Compared with human kidney, liver and heart, the skin is the largest and heaviest organ. Clara Eckoldt, a fashion designer from Berlin, has developed clothing for people with sensitive skin as her master thesis at the HTW University of Applied Sciences.
The skin should not be underestimated. She forms the barrier to the environment and keeps the body together. However, there is a steady increase in skin problems, especially atopic dermatitis.
Our ‘second skin’ is our clothing, and yet that causes many problems to our own skin. I remind people that “not everything that glitters is gold” – that we should purchase clothing with caution.
Why we should think about the clothes we buy
Hazardous toxins are used in the dyeing process or finishing of textiles, and this can have consequences especially for people with skin problems. Your choice of clothing can decisively influence the disease process, it can lead to an exacerbation of the skin or trigger relapses in those with a history of skin issues.
“My own two sisters suffer with neurodermatitis… I wanted to help them and others with sensitive skin to have some relief”
In Germany, 90% of people buy clothing that has been imported. Not only does this result in long transport routes, a problem for global warming, it also increases the uncertainty of which chemicals are present in the materials. Despite this, the clothing is still sold. It’s not uncommon for chemicals to make up more than one fifth of the weight of the garment, and for those with sensitive skin, the effects are devastating.
This isn’t just a personal concern. In 2017, American Airlines had over 3,500 employees express allergic reactions, headaches, and breathing problems after the airline issued new uniforms. And it’s not just limited to clothes: shoes can contain just as many, if not more, chemicals – Primark had to recall some flip-flops last year when it was discovered they contained high levels of Chrysene, a chemical that can potentially cause cancer.
The ‘Cocooning’ athleisure collection
Athleisure is a trend of clothing that can be worn during sports activities and in everyday life. Sport itself offers a chance to improve poor skin conditions, as during exercise proteins called collagen are formed in the skin cells. These proteins are responsible for the strength of the connective tissue, and without them the skin becomes flaky and dry and is more susceptible to rashes and sunburns. Plus, intensive workouts improve blood circulation which will provide more oxygen and nutrients to the skin. But all this can be contradicted simply by wearing the wrong clothing.
By wearing non-breathable clothing with toxins within the material, sweat clings to the skin and causes discomfort. The skin becomes chapped, vulnerable and ‘open’ to external factors which can penetrate cells.
My own two sisters suffer with neurodermatitis, and they’ve always had a problem when exercising. I wanted to help them and others with sensitive skin to have some relief. That’s why I’ve been developing my skin-friendly athleisure collection, ‘Cocooning’. The collection was part of my research work for my masters in Berlin and throughout the process I’ve been adamant about making the materials free from contaminated chemicals. My work consists only of skin-friendly, natural materials, which gives the wearer the chance to permanently improve the skin naturally through physical activity.
Skin-friendly, natural materials
The collection features a leather made from tinder sponge, a fungus that grows on birch and beech trees. The tinder sponge is already used in nutritional supplements and cosmetic products for eczema, as it is able to inhibit inflammation and normalize dry skin. This is down to its cell wall, which contains the active ingredients glucan, chitin and melanin, offering a soothing feeling on the skin and preventing itching for wearers with atopic dermatitis.
Other parts of the collection use mushroom leather, such as in the protective glove and a windbreaker. I’ve also used seacell (a material made of algae fibers) in my research, as well as organic cotton, hemp, linen, ramie and cork.
The aim of the Cocooning collection is to provide significant relief for people with skin problems, not to cure them. But it’s not just for sufferers – the clothing is modern, futurist and suitable for everyone. It combines skin-friendly material with a comfortable cut, and the processing prevents any itchiness while the textile finishing contains no skin-damaging chemicals. My work has a sustainable focus at its heart.
Scientists estimate that within ten years there will be twice as many eczema patients. The demand for skin-friendly clothing will only increase, and we need to have a higher priority for functional and fashionable clothing that is skin-friendly. Our clothes are on our skin for almost 24 hours a day, and it’s time to think seriously about the effect it’s having on our health.