Warning: T-Shirts Causing Skin Rashes

November 22, 2015 | By | 16 Replies More

If you’ve experienced infection-like symptoms after wearing certain t-shirts, undershirts or underwear, you may find this information helpful.

This is one of several emails I’ve received from readers who have experienced some form of illness, as a result of wearing certain clothing products.

Note, the clothing item discussed here is a t-shirt, but it could be any clothing item that touches your skin directly.

Tug, I just now heard about you. I need some advice that is actually extremely important.

The past few years or so I have only been wearing Apt. 9 t-shirts from Kohls. They are ( or were ) the most comfortable shirts I have ever worn, especially for work.

Recently I bought about 15 shirts and updated my closet. Shortly after I had what felt like an infection under my right arm and armpit.

My father who was visiting me also wore some and said the same thing.

I disregarded it as being the shirt but as the condition worsened I looked into it.


example of underarm infection – not related to this case

What I found was that almost none of the t-shirts had the exact label even though they were the exact same shirt. For instance, some were made in Cambodia, others in Venezuela, Dominican, and so on.

Some had 96% cotton 4% Polyester and some had 60/40 and I know others had different percentages and different materials.

I am almost sure the first few years they were 100% cotton and if so I was hoping you can tell me as to clear up my insanity I am having from stinging and burning sensations in all areas that I just realized are along the lines of the stitching on my shirts including the neck.

Doctors cant find out why, I spent thousands of dollars trying to find out whats wrong but I now believe its the polyester as I feel worse when wearing the 60/40 then the 96/4.

Have you heard of this before?

Also where can I get 100% cotton t-shirts that have a good visual presence and fit like the Apt 9 as I have tried Hanes and Croft and Barrow but they are not nice enough to wear out on a casual day.

Oh and of course tagless as I have or at least now I have extreme sensitive skin.

Thanks, Will

T-Shirts Causing A Rash (or Infection)?

Hey Will,

Good to hear from you buddy and thanks for your question!

I’m so sorry to hear that you are experiencing this infection-like issue, but I may be able to be of some assistance.

First, it is not the first time I’ve heard of people becoming ill or getting skin issues from certain clothing. In fact, I’ve heard of two very similar cases.

One case turned out be Grover’s disease: Grover’s disease: Itchy back & chest

The second case I have not yet written about, but it seems as though the person was getting ill when coming in contact with fabrics that contained certain components/chemicals.

He was not able to determine exactly what the “trigger” was, but he is working with a doctor out of Michigan that is helping him to balance his system so that he doesn’t react from the trigger.

Here is the doctor’s info:
Dean Page
Natural Health Systems
1332 w Livingston Rd
Highland, MI 48357

If you contact the doctor, you can say you got his name from a blogger/writer who was emailing with “blaine m.” about his sickness reaction to certain fabrics.

Regarding your reaction to the shirts:

Do you think you’re reacting to the polyester in the fabric itself, or possibly the content of the stitching. In some cases shirts are sewn with cotton thread, and other cases polyester thread. There’s no way to know in advance what type of thread is used, but there is a way to test it.

If you buy a white undershirt/t-shirt, take it home and use something like “rit dye” (home dyeing solution) to dye the shirt another color. If the thread stays white or semi-white after the dyeing process, it’s made with polyester thread. If the thread changes color to match the dye color, it’s more than likely cotton thread.

I don’t know if have any apt9 t-shirts in my inventory, so I can’t recommend anything specific, but if you’re a member of Costco, you may want to check out their Pima v-neck undershirts. They’re inexpensive, but very nice for the prices.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, you should sign up for my mailing list and after you do that you’ll receive an email with a link to download my undershirt workbook.

It has 150+ undershirts with measurements and fabric content. You can compare the measurements of your apt9 shirts to the ones in the workbook and see if you can find something similar in size.

Keep in mind, my workbook is comprised of undershirts mostly, not t-shirts. There are some notable differences between the two, so you want to make sure you know whether or not you want an undershirt or t-shirt.

Here are some articles to take a look that may help you find a 100% inexpensive t-shirt/undershirt:
40 T-Shirts Under $30
Made in USA T-shirts & Undershirts

I will probably make this email exchange into an article at some point, so if you wouldn’t mind, would you keep me posted on your progress finding a t-shirt or undershirt that doesn’t cause you any skin or infection-like issues?

Let me know (:

Will Visits Dr. Dean Page

Coincidentally Will lived in Michigan and fairly close to Dr. Page, so he paid him a visit.

I followed up with him to see what happened as a result of his visit.

Hey Tug!

Yes I went to see him. He is a homeopathic doctor and is almost certain I have pesticide poisoning.

Specifically gesaprim pesticide which I either drank some tainted drink with it or someone deliberately tried to poison me ( I believe it was the new imported tea I recently purchased which tasted horrible).

He gave me some homeopathic drops he made and said give it 5 weeks.

It’s been 10 days so I’m kind of one day good one day not so good but I’m finally having good days and today being the best so far.

I also purchased a few 3-pack 100% cotton fruit of the loom t’s from Old Navy as well as 100% cotton sweats from them too and made a world of difference.

Doctor said the polyester is suspect in making things much worse with sensitive skin.

I have also hired a nutritionist and went gluten and dairy free which he believes is a combination of the pesticide, polyester and food allergies.

I was going to reach out to you in another week or so to see if the meds did the trick but I do truly believe it is a combo of all. And I will keep you updated.

Thank you for the referral.

Talk soon


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Category: Ask Tug

About the Author ()

Tug is the world's undershirt expert. He is also one of the most knowledgeable individuals on sweat management solutions, men's shapewear, grooming, and new fabric technologies. Got a question? Visit Tug's contact page and hit him up.

Comments (16)

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  1. Jane


    I am hoping to get ahold of Will as I just experienced something similar with the same brand of clothing! Help!

  2. anon


    Kohl’s used to carry very soft, thick 100% cotton T-shirts that never gave me a problem, but those days are long gone. Now it’s either some sort of cotton/polyester blend 9as in Apt. 9), or the cotton used is cheap (maybe short fibers) or so impregnated with chemicals that I can’t stand it against my skin. I’ve tried other brands and it’s the same thing. I guess the manufacturers make their goods as cheaply as possible 9and charge as much as they can) for inferior goods.

  3. Charles


    this is scary

  4. Charles says:

    I too encountered a rash after wearing my favorite brand of undershirts. I read on the internet (don’t recall where) an article about taking precautionary measures to avoid this:

    1)ALWAYS wash your newly purchased shirts before wearing them
    2)Instead of washing your shirts with “regular” detergent, use the detergent Dreft – geared for infant/baby clothes, is hypoallergenic, and made for sensitive skin
    3)Don’t use bleach on every wash

    I did all three and made a BIG difference. Hope this helps!

  5. Connie says:

    So many causes for such a horrific condition … hope this doesn’t cause me problems in the years ahead!

  6. Ruedi Suter says:

    Hey Tug, just read your newsletter re Will’s “infection” (which is actually a skin irritation or rash, not an infection). Here are my 2 cents about the possible cause(s);

    1. It’s most likely the dyeing/finishing chemicals in the fabric:

    You won’t believe how much (some of it toxic) stuff goes into fabric dyeing/finishing. Certain substances have been banned in North America and Europe but Will’s shirt fabrics may have been made in countries where there are no such regulations.

    a) Dye-stuff: Always look for light colors. The darker (e.g. Navy or Black) the more (quantity) dye is in the fabric the more likely . . .

    b) Finishing agents: Finishing agents used to make the fabrics “wrinkle free” or “anti-odor” are another potential source for skin reactions. E.g. Formaldehyde (cancer-causing, can be released when you sweat) is used in binders (agents) to impart (“glue on”) the chemicals that provide for these properties.

    2. Cotton? Since his Doctor mentioned Pesticides I have to break it to you: Cotton is grown with tons of pesticides. Check North Carolina’s fact-sheet: http://www.toxicfreenc.org/informed/pdfs/Cotton_chems.pdf (I get a “rash” just from reading it ;-)

    Again, there are regulations/limitations in place but maybe not in the countries where the fabrics were produced.

    P.S. Made in Cambodia, Venezuela etc. refers to the conversion of the fabric into garments. In other words a garment Made in Dominican Republic may be cut and sewn from fabrics made in Pakistan etc.

    3. It’s very unlikely that the Polyester fibers or the sewing thread is to blame. Start the search with the substances used to dye/finish the fabric and then (maybe) to grow the cotton.

    Tug, you made a good point with Will’s example. It’s a very hot topic for us producers too!

    Cheers, Ruedi Suter, http://www.infrno.us

    • Tug says:

      heya ruedi,

      this is great information for sure, so thanks so much for sharing it!

      i think the main problem is that there is never a good way for an average consumer to predict whether or not an undershirt, t-shirt, or any other body-contacting garment will have chemicals in the fabric that will create some rash or allergic reaction.

      even made in usa garments can be made with yarns or fabric sourced from overseas, so from a consumer’s standpoint, they kinda have to figure out what clothing works and doesn’t work through trial-and-error.

      interestingly, there is another article i’ll be publishing soon that is about an email exchange i was having with the other reader i mentioned in this article (blaine) who actually got sick from certain types of clothing/fabrics.

      he even tried hypoallergenic clothing such as the products from cottonique, but those still caused some of his symptoms (if i recall correctly).

      hopefully, and at the very least, this and other articles here will help people find information that can potentially help them in the event they experience similar symptoms.

      thanks again!

      • Ruedi Suter


        You’re absolutely correct Tug, it’s very tricky – if not impossible – for the consumer to “predict” his/her skin-reaction to that undershirt fabric.

        Theoretically (according to the Federal Trade Commission) a Made in USA label requires garments to be made in the USA of U.S. fabrics.

        Quote: “A label may say, “Made in U.S.A.” only if the product is made completely in the U.S of materials that were made in the U.S. If a U.S. manufacturer uses imported greige goods that are dyed, printed and finished in the U.S., for example, they may not be labeled “Made in U.S.A.” without qualification” (end quote).

        Now, to get a better idea of how serious this “chemical cocktail” issue is, check this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2088623/Toxic-dyes-Lethal-logos-Cotton-drenched-formaldehyde–How-clothes-poison-you.html#ixzz1lL6fmKST

        Conclusion: As a consumer you can do 3 things to mitigate some of the toxic and/or itchy risks:

        1. Buy Made in USA or Canada or another country with some textile regulations in place.

        2. Be aware of fabrics that touch your skin, the largest and most sensitive organ! Choose lighter colors rather than black.

        3. Wash and rinse your undershirts before you let them touch your skin! Always, no exception, wash and rinse them to get rid of “left-overs” that may trigger an unpleasant reaction.

        Cheers, Ruedi Suter

  7. Jason


    Often the real culprit is the detergents or static dryer sheets you are using, I have found, I more prone to outbreaks when using cheap detergents.

    Have not really narrowed this down to what exactly in the detergent is doing it.

    So if you do experience this try a different detergent if you still get it try changing the dryer sheets or whatever static remover you use.

    Sometimes can take days for your body to react as well.

    • Tug says:

      great advice jason!

      very interesting indeed — it never occurred to me that detergents or dryer sheets could cause this type of skin irritation/reaction.

      • Chris H


        I will tell you another one: I was having reactions to some fabric softeners that I used to use which would cause mild reactions and since that time have switched to store bought white vinegar and that did the trick for me and the wife for sure.

        I also use a liquid detergent that is green on the environment and have had no further problems. We hope that you get well soon Will, and I second the recommendation Tug had on the pima cotton ones from Costco.

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