Clothing-related skin irritation
October 23, 2013 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Wearing anything that touches my midsection irritates my skin like crazy. Since there are very few things that I can wear in the winter that do not touch my middle, this is becoming a problem.

I have two areas of redness/pain/itchiness on either side, maybe 2-3 inches below my navel that have been present for about the last 3 years. My doctor told me that it is eczema related to cold weather, but I'm finding that it is present year round and gets worse when I wear tights (the worst), non-low-cut pants, and shirts with side tags (usually is only a problem when it's already irritated). Since I wear tights and pants more in the winter, it does get worse then.

I was prescribed a steroidal cream that helps temporarily, and is particularly helpful if I put Vaseline on top of it. However, my understanding is that it's not great to use that long-term, so I only use it if it gets really bad. I've also been trying not to take long hot showers, washing with either Cetaphil or Neosporin soap for eczema, and applying coconut oil with Vaseline on top right after getting out of the shower. The coconut oil/Vaseline combo makes it mostly go away, but as soon as I wear tights for an extended period, it comes right back.

Other possibly relevant information- I use only sensitive skin detergent and fabric softener, and don't put any lotions on my midsection other than what I've mentioned. I had a full allergen workup about 5 years ago and am allergic to dust, dust mites, and mold. My diet hasn't changed in the past few years. I don't scratch the irritated areas. I have no other skin problems.

Is there anything that I can do?
posted by quiet coyote to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not super eco-friendly/cost-effective but have you tried running your laundry through the rinse cycle twice? I had this issue in college, and even though I was using a hypo-allergenic detergent, the crappy washing machines at the laundromat weren't getting all the soap out (I realized I had less of a problem when I did laundry at home). I'd suggest cutting out the fabric softener too. Sorry, that's all I got--you have my sympathy...
posted by lovableiago at 3:46 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, if tights are the major aggravatior, then I hate to say it but stop wearing tights. If you still want to wear clothes that require tights, you might want to look into thigh-high stockings.
posted by royalsong at 3:47 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is this an issue of pressure (sounds like it, since tights are the worst) or is the fabric irritating your skin? If it's the fabric, have you considered a bodysuit or teddy or cami/panties in silk or cotton or another fabric that your skin might like?

When I was having radiation and got the burns & irritation, I was recommended Aquaphor, made by Eucerin and oh boy did it help!
posted by janey47 at 3:52 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another vote for trying a silk camisole under anything that touches that area. Silk also does a great job of keeping you warm without making your sweaty.
posted by quince at 4:04 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might find leggings -- decent quality ones, no synthetics, cotton with just a little Lycra -- sized a little bit too large -- to be comfortable? I have a hip problem and decided I was mostly done with (sigh) nice-looking pants this winter, and find roomy leggings 'float' on the body fairly well. They sort of cling to your legs to stay up, rather than clinging to the middle of you (again: size up!).

If you are patient it is possible to remove -- remove all traces of, not just cut -- a side tag with a good pair of tiny and pointy scissors; I use Tweezerman cuticle scissors for this. Cut it as close as you can next to the seam, and then cut through it in the opposite direction until you're left with tiny squares of label in the seam. Wash a few times and it should all fall out if it didn't fall out while you were nipping at it with scissors.

It might be bad for your skin condition in some way I don't know about, but 3M makes a magical product called "Tegaderm" that is "breathable, but waterproof" -- it's a thin transparent film that sticks on and stays put and does so very un-noticeably. Perhaps it might be useful to cover up the irritated spots the odd time you wanted to wear something normally incompatible? I have used them fairly extensively and skin underneath them stays: skin; it doesn't, for me, come with any of the usual bandage side effects.

What are your tights made of? A French brand named Bleuforet makes ones that are 97% cotton. They aren't the greatest at keeping their shape as the day wears on, but they do okay and are remarkably comfortable.
posted by kmennie at 4:11 PM on October 23, 2013

Use less detergent. It doesn't take much to get your clothes clean. Try wearing cotton waist-high briefs under tights. You could try turning tights into stockings and wearing a garter belt. I grew up before pantyhose, and hated them, but a friend wears them by choice. You could also cut portions of tights out, with scissors, and use fraycheck to seal the edges against runs.
posted by theora55 at 4:16 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you tried actual anti-friction/anti-chafing lotions? I have hear that some are supposed to last quite long. I've seen stuff for runners, cyclists, and equestrians. I'd show some examples, but am on a small tablet and linking is tricky. Google!
posted by analog at 6:11 PM on October 23, 2013

I recently discovered the second rinse cycle trick, and it's worked marvels. I would also skip the fabric softener - that stuff is designed to stay in your clothes (and make them soft), and I find it really really irritating.

I've also found that applying a less intense lotion (like curel - not the itch defense just the fragrance free) several times throughout the day works better for me than a thick applications of aquaphor or vaseline. This is contrary to what most dermatologist, and many other people with eczema have found, but it works for me.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:44 PM on October 23, 2013

Best answer: However, my understanding is that it's not great to use that long-term, so I only use it if it gets really bad.

Alright, so yes. Steroid use will develop a tolerance over a lifetime. However you're talking about, maybe 10 square inches of skin? You're talking about a tiny 3oz tube of cream, of which you use maybe a nickel sized dot on once or twice a day? When my Dr. diagnosed me with ezcema I asked the same question. He replied, "I prescribe 2lb jars of this stuff. You'll be fine."

So, you'll be fine. You may even find that the irritation basically won't go away with anything else. Don't save it for "really bad" save it for "uncomfortable".

Also, I went through buying allergen free everything, soap, detergent etc. I finally figured out the last sneaky irritant. Shampoo. It rinses all over your body, right? I like Free and Clear Shampoo. There are a few sulphate free shampoos in drugstores now too, if you're not willing to commit to being that kind of person that orders shampoo on the internet. (*sigh*)
posted by fontophilic at 6:59 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with fontiphilic that you can probably be a little more liberal with the steroid cream. Sometimes these kinds of reactions can be feed-forward too so that using the cream at an earlier point in the irritation can be more effective.

Also even though you notice that the eczema is worse in the winter, it may have an allergic component. An antihistamine can be helpful; I get good results from taking Benadryl just at night and Zyrtec during the day. Also what are using for lotion? Eucerin is my favorite (or rather the generic version that is much cheaper).

Fwiw I am a long time experiences of intermittent eczema that pops up where my clothes are irritating...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:28 PM on October 23, 2013

I've actually found that most clothes don't even need laundry detergent. If there aren't any stains, I don't notice any difference with just doing a water wash.

And I've never used fabric softeners or dryer sheets. My sibling has bad eczema and those products always irritated it so they were banished from the house before I arrived. I've honestly never understood the point of either. I've gotten compliments on the softness of my bedding. Really depends more on the quality of the cotton.

It could just be the friction, try clothing that doesn't rub, like dresses and low pants with long soft tops that hang instead of cling.

You might want to look into your diet as well. My sibling has no milk allergies, but every time they have dairy it flares up.
posted by Dynex at 9:22 PM on October 23, 2013

What kind of detergent are you using? You said "sensitive skin" but that can mean anything. Ther personal care products industry is full of products that claim to be good for sensitive skin but are actually full of fragrances and allergens. You want something that is totally unscented, like All Free Clear or Tide Free. Skip the fabric softener and dryer sheets, period, that stuff is full of itchiness!
posted by radioamy at 10:20 PM on October 23, 2013

My daughter had this and it turned out to be a nickel allergy.
Nickel belt buckles and nickel buttons/brads on jeans were the culprits. We always thought it was the tights or laundry detergents because it would get super irritated by any fabrics rubbing against it. But it was nickel all along. Was nickel included in your allergy test?
posted by W.S (disambiguation) at 12:56 AM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: Brief, cool showers. Only use soap for "dirty" parts (armpits, nether regions). You might even want to invest in a flexible shower head and only wash those same regions (and your hair, of course!) while minimizing your exposure to the affected areas.

Eczema is all about compromised skin barrier function. The cold air and rubbing cause small breaches in the skin that kick start the inflammation. The inflammation then contributes to further barrier breach and the whole process keeps feeding on itself. So maintaining barrier function is key. Use the hydrocortisone cream at the upper end of it's directions until the lesions get under control (hopefully only requires a couple of days of treatment) and then judiciously apply moisturizer and/or vaseline throughout the day to keep the barrier intact, even when it seems to have gone away. Prevention is the goal here.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:32 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you need to remove labels or otherwise 'un-sew' anything, a seam ripper is cheap and very effective.
posted by theora55 at 6:32 AM on October 24, 2013

Second nickel allergy.

I don't think the standard allergy tests for environmental allergies test for nickel. Your reaction sounds similar to what people with nickel allergies experience when wearing pants with buttons or belt buckles. I wouldn't rule it out just because you're uncomfortable wearing tights as well.
posted by inertia at 8:40 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mayhap you have a bit of dermatographic urticaria going on, in addition to the other very good suggestions above. I have that, and I get itchy and miserable under similar circumstances.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2013

Response by poster: Hope it's not too late to respond here. This is all really helpful.

In terms of clothing changes- I'll try the silk cami idea. I do have nickel sensitivity but don't wear belts, jeans, or any other pants with brads. Thigh highs are a no go because it is very cold here and my butt would be COLD if not for full tights.

I'll keep up with the steroid cream and the coconut oil/vaseline combo. I'm really not ready to give up (at least) warm showers and my shampoo...maybe sometime I'll be desperate enough for that but that time is not now.

I hadn't thought about the clothes washing stuff, thanks for bringing that up. I use perfume free/dye free stuff, and typically hand-wash tights or just wear them out of the box. It's occurring to me that this may be a problem- I will rinse them first from now on. It did occur to me that this has been a problem since my roommate moved in, but not before. I've always used shared washing machines, and she does not use a consistent type of detergent, but I am going to try the double rinse and see if that works. I'm going to go easier on detergent/dryer sheets (that's what I meant, not fabric softener), too.

Thank you!
posted by quiet coyote at 7:09 PM on October 25, 2013

I've had some similar issues, and it helped me a lot ("a lot" as in "I don't feel the need to scratch myself bloody") to switch to Seventh Generation Natural Unscented Laundry Detergent; it's definitely less irritating than regular unscented detergent. My allergist told me that if you have any sensitive skin issues, you should avoid all fabric softeners and dryer sheets, and that also helped. And I definitely get a rash from wearing new clothes that haven't been washed, so you might avoid that and see if it helps.

Best of luck to you--I know how frustrating it is to have to figure this stuff out on your own.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:49 PM on October 25, 2013

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