News > EBB: Itching to buy new clothes?

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  • 10th September 2019 - 12:02 GMT

EBB: Itching to buy new clothes?

Have you ever experienced a rash or an itch from that brand-new blouse you bought for your summer holidays? Or from those leather sandals you planned on wearing to the beach?

Although rare, at least an estimated 1% of the population has had allergic reactions to textile and leather products as they have become sensitive to a natural or synthetic chemical substance.

When faced with a molecular intruder that doesn’t agree with, your immune system tries to deal with it for a while until your body can no longer keep the allergic reaction at bay. Your immune system will remember an allergic reaction to a particular substance – a process known as ‘sensitisation’. The same allergic reaction will be triggered much faster the next time the body is exposed to the same substance, even at lower doses.

The good news is that scientists have a fairly well-developed knowledge of which substances can sensitise people. The European Chemicals Agency has identified 145,286 substances as sensitisers, and 1,212 of these are officially classified at the EU-level.

The bad news is that until now this has had no effect on what your clothes may or may not contain. Importers and retailers are under no general obligation to inform consumers or communicate about it – no more than they are obliged to worry about working conditions or other environmental damage in their value chain.

But there is hope. EU authorities are working on banning some sensitising substances and limiting others to levels considered safe through the EU’s chemical control process, known as REACH.


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