Eczema is an inflammation of the skin caused by an uncontrolled and unexplained allergic reaction, which manifests itself with period flares of dry and itchy skin, and in severe cases, with flakiness and pustules. Unfortunately, there is no cure, just proper management, and wanting to be fashionable can sometimes cause eczema to flare up.
Eczema sufferers are sensitive to many chemicals, such as the one used at most dry cleaners, perchloroethylene, or as it's fondly called by industry insiders, PERC. Four major factors determine whether your dry cleaner will clean your clothes with water or with solvents like PERC: the stain type, the fabric, the dye used, and the nature of various trims, linings, and accessories present on them. PERC works best for oil-based and greasy stains, but is considered overkill for coffee and food stains.
Unfortunately, since it's a strong chemical, PERC residue after dry cleaning can make eczema flare up. With this in mind, what can you do as an eczema sufferer if you desperately need something dry-cleaned?
- Request a rinse cycle after the dry cleaning one, so that the least amount of PERC is left over on your clothes; alternatively, if it's not a very pretentious fabric, gently rinse it with tepid water at home, with no detergents.
- Ask if your dry-cleaners would be willing to offer you a second aeration cycle. The aeration cycle is one of the last steps of dry cleaning, where cool air is circulated over the garments to remove the last traces of PERC.
- Make sure that your dry-cleaners offer "organic" dry-cleaning services, or if they have an option that does not involve PERC or similar chemicals. Organic dry cleaning services use other chemical compounds that are not as harsh as PERC.
- See if your dry-cleaners offer "wet cleaning", which is a cold-water washing and air-drying process still in its infancy in the dry cleaning business.
- Moisturize obsessively before wearing the garment. Moisturizing helps with eczema flare-ups, and moreover the cream or emollient used will act as a film between your eczema and the garment, essentially shielding your already sensitive skin from any PERC residue.
- Apply a steroid cream or ointment if you feel like your eczema is getting inflamed, and remove the garment. Put another clothing piece between your skin and it, such as a thin cotton tank top, or any other such item that allows for layering and lets your skin breathe. Also, please keep in mind that thicker ointments can stain the clothing again.
Sensitive skin and eczema in particular were never on friendly terms with the dry cleaners, but with some care, you can have freshly washed and pressed clothes to perfection. For more tips and information, contact your local dry cleaning company.