I’m taking a little detour from my usual pattern reviews this week in the hope that if any of you out there have been suffering with particularly sensitive skin this post might help. This year my eczema has been particularly bad and there have been days when it is painful for clothes to be touching my skin and, as you might imagine, it has dictated the the type of garment and fabrics I wear. Only recently have my symptoms started to ease, meaning I no longer need to reach for my husband’s baggy T-shirts every day – sorry, James!
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that typically manifests as dry, itchy and inflamed skin (it’s not fun). Although I’ve experienced varying severities of eczema throughout my life, it became particularly bad earlier this year – I’m sure planning a wedding during lockdown probably didn’t help! As well as stripping back my skincare regime and eating healthily, I’ve been layering on the softest fabrics I can find in the hope these pose minimal irritation. If you have any kind of skin condition or simply want fabrics that help your skin to breath and feel soft, I hope the following tips will be of use.
Choosing natural fibres such as cotton, silks and linen blends can be a good starting point, not only for sensitive skin but sustainable sewing, too. It’s true you can find very soft man-made fabrics, but wearing natural fibres will help encourage breathability around your skin. As with most fabrics, it really helps if you can feel the fabric before you buy so if you’re buying fabrics online, order a couple of samples or, if that’s not possible, ensure you can glean as much as possible about the fabric’s properties from descriptions and reviews. I also try and buy organic fabric where I can, it can be a little pricier but boasts a lovely quality and feels nicer against the skin. Look for organic certifications like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which means the fabric has been manufactured without pesticides or fertilisers. Likewise, Oeko Tex 100 certified fabrics are those that have been tested for any harmful substances and thus pose minimal health risks.
There are, equally, some natural fibres that aren’t so great for sensitive skin. As much as I would love to don a woolly coat or jumper on a chilly autumnal day, coarse fabrics are a definite no go for me. These can often feel itchy against the skin and prevent temperature regulating. On the bright side, you have a reason to excuse yourself from this year’s Christmas jumper competition. If however you can’t be without your woolly staples, you may be able to find a woollen mix which feels smoother, but my advice would be to order a sample before purchasing.
When my skin is bad and I need something super soft to wear, particularly if I’m sewing sleepwear, I will more than likely search for organic double gauze. To me, this fabric is the epitome of breathable, soft and super comfy fabric. It’s lightweight and composed of two, dreamily soft layers that have a crinkly appearance. It is often recommended when sewing baby clothes due to its lightness against the skin. I recently purchased this GOTS, organic double gauze to make these pyjamas and honestly they have been a second to none. You can find double gauze in most fabric shops.
If a brief hiatus from wearing activewear is a no go, modal fabric can be a great alternative to synthetics or nylon. It’s derived from beech tree pulp and heralded for being eco-friendly, breathable and water absorbent. Check out this modal jersey from myfabrics.
Style and Fit
A garment’s fit and its features are something to keep in mind when sewing for sensitive skin. Tight-fitting garments, bulky seams, labels and embellishments such as embroidery or sequins that are capable of rubbing against your skin are probably best avoided until symptoms subside. I’ve found that loose fitting trousers, such as the Tilly and the Buttons Safiya trousers, simple tops and even straight leg denim jeans are comfiest for me. On chillier days, I’ll opt for a loose-fitting sweater such as the Sew House Seven Toaster sweater.
Other things that have helped me
Everyone’s skin journey is different and when it comes to switching up any part of your wardrobe, lifestyle or skincare routine to alleviate irritated skin, a one size fits all approach doesn’t necessarily cut the mustard. Taking stock of any external environmental factors that could be irritating your skin is a good place to start – does a new face cream make your skin feel like it’s burning? Have you switched up your laundry detergent recently? It can be helpful to keep any household or beauty products you use simple, and similarly don’t use too many! Personally, I now try to stick to natural products as much as possible.
When it comes to skincare, we can often pile on products in the hope that one will be the miracle cure. Yet, whatever I was putting on my skin didn’t seem to help so I wondered if I could remedy my symptoms from the inside. Hanna Sillitoe is a skincare expert who changed up her diet and lifestyle to try and alleviate her psoriasis, eczema and acne. I have found her books, Skin-Healing Expert and Radiant tremendously helpful in understanding how diet affects our skin and how to encourage healing through lifestyle and the foods we eat. Both books include a range of delicious recipes as well as really sage advice on how small changes in our daily lives can make the biggest difference to our overall health. I would highly recommend both books for problem skin. And I know it sounds cliché to say, but one of the most important things you can do is to be kind to yourself and try to stay positive. There were plenty of times this year where sore skin prevented me doing anything, including sewing, but on the days when it wasn’t so bad, sitting at my machine has been a real escape and has been a great distraction from my not so happy skin.
This one might sound obvious but if you suffer from itchy skin keeping your nails short, and avoiding potentially irritating nail varnishes for a time, can help. I sleep with cotton gloves on, which, although at times has prompted my husband to do a mime impression, has helped me have a less disturbed sleep. On that note, a good night’s sleep can make a big difference to how your skin feels the next day. Keep your bedroom cool, try to establish a bedtime routine that you stick to, and ensure you’re getting ample rest to allow your skin to heal (I know this is easier said than done when you wake up itching in the night but try your best to stay relaxed and put something cool on your skin to soothe it). Sometimes having a bath with essential oils and salts about an hour before bed can also help you relax and soften your skin.
I really hope you found this article helpful, even in a small way. Do you have any favourite fabrics or patterns that are ideal for sensitive skin?