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Every piece of clothing begins with thread, but not every material feels comfortable on your body. If you suffer from eczema, dermatitis or other skin issues that complicate your outfit decisions, it’s important to reconsider your closet inventory and invest in pieces that won’t cause irritation or friction.
With most fast fashion pieces constructed from synthetic fibers that are harmful for sensitive skin, there are other materials that provide a soothing feeling and are less reactive. The interaction between textiles and skin has led many brands to improve their sustainability standards by designing garments that are healthy for your skin microbiome.
Shop TODAY talked with two textile experts on how to identify clothing that'll cause reactions like itching or reddening, plus their recommendations for the best fabrics and materials gentle enough for sensitive skin.
What should you avoid if you have sensitive skin?
Polyester, acrylics, rayon and nylon are common fibers that can have a negative impact on people with skin conditions. These fibers are hydrophobic and tend to trap moisture which can irritate your skin. However, you can get away with lyocell and modal, which are two forms of rayon made from wood pulp. They are more eco-friendly and budget-conscious options that provides good absorbent properties.
When it comes to winter attire, natural fibers like wool can also cause skin reactions and even worsen atopic dermatitis in most people. According to Fashion Institute of Technology professor Ajoy K. Sarkar, one way to keep yourself warm and avoid irritation is to “use a friendly fiber that won’t irritate and work by construction”. While you can still wear wool or other synthetic fibers, you should wear a base layer made of cotton or another breathable fabric underneath.
Another thing to consider is the detergent that you use. In a study with Japanese patients, those who washed their clothes with a non-ionic, additive-reduced detergent for a period of two weeks had skin improvements. Detergents with anionic surfactants, meanwhile, can cause irritation and worsen symptoms.
What types of clothing fibers are good for sensitive skin?
Some of the most common skin-friendly fabrics are “cotton, linen, cashmere, silk, hemp and those made with wood pulp,” mentioned Sarkar. "Any fiber that has good conductive and wicking properties are good for people who have different skin conditions.”
Another fiber worth investing in is bamboo. According to author and textile scientist Rosie Broadhead, bamboo fiber “contains anions that are helpful in purifying blood, calming the nervous system and relieving allergy symptoms, which is beneficial to the health of the human body and skin.” As a result, according to Broadhead, the textile has been growing in use in the textile market for its antimicrobial properties, which help in keeping the skin bacteria-free.
While there are many skin-friendly fabrics on the market, not every natural fiber is necessarily good for the skin. Some fabrics like cotton and linen can be “harmful if they are made with toxic dyes,” added Sarkar.
Are there any clothing certifications or labels for textiles?
“As a general rule, there are no federal regulations that are in place that will provide a stamp of approval,” mentioned Sarkar. However, there are third-party companies that seek Oeko-Tex certification, which confirms ecological practices and safety of textile products in the supply chain.
Broadhead also mentioned a decade-long initiative to improve the fashion industry's environmental choices. Launched through the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Foundation, the Roadmap to Zero Programme "aims to eliminate and replace hazardous and toxic chemicals used in the textiles and fashion industry. The certificates can also attest to socially and environmentally sound conditions in production facilities.” According to their latest Impact Report, "30 brands, 114 value chain affiliates and 18 associates" involved in the textile, apparel, leather and footwear industry have joined this initiative effective May 2021.
While these organizations just solve the tip of the iceberg, companies are still pushing for a global definition of sustainability and the best fabrics for the skin. Here are several skin-friendly garments you can shop right now from some of your favorite brands.
This Banana Republic T-shirt is made with 100% Supima cotton, a softer and durable fiber that won’t deteriorate after a few washes. It comes in four different colors and has a relaxed fit for extra comfort. One shopper also proclaimed that "it's comfortable, breathable and just long enough to tuck into the front of my mid-rise jeans."
Look cozy and stylish with this open cardigan made with 100% cotton. Designed to layer over your favorite sweaters and shirts, the buttonless silhouette works so you can show off your trendy look. The glowing 4.6-star average from 450 verified Target shoppers is also hard to beat.
Sarkar mentioned his top clothing material for those with sensitive skin is cotton because of its breathability features. If you're looking for that one shirt that matches all your denim staples, choose this straight long-sleeve top made of 100% cotton.
Get a high-quality shirt for less with this terry pullover from Amazon. Not only is this piece a great basic to layer with the rest of your winter essentials, one verified buyer said it's their “new go-to for a basic fix.”
Who says a going-out dress can't be comfortable? A true basic that will provide relaxed sophistication, this ruched dress is super soft and offers comfort without compromising style.
Everlane’s mission is to source fine materials for garments like this organic cotton waffle tee. With nearly a 4.5-star average, it has a ribbed neckline and feminine fit that won’t feel bulky. You can wear it indoors as a thermal or layer it under a jacket before you hit the slopes.
Looking for your new favorite loungewear piece? These cotton-based leggings from Free People feature a soft hue and high-rise style to keep you cozy and comfortable around your home. These pants are also breathable, lightweight and have that thermal texture all throughout.
While cashmere can be a costly fabric, Quince keeps their costs down by sourcing sustainably produced Grade A Mongolian materials. Aside from providing a luxurious, warm feeling, this pick dons a near-perfect 4.9-star average from over 2,200 shoppers.
Aside from using a soft fabric made from a blend of bamboo and cotton, Smash + Tess also builds on the principles of vulnerability, body positivity and equality without exception. This basic bodysuit can be paired with skirts, leggings, pants and denim. Their fabric is also Oeko-Tex-certified, which builds on their mission to be greener.
A touch of stretch will help you snuggle your pillow with ease. While its fabric is made with 2% elastane for flexibility, these L.L. Bean waffle pajamas remain super soft. Several verified shoppers have noted how warm and comfortable this lounge set is, especially for the chillier winter months.
Grey State sources sustainable materials to give their designs a luxurious feel. The Isabelle pants are made with cotton and modal to keep you comfortable while offering a flattering look. This is a versatile piece that can be worn for work and play.
Cariuma’s popularity has earned these kicks a near-flawless 4.97-star rating thanks to their use of natural premium materials. These skater-inspired shoes are engineered with an organic cotton canvas, natural rubber and a bio-based cork insert for ultimate comfort.
Naadam is committed to sustainability and fairness through all its products. This sweater is made with 100% cashmere, offering a classy look with whatever you match it with. The high-quality fabric will become your skin’s best friend.
If you're looking for a glossy, soft touch, look no further than this Lilysilk shirt. Aside from being breathable, the blouse has a feminine cut to pair with dress slacks. It also holds a solid 4.6-star average in quality!
Complete your outerwear collection with this elevated Madewell pullover. Made in partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative to improve cotton farming globally, it features a trendy quilted design that'll complement the rest of your winter wardrobe.
Your athleisure look is about to get an upgrade with these Allbirds sweatpants made with organic Peruvian Pima cotton, hemp and Lyocell. The design offers a modern slim fit and structured design that you can dress up or down.
Embellish your looks with this rich-looking, neutral scarf made with linen. Colomba uses non-toxic dyeing methods and fibers of the flax plant to provide that extra softness.
Still haven't settled on the perfect special occasion outfit? Opt for this dark green silk dress! The Oeko-Tex-certified fabric offers ultimate softness and breathability for 24/7 comfort. Pair it with insulated tights and knee-high boots for a warm, modern touch.
Looking for the comfiest dress to wear during the weekends? This one from Madewell is made of cotton and features a cabincore-inspired design for a bohemian flair.
Nuhü may be relatively new to the athleisure game, but the New York City-based brand is seasoned when it comes to committing to sustainability. They use environmentally friendly, Oeko-Tex-certified dyes in their aesthetically pleasing designs, including in this minimalist sweatshirt made with soft, organic, recycled cotton.
Lunya focuses on the best fabrics like silk soft modal and organic Pima in their luxurious garments, and these PJs will surely give you a more comfortable night's sleep. With over 1,500 verified five-star ratings and many reviews toting how easy these are to wash, it's no wonder this silky set is a bestseller!
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