Common Causes of Clothing Allergies

Rashes are common problems that many people experience. When rashes are itchy, people often blame the rash on allergies. Usually, people think of food allergies, pet allergies, and medicine allergies⁠—as well as soaps, detergents, perfumes and other toiletries used on the skin. However, people shouldn’t overlook clothing as a possible cause of allergic rashes.

Woman scratching her neck
Letizia McCall / Getty Images

Specifically, a variety of chemicals and materials used in clothing can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a very itchy rash that gradually forms small red bumps or even blisters; rash is typically limited to the site of allergen exposure.

Nickel Allergy

Probably the most common cause of clothing allergy is due to contact dermatitis from nickel. Nickel can be found in snaps and rivets on pants (especially blue jeans), shirts, and jackets as well as on belts and other accessories. Itchy rashes present around the umbilicus (belly button) are commonly caused by nickel allergy due to clothing.

Rubber Allergy

Elastic in clothing and shoes is another common cause of clothing allergy. Rashes around the waist, wrists, ankles, and feet would be locations that would suggest the presence of allergy to rubber compounds. There are a number of different potential allergens in rubber that can cause contact dermatitis; these include carba compounds, black rubber, mercapto compounds, thiuram, and mercaptobenzothiazole


Formaldehyde is a preservative that is used to finish durable press fabrics. Clothing that is “permanent press” or “wrinkle-free” contains formaldehyde in order to keep its shape and prevention of wrinkles. Contact dermatitis to formaldehyde in clothing may cause rashes on the sides of the body, the back (immediately behind the armpits), the sides of the neck and the front of the thighs, which are the areas of the body that clothing rubs against the most.


A number of different pigments in clothing can also cause contact dermatitis. Disperse blue 106 is a dark blue pigment that is used to color clothes dark blue, brown, black, purple and green. Since disperse blue 106 is related to phenylenediamine, it is possible for people with an allergy to hair dye to be at increased risk for allergic reactions to this pigment as well. Potassium dichromate is a pigment used to make textiles and pool table felt a bright shade of green. It is well known to cause contact dermatitis, especially in people who work with leather, paints, and cement. Lastly, cobalt is another pigment that provides a bright blue pigmentation or other hues made from this primary color (such as bright green). Cobalt is also a well-known cause of contact dermatitis, particularly in people with a nickel allergy.


There are a number of strategies that people with suspected clothing allergy should follow:

  • Those with nickel allergy should avoid clothing with metal snaps, buttons, and zippers, and/or replace with plastic fasteners instead. Cover any metal fasteners, such as the rivet on blue jeans, with a piece of fabric tape to keep from rubbing against the skin on the abdomen.
  • People with rubber allergy should avoid clothes with elastic bands, and either remove those or replace them with drawstrings.
  • Formaldehyde in clothes can be avoided by washing clothes before wearing, as well as by not wearing clothes that are “wrinkle free,” “non-iron,” or “permanent press.”
  • Those with pigment allergy should wash clothes one or more times before wearing in order to remove as much excess pigment as possible. Avoiding dark colors (such as blues, blacks, browns, and greens) and instead wearing light colors (such as whites, yellows, beiges, and oranges) will avoid many of the common pigments suspected to cause contact dermatitis.
9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Allergic contact dermatitis: Overview. [Internet].

  2. Torres F, das Graças M, Melo M, Tosti A. Management of contact dermatitis due to nickel allergy: an updateClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2009;2:39–48. doi:10.2147/ccid.s3693

  3. Formaldehyde. Think-layer rapid use epicutaneous patch test [internet].

  4. Litchman G, Nair PA, Atwater AR, Gossman WG. Contact Dermatitis. In: StatPearls [Internet].

  5. Disperse Blue 106. Thin-layer rapid use epicutaneous patch test [internet].

  6. Potassium dichromate. Thin-layer rapid use epicutaneous patch test [internet].

  7. Colbalt dichloride. Thin-layer rapid use epicutaneous patch test [internet].

  8. Yoshihisa Y, Shimizu T. Metal allergy and systemic contact dermatitis: an overview. Dermatol Res Pract. 2012;2012:749561. doi:10.1155/2012/749561

  9. Torres F, das Graças M, Melo M, Tosti A. Management of contact dermatitis due to nickel allergy: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2009;2:39–48. doi:10.2147/ccid.s3693

Additional Reading

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.