girdles and garter belts. Rubber-sensitive individuals may have no choice but to wear spandex, a non-rubber stretchable fibre, in bras, girdles and support hose. Look for chemical-free brands such as Lycra, by DuPont (sold by Warner, among others).
Suspenders, zips and other fasteners usually contain nickel, a very common cause of skin allergy. That problem can be remedied by coating fasteners with clear nail lacquer or placing cloth between the thigh and garter.

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ALLERGIES


 

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