Clothing for People with Sensitive Skin


Care should be taken when selecting clothing for people who have skin problems. These problems may be due to poor circulation, reduced sensation, allergies, or conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. The aim is to ensure comfort and reduce the risk of skin damage. Washing powder may be the cause of skin sensitivity, and you should try to find out which brands cause a skin reaction.

For up-to-date information on specific products and suppliers in Ireland, visit the ‘Products Directory' and 'Suppliers’ sections of the Assist Ireland online database ( The information in this resource can also be accessed using the telephone support service on 0761 07 9200 during office hours, or by emailing

The information contained in this document is strictly for information purposes only. There are hazards with all equipment and the suitability of any solution is totally dependent on the individual. It is strongly recommended to seek professional advice and assistance before you consider buying any type of equipment mentioned in this Information Sheet.


Although the needs of everyone will be different depending on the cause of their sensitivity, most people prefer the fabric worn next to the skin to be smooth and soft. Natural fibres such as fine cotton and silk will feel comfortable against the skin but some wool and linens may be rough and itchy. Manufacturers of man-made fibres are constantly working to improve the comfort and feel of cloth made from their products to match fabric containing the best of natural fibres.

Stiff fabrics that do not 'give' are uncomfortable especially if the wearer must sit for long periods of time.


Cotton and silk are the two best natural fabrics for sensitive skins. Cotton is absorbent and cool, silk is more expensive than cotton but is warmer. Some clothing is now made of only unbleached, organic cotton.


Silk retains body heat efficiently, is strong, light, flexible and hard wearing and has a natural wicking action drawing body moisture away from the skin. Silk clothing can be found in some retail and specialist sports shops and specialist mail order catalogues.


Viscose is now being used extensively and is a natural product. Linen and hemp are also being used although they will tend to be heavier. Wearers will need to find out which, if any, chemicals are used in their manufacture.


For those with skin problems, clothing should be loose fitting. Try to avoid creases and folds in the material as they can cause pressure sores. Rigid seams in jeans, fasteners, pockets and accessories should be avoided at the points where pressure is increased.


The weight of fabric used in clothing can be important when movement causes pain and when strength and endurance are diminished. In these circumstances heavy clothes make dressing painful and exhausting, and generally restrict freedom of movement. Lightweight garments such as quilted coats and anoraks are warm and comfortable.

Thin layers and an unlined wind-resistant cotton anorak worn on top of a cardigan would be as warm, and more comfortable than a heavy coat. Garments in man-made fibres are often lighter in weight than their equivalent in wool.


When body temperature regulation is unstable and leads to excess perspiration, fabrics made from fibres such as cotton, linen, viscose or Lyocell, or blends containing these, worn next to the skin will absorb perspiration and allows it to escape through the outer clothing. In very hot weather it is best to wear loose fitting, loosely knitted absorbent fabrics next to the skin, allowing air to circulate and remove moisture and heat from the body. If the humidity is high and the air still, so that little evaporation takes place, almost any clothing will be uncomfortable.


The feel of fabric is an important part of the comfort which clothing can give. Natural fibres are generally believed to have the most pleasant feel against the skin, but modern processing can give man-made fibres a natural feel while some wools, usually considered soft, can be hard and scratchy, causing itching; linen also may have a rough texture.

The sensation of cold that is momentarily experienced when a garment with a smooth woven fabric, such as a lining, is put on is not felt with hairy or pile fabrics. Those with certain skin complaints and those who have extensive scar tissue following burns or operations must avoid irritating their skin; covering the area with silk or smooth fine cotton may be more comfortable than wearing wool or nylon fabrics.

People with asthma and chest complaints often need to avoid fabrics with a loose, fluffy pile yarn as these can increase their breathing difficulties.


Adverse reactions to leather footwear are usually caused by either chrome used in the tanning process or by dyes. Over recent years, other ways of tanning leather have been found so that it is now a little easier to find shoes that are less likely to produce such reactions.

When a reaction has been noted, the wearer should find out what has caused it by having allergy tests. Once the cause is known, leathers that have been tanned in different ways must be found. Always check the composition of shoe linings too.

Fabric shoes are available particularly for summerwear; and trainers - especially the cheaper ranges - often have fabric uppers. Fabric slippers are available all year round but always check the fibre content of the fabric used and slippers don't offer adequate support for walking outside the home.

Sometimes minor allergic problems are avoided by buying shoes lined with cotton, or by wearing cotton socks, stockings or tights

Wellington boots are a problem for people with an allergy to rubber. Some are lined with cotton. Breathable Wellington boots are also available from some specialist suppliers.

Soles and insoles are made from many different materials and this should be indicated on the shoe when purchasing, so it should not be too difficult to find out which to choose and which to avoid.


Today most socks, stockings and tights include some Lycra to make them fit closely and this may cause problems for certain people. Support and elastic hose contain variable amounts of Lycra according to the amount of support required.

Stockings and socks with elasticated tops will restrict circulation if too tight, as will hosiery that is too small. Socks are now available with non-elasticated tops.

Socks that are very loose will wrinkle and could give rise to pressure.

Patterns and deep ribbing on the socks will also cause uneven pressure and could lead to sores on the skin.

Wrinkles can be a problem if tube socks are worn, as the lack of shaping leaves excess fabric in folds at the front of the ankle.



  • Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI)
    Office 1 & 2
    1st Floor
    Haymarket House
    Dublin 7
    Tel: 01-874 8136

  • Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)(UK charity providing advice and information and a comprehensive up-to-date database of disability equipment available in the UK)
    Ground Floor
    Landmark House
    Hammersmith Bridge Road
    W6 9EJ
    Tel: 0044 207 289 6111

  • Rica(independent research body in UK which produces guides for older and disabled consumers based on professional research)
    G03, The Wenlock
    50-52 Wharf Road
    N1 7EU
    Tel: 0044 207 427 2460
    Fax: 0044 207 427 2468