Skin physiology and textiles - consideration of basic interactions

Curr Probl Dermatol. 2006:33:1-16. doi: 10.1159/000093926.


The skin exerts a number of essential protective functions ensuring homeostasis of the whole body. In the present review barrier function of the skin, thermoregulation, antimicrobial defence and the skin-associated immune system are discussed. Barrier function is provided by the dynamic stratum corneum structure composed of lipids and corneocytes. The stratum corneum is a conditio sine qua non for terrestrial life. Impairment of barrier function can be due to injury and inflammatory skin diseases. Textiles, in particular clothing, interact with skin functions in a dynamic pattern. Mechanical properties like roughness of fabric surface are responsible for non-specific skin reactions like wool intolerance or keratosis follicularis. Thermoregulation, which is mediated by local blood flow and evaporation of sweat, is an important subject for textile-skin interactions. There are age-, gender- and activity-related differences in thermoregulation of skin that should be considered for the development of specifically designed fabrics. The skin is an important immune organ with non-specific and specific activities. Antimicrobial textiles may interfere with non-specific defence mechanisms like antimicrobial peptides of skin or the resident microflora. The use of antibacterial compounds like silver, copper or triclosan is a matter of debate despite their use for a very long period. Macromolecules with antimicrobial activity like chitosan that can be incorporated into textiles or inert material like carbon fibres or activated charcoal seem to be promising agents. Interaction of textiles with the specific immune system of skin is a rare event but may lead to allergic contact dermatitis. Electronic textiles and other smart textiles offer new areas of usage in health care and risk management but bear their own risks for allergies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / adverse effects
  • Dermatitis / etiology
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology
  • Friction
  • Humans
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Textiles*


  • Anti-Infective Agents