Itch around the collar
May 25, 2010 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I am literally allergic to nice clothes. When I wear collared button down shirts (with a stiff collar), I get red itchiness all around my neck, and if my hands touch it and then my eyes, my eyes start to burn. What am I allergic to? What can I do to stop it?

This is very pertinent as my wedding is coming up in a month. I put on the CK dress shirt (I just bought) for about 10 minutes and i was already breaking out and clawing at my neck. I've put similar shirts through the regular laundry but still get the symptoms. This only happens with stiff collar shirts, not polo's or anything else I own. Please help!
posted by Mach5 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total)
What materials are the shirts? Cotton? Poly-cotton blend?
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:13 AM on May 25, 2010

Dryclean. No starch.
posted by nineRED at 9:15 AM on May 25, 2010

posted by unixrat at 9:16 AM on May 25, 2010

If you're unable to resolve the actual issue, there might still be a way to get through wedding day with the shirt via allergy medication, maybe even just an over the counter antihistamine.
posted by floam at 9:18 AM on May 25, 2010

Is the shirt you bought white? It doesn't sound like a dye allergy, but covering all the bases couldn't hurt.

Also, I was taught as a child to always launder new clothes before wearing them.
posted by amtho at 9:28 AM on May 25, 2010

Sounds like it might be something used in the manufacturing process to stiffen the collar. (I don't know what, though.) Have you tried washing these shirts a bunch of times before wearing them? If this mysterious stuff can transfer to your fingers, then your eyes, it might be sufficiently water-soluble to wash out after a while.

Dishwashing detergent (like Cascade) is very strong despite the lack of sudsing, so you could try that instead of regular laundry detergent. I'd suggest soaking the shirt in a basin of really hot water + Cascade, changing the water frequently and replenishing the detergent occasionally. (I've never had a problem with dishwashing detergent wrecking fabric, but YMMV.) Then run it through the regular laundry a few times just for good luck, and see if you can wear it.
posted by Quietgal at 9:29 AM on May 25, 2010

The shirts are cotton. I have washed some of the shirts multiple times, and I've never had reactions to a wide array of detergents.
posted by Mach5 at 9:36 AM on May 25, 2010

do you get the same reaction around your wrists at all, where the cuffs are stiff (similar to the collar)? Is the reaction immediate, or does it develop over time?

You say if your hands touch the collar, then you touch your eyes, your eyes get going. Is the collar rubbing up against newly shaved skin that you've put aftershave on? And then the collar rubs on the skin, which is more sensitive due to being shaved, and then it gets itchy and you transfer the (theoretically) alcohol-containing aftershave to your hands and then your eyes?
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2010

Well, you can wear a white shirt without a stiff collar. That's what I did. Go a little non-traditional if it keeps your body from going crazy. It's your wedding!
posted by zippy at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

sounds like it's a reaction to the chemicals used by the dry cleaner. try washing/ironing your clothes a few times. if the reactions disappear, try a different dry cleaner (maybe one that uses 'green' cleaning supplies if there's one near you)
posted by iamscott at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2010

Are you bleaching your white shirts? Do you only bleach your button-down whites and not your polo shirts? Perhaps it's one of the UV dyes in some bleachers that "makes whites their whitest?"
posted by zippy at 10:37 AM on May 25, 2010

Ah, sorry, I thought UV dyes were in bleach, not detergent. Never mind.
posted by zippy at 10:41 AM on May 25, 2010

What neck size do you wear - and does this happen when the shirt collar is 1/2-size larger than you're measured as?

Is it Miliaria Rubra (prickly heat) that my BF gets from wearing buttoned down shirts? He's a hot guy, and by that I mean he gets hot and may sweat even in mild weather which causes it. Medicated powder, always perfectly dry neck before dressing, and one 1/2 larger collar size has helped him.
posted by dabitch at 10:52 AM on May 25, 2010

I think it might not be an allergic reaction at all. (I feel like if you were allergic, you would also get the rash on your cuffs, and that not every shirt would cause the reaction). If it's an allergy or chemical sensitivity, my suspect might be a fabric finish -- do you buy permanent-press dress shirts? Some of the chemicals that they treat the fabric with to make it more resistant to wrinkling might remain through multiple washings, but enough might contact your skin to cause the rash.

My guess is that the stiffness of the collar fabric, coupled with the fact that your neck skin is unaccustomed to being stifled by fabric, makes your neck sweat and/or chafe. Then, your irritated skin starts producing sweat, or some other bodily substance, which makes your eyes burn -- sweat burns when it gets in your eyes, and irritated skin can produce a lot of pro-inflammatory substances that would also hurt to get into your eyes.

I propose an experiment: try rubbing an anti-chafing stick (such as Body Glide) on the affected part of your neck. (It should be invisible and doesn't rub off noticeably on clothes -- I use it all the time so I don't get a gross rash on my legs and under my sports bra when I run.) Or try medicated powder. Just wear your usual clothes with a Body-Glided (or powdered) neck on one day, to make sure that the treatment itself doesn't give you a rash or any untoward symptoms. Then, the next day, treat your neck and wear the stiff-collared shirt for 10 minutes. If you're actually allergic to your shirt, the anti-chafing substance won't help you. If your shirt is just irritating the bejezus out of your neck, your treatment should protect at least somewhat against it.

Either way, I would either wear a less-tight collar (then just take off your tie and unbutton the collar for the reception) or go with zippy's suggestion -- hopefully you won't ever have another wedding again after the impending one, and being "properly" dressed shouldn't outweigh the opportunity to enjoy your own wedding day without a gross and painful rash around your neck.
posted by kataclysm at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have the same symptoms as you do, but for almost all of my life I got a headache and a raging sore throat any time I went in to a mall or clothing store. I got super thirsty and my eyes got red. I had no idea what caused it, but it drove me nuts!

Then, a few years ago, I went to a Patagonia store, and realized after about 30 minutes that I DIDN'T feel terrible - and I asked the people at the desk what their clothes were made of. They said they only use organic cotton. Since then I've been back both to other stores and to Patagonia, and the same thing happens every time. I figure I have a chemical sensitivity to the defoliants used on cotton, or the pesticides, or SOMETHING. Now I buy organic cotton.

So, I don't know if this is the case for you, but maybe there's some similar hard-to-figure-out chemical sensitivity going on?
posted by Cygnet at 12:17 PM on May 25, 2010

Some things (certain scarves, necklaces, etc) give me a weird rash around my neck. I've found that diaper rash cream (zinc oxide) seems to help by creating a barrier between the trigger and my skin. Give it a shot as a trial run and see if it helps! It's cheap and it can't hurt.

My only caveat is that it makes your skin kind of white if you put too much on or don't rub it in enough -- start sparingly and make sure you wash your hands well before touching any nice clothes.
posted by tastybrains at 1:53 PM on May 25, 2010

answers to some of the questions:
- no bleach. this is both brand new and regular laundry washed shirts
- its only on my neck, not the cuffs
- its not from shaving because i don't shave the back of my neck
- i'd love to wear a band tshirt and jeans to my wedding but that ain't happening :)
posted by Mach5 at 8:31 PM on May 25, 2010

If you think it might be psychosomatic, can you wear your band t-shirt UNDER your dress shirt and spend the whole time mellowing out knowing that it's there.

If you think it might be chemical, what about coating the inside of the collar with clear nail polish and let it dry. maybe use a second coat to get it really impermeable. I've never used it on fabric before (other than pantyhose runs), but we used to use it all the time to protect from various cheap metals that irritated skin.
posted by CathyG at 9:32 AM on May 26, 2010

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