IC and Skin Sensitivity – Clothing, Laundry & Soaps

(Updated 7/28/21 – JHO) Patients who struggle with chronic overlapping pain conditions, including IC/BPS, IBS, vulvodynia and fibromyalgia, often find their skin and nervous system very sensitive, particularly in the crotch area (i.e. urethra, vulva, perineum and rectum). This is VERY common in patients with IC Subtype Five: Central Sensitization. As a result, something as simple as tight clothing, fabrics, soaps, detergents and other chemicals can provoke flares and discomfort.


Sensitive Skin

Pain patients often struggle with varying levels of skin sensitivity that comes and goes during flare periods.  Rough textured fabrics, such waffle weaves or wool, can provoke skin sensitivity and discomfort.  Whenever possible, select clothing made in the USA, preferably from 100% natural fibers, such as cotton, silk or linen. Modal or Tencil may work as well. Because new clothing is often contaminated with pesticides, sizing and excess dyes, all new clothing should be washed before wearing.

Tight Clothing

Comfortable and loose clothing is essential, particularly during flare periods. Women usually prefer wearing skirts, dresses, stretchy jeans, yoga pants and/or anything else that doesn’t put pressure on the belly and crotch. Tight jeans and pants must be avoided. Cotton leggings and thigh high stockings are good alternatives to tight pantyhose. Men do best with slightly looser pants,  perhaps a half size up. Try experimenting with low rise vs. natural waist jeans to see which is the most comfortable.


For Women: Cotton fabric is the best. Nylon and polyester should be avoided because they don’t allow skin to breathe. No thongs please! They have been shown to increase the risk of bacterial exposure. If you want sexy, look for cotton bikinis and boy shorts! Colored fabrics may contain some irritating dyes, particularly dark, blue tones and should be avoided. When in doubt, wear organic or white!

You might be surprised to learn that one fabric, DERMASILK, was found to help improve the symptoms of vulvar burning, skin irritation and pain in a 2011 study (Dermasilk briefs in vulvar lichen sclerosus: an adjuvant tool) conducted at the University of Bologna, Italy. 42 women were studied, divided into two groups (Dermasilk vs. Cotton) and the group that used Dermasilk showed a much better improvement in their symptoms.

For Men: Most men find boxers a bit more comfortable than briefs but it’s really about your personal preference. Cotton fabric (preferably lighter colors) is preferred (i.e. cotton knits), such as Fruit of the Loom Boxers or Jockey Briefs.

Laundry Products

Because the skin can be so sensitive to chemicals, we suggest using the mildest detergents available, such as Planet, Seventh Generation or Dreft. Unfortunately, Ivory Snow has now become very expensive. Always rinse undergarments, sheets and pajamas twice to make sure that all soap residue is removed. If you can smell a scent on your fabric after washing, then rinse again.

DO NOT use any fabric softeners or dryer sheets to reduce static. These always leave a chemical residue in your clothes that can trigger irritation. If you would prefer a scent in the dryer, try using a simple herbal laundry sack instead, such as Sonoma Lavender’s Laundry Bag.

Bath Soap & Bathing Products

Bubble baths, bath salts and stronger soaps are notorious for triggering irritation of the sensitive tissues of the urethra, vulva, perineum and rectum. For the shower and bathtub, veteran vulvadynia sufferers recommend using mild, non-scented soaps such as Basis or DOVE bars. For an extra touch in your bath water, try using a few tablespoons of baking soda for an extra soothing touch.


Finding a moisturizer can be incredibly challenging based upon your personal preferences. Between the texture vs. scent, ingredients vs. preservatives, you will undoubtedly have to try many formulas before you find something that will work for you. Look for products that are paraben free, organic and developed for sensitive skin. The best moisturizer on the market today is produced by Cerave which I use daily. Another brand, Andalou Naturals, has a sensitive skin care product line, 1000 Roses, that has a very light, refreshing scent. The lotion is the perfect texture, not too thick or thin. It’s literally just right. And best of all, my skin loves it. No reactions, no irritation! Give it a try!