Choosing the Right Clothes for Sensitive Skin


Kelli Miller

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Recent research has uncovered some surprising information about sensitive skin.

What to Avoid With Sensitive Skin

It’s difficult to identify the triggers that might bring about sensitive skin flare-ups. Try these tips to minimize irritations.
Woman organizing clothes

If you have sensitive skin, you probably know that certain fabrics can leave you feeling scratchy and sore. Finding clothes that feel good against your skin can be challenging. Many clothing materials can make sensitive skin symptoms—like dryness, redness, and itching—worse. However, the right fabrics and styles can help protect your skin and may even help irritated areas heal faster. 

Try following these six clothing tips if you have sensitive skin:

1. Avoid wool and nylon. These fabrics have rough fibers, which rub up against your skin and just make you feel prickly and uncomfortable. Other times, people may have a true allergy to a fabric, like wool, which can lead to hives and itching.

2. Choose fabrics that breathe. Choose garments that wick moisture away from the skin. This is especially important in the winter when layering clothes. If you sweat and your clothing doesn't breathe, the moisture gets trapped. Extra moisture allows naturally occurring bacteria on the skin to grow, which can lead to skin rashes. Knitted silk, unbleached cotton, and organic cotton are three soft fabrics to try. This goes for sheets, too.

3. Check the bling. Fabrics aren't the only thing to double check when shopping for new clothes. If you're shopping for a fancy new holiday sweater or a shirt with sparkle, be sure to check the metallic embellishments. Many are made from nickel, which is one of the top causes of itchy, red, bumpy skin. When in doubt, skip the bling.   

4. Go tagless. Look for clothing that has the size and fabric information printed on the fabric itself instead of on an uncomfortable inner tag. This new "tagless" trend can be found on items ranging from underwear to t-shirts to sweatpants. Doing away with the tag helps reduce friction, which can lead to skin irritation.  

5. Hang loose. If you have sensitive skin, you should skip the elastic arm, leg, and waist bands. Snug clothing like this rubs back and forth against the skin. This can feel bad for anyone, but if your skin is fragile, it could make it even worse.

6. Wash, then wear. It might be tempting to throw on that new sweater as soon as you buy it, but don't. Always wash your clothes before wearing them. This helps remove skin-irritating dyes and other chemicals used during the manufacturing process. Also, be sure to use a fragrance-free detergent. Look for a product labeled "for sensitive skin." Fragrances can be a trigger for flare-ups.  

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 21, 2015

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Ricci, G, Neri I, Ricci L, Patrizi A. Silk fabrics in the management of atopic dermatitis. Skin Therapy Letters. 2012 Mar;17(3):5-7.
  2. Atopic dermatitis. American Academy of Dermatology.
  3. Safe Clothing Options for Sensitive Skin. Environmental Illness Resources.
  4. Two Cents About a Nickel. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
  5. Why Does Wearing Wool Make Me Itch. Columbia University.
  6. Clothing Dermatitis and Clothing-Related Skin Conditions. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

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