Polyester Fiber Allergy Facts

Below is a compilation of information from Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, DermNetnz.org, What is PolyesterCalaméo , The Essential Chemical Industry , Healthline Newsletter – medically reviewed by Jill Seladi-Schulman, PhD on April 12, 2018 — Written by Scott Frothingham  This information may not be complete, check with your doctor if you have further questions.

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What is Polyester?

Polyester fiber can be natural, synthetic or a combination of the two materials. Natural fibres include silk, wool, cotton and linen. Synthetic or man-made fibres include rayon, nylon, polyester, rubber, fibreglass and spandex.

Polyester is a term often defined as “long-chain polymers chemically composed of at least 85% by weight of an ester and a dihydric alcohol and a terephthalic acid”. In other words, it means the linking of several esters within the fibers. Reaction of alcohol with carboxylic acid results in the formation of esters. Polyester allergy is considered a contact dermatitis which manifestations due to fabrics coming into contact with skin.

Polyester is a category of polymers that contain the ester functional group in their main chain. It is commonly is referred to as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Polyesters include naturally occurring chemicals, such as in the cutin (one of two waxy polymers that are the main components of the plant cuticle, which ) of plant cuticles (covers all aerial surfaces of plants) as well as synthetics such as polybutyrate. Some are biodegradable, but most are not. Polyester is used primarily in clothing. It is also used in finishings for all kinds of surfaces.

NOTE: Allergic skin reactions to clothing/polyester is most often a result of the formaldehyde finishing resins, dyes, and other chemicals added during the manufacturing of the fabric, or due to the chemicals in the laundry detergent being use. All fibers can cause irritation, but an allergic reaction is rare.

How To Avoid Polyester
  • The best way to avoid the symptoms to avoid the fabric is to look at the content labels on any fabric product you buy.

    • Wear clothing that is made out of natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, and wool
    • Wear clothing that is light colored as these will contain less dye
    • Wear loose fitting clothing in hot/humid environments
    • Avoid clothing that is labeled “non-iron” and “dirt-repellent” as it is likely these have been chemically treated

    Your dermatologist may have further specific advice, particularly if you are highly sensitive to particular textile allergens.

Other names for Polyester to Look For and Avoid
  • China silk
  • Dacron
  • Dimethyl terephthalate (DMT)
  • Monoethylene glycol (MEG)
  • Polycotto
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Purified terephthalic acid (PTA)
  • Terylene
What products contain Polyester or one of its components?*

Bed sheets
Blankets
Blouses Carpets
Clothing
Coated fabrics
Computer mouse mats
Conveyor belts
Cushioning hats
Exercise clothing
Fleece
Home furnishings
Hoses
Insulating material in pillows, comforters
Jackets
Pajamas
Polyester thread
Pants
Ropes
Toys that have hair or fur
Upholstered furniture/padding
Safety belts
Shirts
Yarn

* This list may not be all-inclusive. Read product labels carefully and talk to your doctor if you have any questions. Product formulations may change from time to time without notice. Talk to your doctor for specific instructions. For additional information about products that might contain polyester or a related substance, go to the Household Products Database online (householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov) at the United States National Library of Medicine

Products That May NOT Contain Polyester Fiber?*

Cotton
Denim
Linen
Other natural fibers
Silk
Spandex
Wool (including fixtures like carpets)

* This list may not be all-inclusive. Read product labels carefully and talk to your doctor if you have any questions. Product formulations may change from time to time without notice. Talk to your doctor for specific instructions.

Nancy’s Personal Experience

Although I have not been officially diagnosed by a dermatologist I am allergic to polyester. How do I know? When I wear it my skin turns red and areas that are rubbing more intensely, like a shirt tucked into my waist, become rashly. If the area was already inflamed from other allergies the itch becomes intolerably itchy and hurts. This was a devastating thing to realize. Ninety percent of my closet and dresser was made with polyester. Living in the north where winters are chilly, it has been challenging to give up fleece.

Even though the research I have done says it is rare to be allergic to a fiber such as polyester, wearing it caused break outs even after I washed it several times in a hypoallergenic detergent, in a washer I sterilized.  So I proceed in life as if I am allergic. Natural fabric clothes do not give me that same reaction. 

As a precaution I have begun removing rugs  not made of natural fibers, and wearing cotton socks or shoes on carpeting. Recently, while traveling, I could not find my socks in the morning and sat on the bed looking at the carpet wondering if just walking on it to the bathroom would be an issue.

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For allergy emergencies call 911 or visit your nearest hospital.