More Fabric Allergy Fun: The Follow-Up to Sick and Itchy – with Spandex!

morning light MGD©On Monday, I wrote about allergies to propylene glycol and their connection to polyester. Since last week’s all night blanket-making fiasco, I’ve had some results, and learned a few more things.

First, along with changing to the new blanket and getting well enough to sleep in my own bed again, I’ve been trying to wear 100% cotton shirts and pants. A lot of cotton contains lycra or spandex for stretch, and that’s a whole other topic I’ll talk about in a minute. After a couple of days of medicated cream, my lumpy, itchy skin was back to mostly normal, which was a huge relief. My lips are still a bit dry, but the jury’s still out on whether that’s cold-induced dehydration or allergies. The fabric changes seem to be having at least some effect. I haven’t put cream on since, and I haven’t been itchy, mostly, except for some things we think were bug bites. I feel pretty good, other than the cold after-effects.

DSC01211I plan to run the experiment as long as I can, as I’m wondering if the lymph swelling I was experiencing may actually be due to fabric contact instead of food. The theory is plausible. When I camp (when the lymph issues decrease), I’m usually wearing linen. The exception is if I’m fencing, when I’ll wear yoga pants and Under Armor underneath the fencing armour. Last time I camped, I fenced a lot, and reacted a lot starting two days later. The time before that, I only fenced part of one morning, and the reaction was about a day and a half later. It sounds like I need to try linen clothing when I fence. If it goes well, I can stop my nightshade allergy experiment and start to add nightshades back into my diet and see if the allergic reactions stay away. It really sucks to try to find allergens by trial and error.

While researching the clothing I wear, I learned that to someone sensitive to polyester, spandex and Lycra may be off the table, too. The upside to Lycra and spandex is that they’re usually only in fabrics in small quantities. The downside is that they are used to make clothing stretchier and more comfortable, and they’re in everything from women’s jeans to t-shirts to underwear and bras, swimsuits, even gloves and socks.

Why are Lycra and spandex of concern to those with chemical allergies, especially to polyurethane and polyester?

Lycra-logo-2F9C547094-seeklogo.comLycra is a brand name for spandex, and another name is elastane. There are also a number of other names for spandex, unknown to most North American consumers, like Elaspan, INVIYA, ROICA, Acepora, Dorlastan, Creora, ESPA, and Linel. Spandex is a polyurethane made by reacting diisocyanate with one or more long-chain glycol-based polymer molecules like polyester, polycaprolactone, polyether, or polycarbonate. Since diisocyanate is an irritant, sensitizer, and is considered toxic for its cyanide content, regulations and processes are in place to make sure almost all of it reacts; generally this means that extra polyester is added that will remain in the fibre after the reaction is complete, giving the diisocyanate lots of polymer molecules with which to react.. The resulting molecule is made of polyglycol, diisocyanate, and polyurethane components.

il_fullxfull.418340257_7swwSpandex production requires controlled reactions, using more chemicals that don’t join the reaction directly. Other chemicals are also added to control the length of the molecules, protect from light degradation, discolouration, pollution, mildew, heat, and chlorine. Between the chemical production, the molecule itself, and the chemical additives, spandex starts to look a lot less friendly.

There’s no way to know how something will affect you until you take a break from having it in your life and see how things change (and add it back in to see if symptoms return). I’m still new to the world of clothing fibre allergies, but I’m relieved that I’m seeing common trends to my allergies, tying back to common chemicals about which I already know, instead of new allergies. It’s a whole lot easier to stay positive when you realize things aren’t actually getting worse, you’re just learning more and making improvements. I hope this discovery of mine will help more of you in your path to wellness.

Do you have allergic reactions to polyester or spandex/Lycra/elastane? What are your symptoms? Comment below.

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