Clothes for Sensitive Skin: How to Choose the Right Fabric
Posted on July 21 2023
More and more we are hearing that consumers are developing skin sensitivities to their clothing. This spans the range from mildly irritating to severe allergenic rashes. It can certainly be a frustrating experience, especially when you can’t isolate the exact cause of the sensitivity or clinical allergy.
Finding clothing for sensitive skin can be a daunting task. And before you invest in an entirely new wardrobe, there are a few other things you can try to reduce or eliminate your sensitivities.
Here are 7 things you can try to overcome this challenge to make sure the clothes that come out of your dryer are the best clothes for sensitive skin.
- Gentler detergent. Many people develop allergies or reactions to their laundry detergent, even after using the same detergent for many years. Ah, the wonders of the human body! You can find lower-impact detergents at any natural products store and at most supermarkets.
- Dryer sheet alternative. Dryer sheets (and many liquid fabric softeners) contain substances that are often particularly challenging for people with sensitive skin. Wool dryer balls are a great alternative and effective at softening fabrics, reducing wrinkles, and minimizing static electricity. They are reusable often hundreds of times so you’re reducing your disposable footprint too! You can find wool dryer balls with a quick search online or at a natural products store.
- Wash first. If you’ve tried #1 and #2 to convert your own clothes into clothes for sensitive skin, but had no luck, you may have to try some new clothes. #4, #5, and #6 below are suggestions on that front. But in any case, wash new clothing pieces in the warmest water allowed by the garment’s care instructions before you wear them the first time. Wash them twice even. Sometimes irritants will simply wash out like a mild stain. Obviously you’ll not be able to return an item if you wash it (see #7 below for a budget concious method to work around this).
- Soft fabrics. Sometimes clothing sensitivities are simply related to the texture of the fabric itself, not anything contained in it. Wool and linen are two fabrics whose textures don’t lend themselves to sensitive skin. And while those two might be more obvious, what you might not realize is that clothing made from cheap, carded cotton (the kind found in most big box & discount stores) is much scratchier than combed, long-staple cotton. The organic Pima cotton we use in our clothing is the softest on the planet. It has extra-long-staple fibers which means there are less “ends” in the cotton threads that come in contact with your skin. Soft natural fibers, especially Pima cotton, are a good option.
- Embrace your wrinkles! Beware of any clothing item that advertises itself to be ‘wrinkle free,’ ‘wrinkle-resistant,’ or ‘permanent press.’ More often than not, such items contain formaldehyde. Remember that stuff used to preserve frogs in high school biology class? Well, someone discovered that it also preserves the fresh pressed look in clothing. And formaldehyde is well-known to be a leading cause of negative skin reactions in clothing, not to mention a verified carcinogen. It should not be in our clothes, period!
- Find a new partner. Look for clothing brands that use organic cotton, wool (if that’s not where your sensitivity lies) & gentler dyes. Most mass market clothing is loaded with all sorts of chemicals from the pesticides in the cotton fields to the often harsh chemicals used in the commercial manufacturing and dyeing of the fabrics. While it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all chemicals in your clothing (unless you grow your own cotton, herd your own sheep, and knit your own clothes), there are brands that do their best to minimize them.
- Test frugally. Given the refund risks of #3 above, if you are exploring a new brand you are hopeful will have the best fabrics for sensitive skin, buy something that won’t set you back too much if it doesn’t work out. At Fair Indigo, we suggest one of our Organic Cotton Tank Tops or Organic Cotton Short Sleeve T-shirts for Women or Men. If the trial wearing isn’t to your liking, you can donate the piece to a friend, charity, or secondhand store.
If I’m looking for clothing for sensitive skin, is Fair Indigo a good option?
The short answer is maybe. That’s because everyBODY is different; there is no way to guarantee any piece of clothing we sell will solve your clothing skin sensitivities. We can tell you we’ve heard from several skin-sensitive people who’ve done wonderfully with our clothing. We have heard from others who have not.
Fair Indigo uses organic cotton, gentler dyes, and enzyme-based fabric washing process as you can read more about below. But we don’t make any claim to sell hypoallergenic clothing because there are limitless allergies out there; it’s a claim we’re extremely reluctant to put forth.
Here are the things Fair Indigo is doing to make your clothing as clean and safe as it can reasonably be made:
Organic Pima cotton. Of course pesticides are used in many of the grown products we come in contact with. But did you know that cotton is by far the biggest user? Cotton occupies only 3% of the world’s farmland, but consumes an eye-popping 25% of pesticides! And because of persistently aggressive pests, cotton pesticides tend to be stronger than those used in most other crops. Our farms use natural pest control methods that generations of farmers in Peru have been using. Like planting corn stalks at the end of each row of cotton. Corn is like a magnet for the types of insects that devour cotton pests but are not interested in devouring the cotton itself. This brilliant trick was developed by the Incas centuries ago and continues today on farms that are committed to organic cotton.
Gentler dyes. If you want your clothes to have and keep color, you are going to come in contact with some synthetic chemicals. The good news is we can and do choose dyes that eliminate the worst offenders. Our dyes are tested for literally hundreds of dangerous substances used in more convention clothes. Chemicals like Azo colorants, formaldehyde, pentachlorophenol, cadmium, and nickel. Our dyes exceed the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 and the European Chemical Regulation (REACh) of 2006.
If you really want to dive in deep, here is a list of the chemicals not allowed in our finished dyed fabrics.
A note on ‘natural’ dyes:
We’re often asked if we have considered using natural or vegetable-based dyes. The simple answer is yes we have. But upon exploration and testing, we’ve concluded it’s not a great idea, at least with today’s technology. A little-known fact about vegetable dyes is that in order for them to adhere properly to fabric, they need to be applied with a mordant – a polyvalent metal ion which contains a cocktail of harsh chemicals. Absent using the mordant, the vegetable dye color will wash out of the garment a little each time you wash it until, over a relatively short time, that blueberry color t-shirt comes out of your washer as blueberry-ish. And then a bit later blue-ish stained white. We will continue to monitor developments in natural dyes, but for the moment, we think gentle commercial dyes are the best option.
Gentler fabric finishing. We don’t use chlorine bleach to whiten our whites or common reagents that many fabric mills use to add softening or fragrance to the finished fabric. Our fabrics are washed using a natural enzyme only and no fragrance or softener is added during the final steaming and folding of our clothes.
A growing collection of undyed t-shirts and clothing. Even though we use the safest and gentlest dyes commercially available, we do offer some of our best selling products without using any dyes. You can find these products by keying in the search icon 🔍 (at the far top right of this page) the word ‘undyed’ or ‘dye-free’. Here are the current search results for dye-free clothing.
The bottom line. Navigating the path to finding clothes that work for you can feel a little overwhelming for those with sensitivities to the things found in most of our clothing. There is no right path that will work for every person, but hopefully you can find a path with options that work for you. We can’t say for sure that Fair Indigo Organic cotton clothing will be your right path to a more comfortable and sustainable relationship with your clothes, but we hope you’ll consider giving it a try.
Co-Founder & President