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Towels & Skincare | How to choose a towel with skin in mind

The ideal bath towels for skincare quickly absorb moisture, are soft against the skin while still retaining a texture to provide a slightly abrasive quality to assist in the removal of debris from the skin, and dry quickly. Fabrics to avoid would be those that retain moisture for long periods of time as this can serve as a source for bacterial overgrowth as well as molds and mildew. Read more...



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Photo: Wix

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What are the best fabric types for skin when it comes to bath towels?

The best fabric type for your towels is dictated by your overall preference for the feel of the textile against your skin while recognizing the towel needs to retain properties of absorbance and fast drying. Absorbance is dictated by the type of fibers used and the density of the weave or knit structure. The fast drying ability is dictated by the ability of the textile to move this moisture through the fabric along with the surface area that permits maximal interaction with air to trigger evaporation of the moisture.

For this reason, cotton tends to be the preferred fiber.

Video: Techei

How does terry cloth affect your skin?

Terry is a knit structure with loops that brush up against the skin to soften the feel and increase absorbency. For this reason, it is used in socks, sweatshirts, and towels most routinely. However, you may have noticed it is also trending in routine clothing as well. Studies have had variable results when it comes to terry and its interaction with the skin but this is likely due to the fact that the loops from French Terry knit structures can vary in terms of the size of the loops, the directionality, and the compression against the skin.

Terry cloth has been studied with regard to the skin in the context of sock design and how this can impact the development of friction blisters. We can apply this information to other uses of terry in towels simply because the use of terry in socks would be placing the textile’s interaction with the skin under the most stress.


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How about waffle weave towels? Are these better?

Waffle weave is a structure found in towels and some clothing items where the textile fibers are brought together in squares to increase the surface area and add texture to the fabric. This means that it can assist in cleaning by adding friction while absorbing moisture at the same time. For clothing items, the added surface area from the waffle-like squares can allow the textile to dry faster.

Is it better to buy organic cotton towels?

Organic cotton has gained in popularity owing to the fact that it is grown without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, to be labeled as organic, the only criteria to meet is to utilize USDA-certified organic crops in production. The word organic can still be ascribed to cotton that utilizes certified organic crops even if it has been chemically modified with finishes or dyes. (USDA, 2019). This is an example of speaking to intent- if your goal is to buy organic cotton towels to avoid added chemicals in the production process, then it is important to look for undyed organic cotton to meet your goals. Remember that organic cotton is the fiber, however, it can be woven or knit to form towels as terry, waffle weave, or other constructions. The final product will vary in terms of its impact on your skin based on how the fibers are brought together.

Are Turkish cotton and Egyptian cotton better for the skin when it comes to towels? How about modal and cotton modal?

Turkish cotton uses long cotton fibers that provide added softness.

Egyptian cotton is used as it is a high-quality long staple cotton fiber. This means the fibers can be as long as 2 inches making them more durable and less likely to pile. Piling is what makes textiles look worn or older. Fuzzballs form when loose fibers clump together.

Modal is considered an eco-friendly alternative to cotton and is known for how super soft it can feel against the skin.

Similar to modal overall but ultimately cotton and modal are the fibers and the structure of the weave or knit will dictate the properties these fibers have with your skin.

Which fabric types should people avoid when it comes to bath towels and protecting their skin?

The ideal bath towel quickly absorbs moisture, is soft against the skin while still retaining a texture to provide a slightly abrasive quality to assist in the removal of debris from the skin, and dries quickly. Fabrics to avoid would be those that retain moisture for long periods of time as this can serve as a source for bacterial overgrowth as well as molds and mildew. Any bath towels with rayon, wool, or linen will not serve all of these properties well.

Which kinds of bath towels are the best for the skin? Which are the worst?

Cotton is the most favored material for bath towels given its ability to absorb large amounts of water and dry quickly. Terry is a fabric that is made of cotton and constructed in a manner to maximize surface area for absorption and moisture evaporation with loops of cotton.

Linen is used in towels likely due to its durability but it does not absorb moisture as readily as cotton and takes longer to dry.

Is there anything else people should be aware of when it comes to bath towels and how they affect the skin?

Just as important as the towels you purchase is how you maintain them. Routine laundering and use of fabric softener with most textiles (except microfiber) can help remove residues that can build up on towels over time. These residues can serve as a source for bacteria and microorganisms to attach to. Fabric softener conditions the fibers of the towel to maintain them in their best condition.

What about antimicrobial towels?

The use of antimicrobial towels may seem like a great idea however the studies on these have not really shown a demonstrable benefit. Unfortunately, given the fact that in this study and others, there were similar rates of bacterial contamination between the antimicrobial towel and the untreated towel, I would recommend not wasting money on this claim. Also, bear in mind that the means of achieving antimicrobial properties in the towel may include embedding antimicrobial products in the textile which may serve a risk for skin irritation in some.

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