Polyester Allergy

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Polyester is a synthetic fiber made of plastic. An allergy to polyester is a common trigger for an allergic reaction on your skin. It can cause itching, redness, tenderness, and bumps (called hives). Polyester is one of the most used fabrics in the world, so it can be hard to avoid.

This article provides a look at polyester allergies, as well as how to treat and prevent symptoms.

Woman itching clothing

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Polyester Allergy

Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to something that is not typically harmful.

A polyester allergy is one of a group of allergies called textile contact dermatitis, which means that your skin reacts when it has contact with a fabric. Up to 20% of people have some form of contact dermatitis. The allergen (substance that causes the reaction) may be in your clothes, furniture, or bedding.

A polyester allergy can affect you anywhere on your body when it comes into contact with polyester. But you may notice it most where the fabric rubs against your skin and causes friction. This can include:

  • Inside of your elbows
  • Back of your knees
  • Groin
  • Buttocks
  • The folds of your skin (called interigo)

Types of Polyester Allergies

There are two types of polyester allergies:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis: The more common form, in which the polyester causes inflammation, usually within a short period of time after exposure.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: An immune system reaction that appears on the skin. It can occur a few days after exposure rather than right away.

Symptoms

Many allergens cause similar skin reactions to those of a polyester allergy, so try to note if they appear after you've been in contact with polyester. A dermatologist can perform a test to confirm it, or you can see if the symptoms go away if you can avoid the fabric.

Symptoms include:

  • Skin irritation (may feel like burning or stinging)
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Peeling
  • Dry or scaly skin
  • Blistering
  • Bumps (hives)

The rash may become infected, particularly if you scratch it or have blisters.

If you feel pain in the area, it becomes warm to the touch, or you see yellow or green fluid, swelling, crusting, or a red streak coming from the rash, contact a healthcare provider.

Ways to Treat Polyester Allergy

If you can't avoid coming into contact with polyester and you develop symptoms, you can try home remedies and medications that may relieve the itching and soothe your skin. This can include cold compresses or an oatmeal bath.

Over-the-Counter Medications

There are medications you can buy without a prescription to help relieve the symptoms of a polyester allergy. These include:

  • Topical steroids
  • Calamine lotion
  • Burrow’s solution (aluminum triacetate), if you have blisters that ooze
  • Antihistamines

If symptoms persist, a dermatologist or other healthcare provider can prescribe other medications. These can include oral steroids, topical antibiotics, phototherapy, or topical immunomodulators, which reduce the allergic reaction by suppressing the immune system.

If You Suspect a Polyester Allergy

Polyester allergies have the same symptoms as other skin irritants or allergens. If you think polyester is causing your itching or rash, you can try to eliminate contact with it and see if it helps. A healthcare provider may be able to do an allergy test called a patch test to confirm if polyester is the culprit.

Prevention

If you have identified polyester as the trigger for your skin allergy, the most effective way to treat it is to avoid polyester. This can be challenging, because it is so prevalent in materials.

If you can't avoid polyester altogether, minimize your exposure to it because the longer you are in contact with it, the worse your allergic reaction will be. Check the labels of any fabric product before you buy it if you are trying to avoid polyester.

Other ways to prevent an allergic reaction from worsening include:

  • Use barrier cream moisturizers (which repair and protect the skin)
  • Don't scratch (to avoid spreading the rash or causing infection)
  • Avoid tight clothing (to reduce friction and exposure to the fabric)

Summary

Polyester allergy is a form of contact dermatitis, which occurs when your skin responds to wearing polyester clothing or otherwise coming in contact with the synthetic fiber. It can cause itchy, red skin or a rash. It can be difficult to know if polyester is causing the symptoms or another skin allergen. You can try to avoid polyester and see if it improves, or you can visit an allergist who can diagnose it. Effective treatments are available to treat a polyester allergy.

A Word From Verywell

Fabric allergies are common, and polyester is a major one. If you can isolate the fabric that's causing your itching—whether it's polyester or something else—you can avoid the allergen and hopefully see symptoms improve. It's not always possible to avoid polyester, so over-the-counter treatment is available to help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is a polyester allergy?

    Particular allergens can be difficult to track down, but allergic reactions to textiles, including polyester, are common. It's estimated that up to 20% of people have some form of contact dermatitis, which is an allergic or immune system reaction to something that touches the skin.

  • What does a polyester allergy look like?

    If you're allergic to polyester, your skin can develop a rash. The rash will typically be red and may cause blisters.

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4 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. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Allergic skin conditions.

  2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Contact dermatitis overview.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Rash 101 in adults: when to seek medical treatment.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Contact dermatitis tips for managing.