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Expert Q&A

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Can wearing new clothes without washing hurt a kid's skin?

Asked by Carol Aveis, Long Island

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I heard that a child can develop a skin disease from a new outfit that has not been washed. Some expensive little children's dresses are decorated with velvet and pearls and bows -- impossible to wash. Dry cleaning has too many chemicals. Your opinion please. Thank you.

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thank you for your question. In general, I recommend that new clothes be washed before children wear them, especially if the clothing will be in direct contact with the skin. Reasons for this recommendation include the fact that the clothes have been handled by multiple people before being brought home, and it's impossible to know what has touched the fabric. In addition, certain dyes in the fabric may leave a residue on the skin or rub off on other clothing. Also, chemicals may have been sprayed onto the clothes to keep them fresh.

Formaldehyde is one example of a chemical used on some clothing to prevent the growth of certain bacteria. This preservative has been reported to cause allergic reactions on the skin, especially in areas of friction or sweating (such as rashes found in women wearing bras treated with formaldehyde). In addition, formaldehyde can irritate the eyes, nose and breathing passages. While the United States places limits on the amount of preservatives such as formaldehyde that may be used on clothing, other countries have been known to allow higher levels.

Children tend to be more sensitive than adults to chemical irritants, so for clothes that are difficult to wash, it may be a good idea to try to air them out prior to wearing. Also, you may want to have the child wear light undergarments beneath them.

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