Wetsuits are broadly made up of two main parts – the neoprene rubber (the outer bit) and a fabric jersey (the material on the inside). Chances are, if you’re allergic to something, it’s the neoprene. I rarely, if ever, get asked about neoprene allergies – I think I’ve talked to two athletes before about it – but clearly it’s a fact of life for some athletes and you should seek medical advice.
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What is the deal with neoprene allergies?
Here’s what we know. If you do have an allergy to neoprene, it’s simply contact dermatitis and not unique to neoprene. There are literally thousands of different environmental, domestic and industrial elements that can give you contact dermatitis. Your pets, for example, are far more likely to give you contact dermatitis than neoprene. But allergies to neoprene can happen.
So we know that neoprene — the technical name of which is polychloroprene — can sometimes cause contact dermatitis. But what exactly are the symptoms of this common condition? “Contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes red, sore or inflamed after direct contact with a substance,” explains the New York Times Health Guide. However, in the same article, the scientists were quick to point out that “neoprene hypersensitivity is rare”.
Is Thiuram to blame?
According to a report entitled ‘Neoprene Orthopaedic Supports: An Under recognized Cause of Allergic Contact Dermatitis’, the specific culprit is Thiuram. Fortunately, there have been advances in rubber technologies with neoprene-like rubbers that do not contain Thiuram. My understanding is that a non-petroleum based rubber may work.
In this instance, a limestone-based neoprene that Dare 2 Tri (dare2tri.com) use could be of use and not cause such a reaction. I’m sure that there are other swim/tri brands available doing similar things, though the main options I know of are surf-based. If you contact any brand and explain to them your issues, they may be able to send you a sample of the material to see how and whether your skin reacts to it
If you do have any concerns at always seek medical advice from a doctor