Textile dye allergy

Author: Vanessa Ngan, staff writer, 2013.

What is textile dye allergy?

Allergy to textile dyes is a cause of textile allergic contact dermatitis. Textile dyes are used to impart colour to fabrics and are incorporated during fabric processing along with other chemical additives such as finishing agents and flame retardants. Allergy to textile dyes can cause skin manifestations such as severe eczema/dermatitis when unbound dyes from coloured clothing bleed onto skin. Many dyes are water soluble and sweat from the body can have the same effect, which leads to leaching out of the dye and increasing the risk of developing an allergy.

What causes textile dye allergy?

Textile dye allergy is caused by any one of a number of the many different textile dyes that are available today. There are many ways of classifying dyes; natural/synthetic, chemical class, dyeing methods. The US International Trade Commission has advocated the most popular classification of dyes which is based on how and what they are used for in the dyeing process.

Dye TypeApplication
Acid Wool, silk, paper, synthetic fibres, leather
Basic Mainly synthetic fibres, some use for silk, wool, paper
Direct Cotton, paper, leather, wool, silk, nylon
Vat Cotton, cellulosic (e.g. rayon) and blended fibres
Sulphur Cotton, cellulosic fibre, commonly used to produce dark black colour of socks
Disperse Synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic and cellulosic fibres. The dyes are finely ground in the presence of a dispersing agent and sold as a paste, or spray-dried and sold as a powder.
Reactive Most permanent of dyes and are easy to use because the dye can be applied at room temperature. Best choice for dyeing cotton and other cellulose fibres at home or in the art studio.
Azo Dyeing is achieved by treating a fibre with both diazoic and coupling components. This method is not as common anymore due to their toxic nature. Mainly used in printing inks and pigments.

Azo dyes are the most allergenic. These dyes are seldom used in fabric dyeing anymore because of the increasing incidence of allergy. Other dyes that have been commonly associated with causing allergic contact dermatitis are the group of disperse dyes. Disperse blue 106 and disperse blue 124 used in a variety of clothing are common causes of contact dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of textile dye allergy?

Symptoms of textile dye allergy are typical of allergic contact dermatitis. Symptoms may appear within hours of contact with the material, or sometimes a reaction may not be seen until days later.

The dermatitis is often widespread and usually occurs in the areas that come into contact with clothing. The dermatitis is often worse in areas where there is constant rubbing with the fabric and sweating. The waistband area, upper thighs, and buttocks are commonly involved.

Do I have a textile dye allergy?

Allergy to textile dye is confirmed by performing special allergy tests, i.e. patch tests. This may involve testing a number of different chemicals due to the many potential allergens that may be present in the fabric.

Allergens specific for textile dyes are not included in standard-series patch testing. Although studies are limited, it appears that disperse blue 106 and 124 may be good screening allergens for textile dye allergy as positive reactions in approximately 80% and 57% of dye-related cases have been found in two separate reports.

What is the treatment for textile dye allergy?

Contact dermatitis should clear within a few days to weeks, once the offending fabric/clothing is removed. Over-the-counter creams and ointments containing mild topical steroids, such as hydrocortisone 0.5-2.5%, may be used to help control itching, swelling, and redness. In more severe cases, a prescription steroid cream may be required, as well as oral antibiotics if the dermatitis becomes infected.

Patients with contact allergy to textile dyes should be advised to wear light coloured clothing made from natural based fabrics such as cotton, linen, and wool. In any case, all new clothing should be washed at least 3 times prior to wearing to get rid of excess un-bound dyes.

Your dermatologist may have further specific advice, particularly if you are highly sensitive to particular textile dye allergen.

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