Fall sports and polyester jerseys - What does that mean for children with sensitive skin?

Fall sports are in full swing. What an exciting time of year! Time to get ready for the big game...

Water bottle? ✔︎
Soccer ball? ✔︎
Cleats?  ✔︎
Shin guards? ✔︎
Topical steroid creams? ✔︎

Wait a minute...

...topical steroid creams?! That doesn't sound right. But, when your child has eczema, topical steroids for treating skin irritation are just an extension of the equipment bag. Primarily polyester jerseys made with harmful chemicals and unbreathable fabric can exacerbate eczema. After a full game of running and sweating, skin is left itchy and downright uncomfortable. Well, that certainly takes the air out of the ball now doesn't it?

Why are polyester jerseys bad for children with sensitive skin?

We've established that polyester is bad for skin. There are two reasons why it is so irritating. 

The first is that polyester is a form of plastic derived from oil. While it is commonly marketed as "moisture wicking" and "dry fitting", the truth is that polyester just makes you sweat. In fact, it is scientifically hydrophobic (literally "afraid of water"), which means it repels moisture as opposed to absorbing it. These properties keep your skin wet, which then causes irritation as the material rubs against it. Think about what would happen if you wore a plastic trash bag. Would it breathe? No. Would you sweat? Yes, profusely. Would you be comfortable? Absolutely not. Would you wear a plastic trash bag as a soccer jersey? Uh, we sure wouldn't. Sporting a polyester blend t-shirt or jersey isn't quite as extreme as wearing a trash bag, but it's certainly not going to do your skin any favors. 

Now for reason number two... chemicals. Polyester is treated and dyed with all kinds of awful substances, including phthalates (known to cause hormone issues), antimony (a carcinogen), perfluorochemicals (Teflon), and formaldehyde (the stuff used to preserve dead bodies for science). As if being shrink wrapped wasn't enough! None of these chemicals are good for your health. The result? Well - beyond the obvious chances for significant health problems - lots of discomfort stemming from very unhappy skin.

What is the solution for children with sensitive skin?

Odds are that polyester-laden clothing and jerseys aren't going to disappear this season, so it looks like we'll have to find a workaround solution for now. What can you do?

1. Wear clothing made of organic and/or natural fibers:  Organic cotton, hemp, linen, and TENCEL Lyocell are all naturally derived and among the most hydrophilic (literally "water loving") absorbent fabrics available. These will all help keep your skin dry even as you sweat. Wear them to school. Wear them to practice. You might even find a way to wear them during the game (see #2).

2. Wear a barrier or under layer: In the event you're forced to wear a top layer made of polyester (or another synthetic fabric), wear a barrier made from natural fibers underneath. While not a perfect solution, at least the natural material will be closest to your skin and minimize the potential for irritation.

3. Talk to your coach or your event organizer: Ever hear the saying "you never get what you don't ask for"? Sometimes all we have to do is ask politely to advocate for the things we want. To that end, talk to your coaches, teachers, and other parents about the "polyester problem". Educate those who are not aware of the issue. Work together to identify alternatives and effect change. Who knows... you might just be successful.  

Good luck this season!


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