Scientists at the Hohenstein Institute for Hygiene and Biotechnology have developed new textile testing methods to certify textile products as hypoallergenic.

The testing process analyses a fabric's interaction with living skin cells to determine whether it is likely to induce an allergic reaction or skin irritation in the wearer.

Textiles that pass the test series may be certified by Hohenstein as hypoallergenic, skin-friendly fabrics that will not irritate sensitive users.

"Skin sensitivity to allergens is a rapidly growing concern with many consumer audiences," says Dr Dirk Höfer, the department's director.

"A manufacturer's ability to state that his textile products have been tested and are certified as hypoallergenic is a significant advantage."

Hohenstein's certification will be of particular interest to companies that make textile products for infants and children as well as for the intimate apparel, bodywear, legwear, and activewear markets.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 50m Americans suffer from allergen sensitivities.

A 2008 National Center for Health Statistics report indicated that of the 3m children suffering from food allergies (up 18% in the decade), a third also have skin sensitivities. Scientists have identified more than 3,700 substances as skin allergens.

"Consumers are exposed to more potential skin allergens today than ever before," says Sam Moore who heads Hohenstein America.

"The textile products market has many new types of fibres and fabrics that are made all over the world with new textile processing chemicals and dyes.

"This growth in innovation has also contributed to the increasing presence of potential skin irritants. For the sensitive consumer, that can be distressing."

Hohenstein's hypoallergenic testing evaluates textiles on two key criteria.

First, testing determines that fabrics do not cause chemical damage to the human skin cells (cytotoxicity).

Second, it is ascertained that the fabrics do not elicit a stressful response from the skin cells which would indicate a potential allergic reaction.

Hohenstein's hypoallergenic certification complements Oeko-Tex certification to reassure consumers that textile products have been tested and verified as both safe and non-irritating to human skin.