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Fibromyalgia and Skin Problems: Clothing that Causes Itching

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Reprinted with the kind permission of Barbara Keddy

“I base most of my fashion sense
on what doesn’t itch.”

~ Gilda Radner ~

There isn’t anything more comforting to me than cloth that is soft and soothing. Mostly, it is cotton that gives me a feeling of being in a cocoon. Since the most popular blog on this busy website is about itching, it has brought to mind the ways in which we can reduce the itching and scratching (the “Itchy & Scratchy Show” from the Simpsons is brought to mind) of fabric that does not bring comfort.
As an effort to “change my brain” regarding pain, I followed the advice of experts many years ago and took on a project which was creative and new to me. In addition, it is somewhat repetitive, also part of the triad of characteristics that make up this endeavor. Quilting was my choice of a new project/hobby. Never a sewer, it was indeed a steep learning curve but it brought me into the realm of fabrics.

I found myself in shops that were new to me as I walked among the bolts of material that were either comforting or irritating to the touch. It was then that I finally understood why I have never been a fashion queen. I am only at ease in soft, cotton fabrics; otherwise, my body is ‘itchy and scratchy.’ Rashes, tingling, burning will develop if the clothing I wear is not soothing to touch.
When my oldest son was a toddler, he would take a piece of new clothing and rub it against his face, and if he did not like the feel of it, he would say it was ‘picky’ and would not wear it. It seems as though this is hereditary, but maybe not! Raised in the 1970s, he and his two brothers were a product of those terrible acrylic, flashy and scratchy clothes for boys. Nylon, rayon and other non-natural fabrics were the bane of their existence.
Raised in the 1950s myself, I remember the unpleasant sensations of the crinoline skirts, tight waistbands, itchy dresses and uncomfortable high heeled shoes. I would itch after wearing a crinoline and anything tight, in particular nylon stockings and later pantyhose. High heeled shoes were another pain evoking dilemma for me. 
Currently I am embarking on making a quilt for a friend from African fabric which has been in her home for many years from her working days in Africa. The dyed (done by hand) material is soft and enticing. I could imagine the lovely draping and amazing feel of the soft fabric on my skin.
I am certain that all the itching and subsequent skin problems that we ‘fibromyalgia persons’ (mainly women) experience is no doubt exacerbated by irritating fabric against the skin, make-up that is poisonous and shoes that affect our feet in later life. Is it little wonder that more women than men experience itching and scratching until the skin erupts? Added to which is the pressure women are under to dress fashionably which usually means uncomfortably.
The fashion industry is the second greatest polluter of the environment after oil. Not only is it responsible for pollution of the earth, but it also pollutes our sensitive bodies. Do try a day without makeup and nail polish (poisonous substances have been found in nail polish that can affect the endocrine system and potentially the reproductive system.  The research in this area is on-going.). Spend a week in soft, loose, non-irritating clothing, avoid chemicals in the form of hair dyes and makeup, give up the heeled shoes and note for yourself if it helps with the itching and rashes.
Above all, it is our central nervous system that will enjoy the vacation from what is considered fashionable (note: uncomfortable). It is primarily men who determine women’s fashion although as it is often said: women dress for other women, not for men! This could be more complex in the area of transgender and fluid orientations; nonetheless, for all humans, comfort is paramount. We can all redefine what is fashionable and how we present ourselves to the world if we demand clothing that is healthy for our bodies and not made from toxic fabric.

Taking care of our skin, the largest organ of the body, will reduce the amount of itching and rashes we experience as persons with fibromyalgia – the dis-ease of the central nervous system.

About the AuthorBarbara Keddy, BSc.N., M.A., Ph.D., Professor Emerita, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, has lived with fibromyalgia for more than 40 years. Barbara has been interested in social justice issues throughout her professional career, with particular focus on women’s health, resulting in her book Women and Fibromyalgia:  Living with an Invisible Dis-ease

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