Why You Should Always Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them


If you’re the type who dons new duds without washing them first, there’s a chance you may pay a price for it a few days later. A red, itchy, painful price.

Allergic contact dermatitis is an immune system-related reaction to an allergen that has come into contact with your skin. It causes a delayed reaction: a rash that appears a few days after exposure, and then can last for weeks. “When we see allergic contact dermatitis from clothing, it’s usually from disperse dyes,” says Dr. Susan Nedorost, a professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University and director of the dermatitis program at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Disperse dyes are primarily used in synthetic clothing materials like polyester and nylon, Nedorost says. And they may be present at higher levels in a brand-new, unwashed article of clothing.

Nedorost says that sweating and friction can cause disperse dye to leach out of clothing. Synthetic workout gear—the shiny, stretchy, water-repelling materials that are so popular nowadays—are often the culprit when she treats people for allergic contact dermatitis. “If a patient comes in and has a rash around the back of the neck and along their sides around their armpits, the first question I ask is what they wear when they work out,” she says.

It’s not clear how common disperse-dye allergies are among the general public. But there is one way to limit your risk for bad reactions: “By washing new clothing, you might remove a little extra dye and so have a lower exposure,” Nedorost says.

In very rare cases, taking this step could even prevent the development of a new allergy. If enough of the dye leached onto a skinned knee or other open wound, she says, that could activate the immune system and create a lasting sensitivity.

Allergic rashes aren’t the only health issue associated with clothing chemicals. In a 2014 study, a group of researchers from Stockholm University in Sweden tested 31 clothing samples purchased at retail stores, and that were “diverse in color, material, brand, country of manufacture, and price, and intended for a broad market.” They found a type of chemical compound called “quinoline” (or one of its derivatives) in 29 of the 31 samples, and the levels of this chemical tended to be especially high in polyester garments. Quinoline is used in clothing dyes, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified it as a “possible human carcinogen” based on some studies linking it to “tumor-initiating activity” in mice—though the agency also states that no human studies have been conducted to assess the cancer-causing potential of quinoline.

Ulrika Nilsson, a member of the Stockholm University group and a professor of analytical chemistry, also calls out nitroanilines and benzothiazoles, two more chemical compounds that turn up in clothing and that lab and animal evidence has linked to potential adverse health effects, including cancer. While some of these chemicals may remain locked away in the fibers of your clothing, others may slowly work their way out onto your skin or into the air you breathe as your clothing ages and degrades. Unfortunately, Nilsson says, “these chemicals are so far not well studied regarding skin uptake or related health effects” in humans, so it’s not clear whether exposure to these chemicals in your clothing could make you sick.

David Andrews, a senior scientist with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group who has investigated the use of chemicals in the textile industry, says clothing is often treated with stain-repellents, color-fasteners, anti-wrinkle agents, softness-enhancers, and any number of other chemical treatments. Clothing manufacturers don’t have to disclose any of these to customers, and many of the chemicals, including a popular type of waterproofing chemical called fluorosurfactants (often referred to as PFAS), have little or no research backing their safety. Not only could these chemicals pose health risks to people, but they also end up in the air and water supplies, where they could do further harm.

“It’s always in your best interest to wash clothing before wearing,” he says. Nilsson agrees, saying washing new clothes “reduces the content of chemicals,” especially residual chemicals that may be left over from the manufacturing process.

But even so, that doesn’t prevent clothing chemicals from breaking down and leaching out of your clothing and onto your skin or into the air your breathe. And, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to point people toward clothing items that may be safer, Andrews says. Some of the research on clothing suggests synthetic materials may be treated with more chemicals than natural fibers such as cotton. But there’s really no label indicator or certification that signals a garment is chemical-free, he says.

“What’s maddening for the consumer is that you buy a shirt that says ‘100% cotton,’ and yet you’re given no information about any of the chemicals or additives that have been used.”


Former Space X vet seeks to disrupt the stiletto status quo with ‘comfort’ heels

By Carolyne Zinko

If humans have been wearing shoes for at least 40,000 years, and modern styles for the past century, does a new line of women’s high heels really require space-age engineering to make them more fit for the foot?

Silicon Valley native Dolly Singh thinks so.

The former employee of Elon Musk’s Space X is aiming to send shock waves through the $40 billion-a-year shoe industry with her line of Thesis Couture stilettos. The high-performance heels have been created by a team of designers, engineers, doctors — and a rocket scientist and astronaut, no less — and promise to be more comfortable than other high heels on the market.

Singh was motivated by walking the shiny white floors of Space X in Los Angeles in heels for five years and realizing she had two choices: “I could wear uglier shoes, or wear pretty shoes and wind up with ugly deformed feet.”

The shoes, which initially will feature a 4-inch heel, are three years in the making. They’ve been built around an entirely new foot mold — or last, in footwear industry parlance — rather than designed around existing lasts used in mass manufacturing.

“In most cases, people take the existing architecture — the shank, the sole as it is — and they’ll try to add some cushion,” Singh said during a recent San Francisco visit. “They’ll add air pockets, they’ll do this or that. And those are all evolutionary, small improvements, whereas what we wanted to do was a revolutionary improvement.”

Armed with the new last, her team has used structural engineering principles to redistribute the load on the ball and toes of the feet, and space age plastics and rubber for the shoe’s frame and heel. Combined, the advances will offer better shock absorption and arch support. Most other high heeled shoes, in contrast, contain metal rods for strength.

The load on the ball of the foot is reduced from 80 percent to 50 percent, and the shoe’s platform reduces shock by 50 percent, Singh said. Arch support is hidden inside the frame, and the heel is cleverly designed to be larger, to provide stability, without appearing visually clunky.

“From a physics standpoint, high heels as they’re designed today are not at all thoughtful,” Singh said. “High heels are probably the only product you can find where there’s $40 billion a year of commerce, and where for almost a century no innovation has taken place. That’s insane.”

The line is scheduled to launch in March, with a debut style produced in a limited edition of 1,500 pairs, each pair numbered and signed, in much the same way Musk launched his Tesla Model S series.

The debut edition will be priced at $925, with daytime looks to follow at $350 a pair, evening looks at $600 or so, and red carpet styles at about $1,000 a pair.

In January, Thesis Couture will conduct trunk shows with a prototype in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco at which customers can try on the shoes and place orders for the debut collection. Trunk show dates have not been finalized.

The name Thesis Couture, by the way, derives from her belief that her thesis about the new shoe design is a defensible theory. Take that, Stone Age foot wraps.