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Wash new clothes before wearing, dermatologist warns
Some dermatologists warn of possible risks of wearing new clothes without washing them first, including rashes, insects and diseases. - photo by Bill Gephardt
For many people, the first step after taking home new clothes is to hang them in the closet or wear them right away.

Some dermatologists say consumers often neglect an important step: washing them before wearing them. They warn of all sorts of possible risks of putting on new clothes without washing them first, including rashes, insects and diseases.

Many new clothes contain chemicals like formaldehyde that can cause problems, according to Dr. Jason Hadley, a dermatologist with the Ogden Clinic.

"Formaldehyde and its analogs are in a lot of lotions that we wear, that keep from bacteria growing in the bottle. And yes, it has a resin that stops wrinkles from forming in clothes," Hadley said.

He says he's seen patients who have suffered rashes, itches and allergic reactions to the formaldehyde resins used to stop mildew and prevent wrinkles. Even one wash won't get rid of that resin, he says.

"It's designed to stick to our clothing to keep them wrinkle resistant. Just pushing it through the washing machine once or twice isn't going to fully remove it," he said. "And those patients who truly have that allergy, we tell them to avoid wrinkle-free permanently."

Formaldehyde resins aren't the only troublemakers tucked away in new clothes. The dyes bringing bright colors to new clothes can also bring itchy, red rashes.

"Those will be diluted with washing. But again, if you have a true allergy to it the color is still there in the clothing even after washing," Hadley said. "If you have a true allergy, even a little bit of that is like a little bit of poison ivy."

Depending on where the clothing was made or shipped, dermatologists have found parasites in new clothes. Sometimes, the parasites come from dressing rooms, from the person who was in the dressing room before you.

"There isn't a week in my life that doesn't go by that I don't see scabies," Hadley said.

Scabies are an infestation that can be passed on through clothing, he said.

"So if one person wears a piece of clothing and then they have an active infection with scabies, that are mites that can live for up to three days off the other person," he said. "So if you're the next person that tries that garment, you can definitely get a case of scabies, a tremendously itchy, but curable, condition."

Lice is another bug that can hitch a ride, though they tend to attach themselves to natural fibers more than synthetics. Between manufacturing, shipping, and stocking, it's difficult for consumers to know how many hands have already touched new clothes.
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