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December 20th, 2010
09:39 AM ET

Can wearing unwashed new clothes hurt a child's skin?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Question asked via email
Should I wash my kids' clothes before first wearing?

Expert answer

Thank you for your question. In general, I recommend that new clothes be washed before children wear them, especially if the clothing will be in direct contact with the skin. Reasons for this recommendation include the fact that the clothes have been handled by multiple people before being brought home, and it's impossible to know what has touched the fabric. In addition, certain dyes in the fabric may leave a residue on the skin or rub off on other clothing. Also, chemicals may have been sprayed onto the clothes to keep them fresh.

Some clothes are treated with chemicals to prevent the growth of certain bacteria. They may cause allergic reactions on the skin, especially in areas of friction or sweating. In addition, these chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose and breathing passages. While the United States places limits on the amount of preservatives that may be used on clothing, other countries have been known to allow higher levels.

Children tend to be more sensitive than adults to chemical irritants, so for clothes that are difficult to wash, it may be a good idea to try to air them out prior to wearing. Also, you may want to have the child wear light undergarments beneath them.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.