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Fabrics Most Likely to Irritate Sensitive Skin (And What to Buy Instead)

When you have sensitive skin, it seems like an uncomfortable itch or rash can pop up out of nowhere. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the exact cause of the irritation. We know the most likely culprits are the things that come into direct contact with our skin every day: skin care and clothing and other textiles like bedding and towels. Now, we’ve got you covered when it comes to gentle, all-natural skincare. But let’s take a look at the fabrics that are the most likely to irritate sensitive skin and why.

What Fabrics Are Irritating to Sensitive Skin?

The biggest culprits that cause skin irritation from textiles, also called textile dermatitis, are synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fabrics are the most used materials because they’re cheap to produce and are highly versatile. But did you know that common fabrics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic are made from petroleum and are forms of plastic? Other materials like rayon and acetate, called semi-synthetic, are made from wood pulp that is heavily treated with chemicals. Rayon and acetate are used as cheap alternatives to silk.

There are two main reasons why these synthetic materials can cause irritation. One reason is that synthetic azo dyes and various other toxic chemicals are added during manufacturing. For example, formaldehyde, which is known to be a skin irritant, is often used to make clothing that has unique properties like stain resistance, wrinkle resistance, or static resistance.

The second reason is that synthetic fabrics don’t breathe well, and they don’t absorb moisture. This means that these fabrics are likely to make you hot, and any sweat or moisture will end up trapped on your skin. If the clothing is tight-fitting, friction from the fabric rubbing against your skin can worsen the irritation.

What Fabrics Should You Use Instead?

Just like your skin care, choosing all-natural, organic textile fibers will be the best option for your sensitive skin. The top natural fabric options are cotton, hemp, silk, flax (linen), and wool. You can buy these in organic versions, which is best to avoid pesticides touching your skin.

While these are the best choices, be aware that you can still be sensitive to these materials. Wool is an irritant for some people with sensitive skin, though research shows that wool isn’t an allergen. The type of wool and how it’s treated during processing might be the underlying cause of irritation. Finer wools like merino or cashmere are more expensive but may be tolerable for sensitive skin. And it’s always a good idea to do some research into how a company manufactures its clothing. The more transparent the company is about its processes, the better.

Clothing and other textiles colored with plant-based dyes instead of toxic dyes are also ideal for sensitive skin. Or, consider buying white clothes and dyeing them yourself!

Environmental Considerations

Another benefit of choosing textiles made of natural organic fibers is the reduced environmental impact. The manufacturing of synthetic fabrics is responsible for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution of waterways, and hazardous conditions for workers. Since these materials are plastic, they also don’t biodegrade for a really long time. So when they’re disposed of, they can sit in landfills for hundreds of years.

When you buy organic textiles, you’re helping to reduce water and air pollution caused by chemical pesticides. And you’re helping to preserve and enrich the Earth’s soils too. Organic farming methods produce much less carbon dioxide than conventional farming, and they also use less water. So by going organic, you’re improving the health of yourself, all humans, and the planet.


Being conscious of the textiles you use every day will go a long way to protect your sensitive skin from irritation. Avoiding synthetic materials containing a long list of harsh chemicals is one of the best ways to protect your skin and your health. As in most things in life, cheaper is not always better. You will spend more for better quality fabrics, but your health and the health of the planet are worth it.


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