Cool Clothes to Beat the Heat When You Have MS

Medically Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on July 06, 2015
4 min read

If those dog days of summer make your multiple sclerosis symptoms flare, it's time to make a fashion statement against the heat. Shop for the right clothes so you can keep cool and look great, too!

"Most people with MS have heat sensitivity," says Barbara Giesser, MD, of the David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine. When you get too warm, you might feel weak, numb, woozy, and dizzy.

What you wear can make all the difference. When the thermometer goes up, sweat pulls heat out of your body. When it evaporates, you start to cool off. Smart choices at the clothing store can make this built-in air-conditioning system more efficient.

Look for light-weight, open-weave fabrics. They tend to be coolest because they "breathe" by letting air in and out. That's also why loose fits and layers are better than clingy clothing, which can seal in heat.

Some materials help cool you off by absorbing or "wicking" sweat from your body and into the clothing, which acts like a second skin. The moisture, once it's removed, evaporates from your clothes.

Also, when you shop, don't forget that light colors reflect sunlight and dark colors absorb the heat.

Natural fibers like cotton, linen, and silk -- all of which "wick" and "breathe" -- are feel-good fabrics when the heat is on. Bamboo, too. Bodybuilder and life-long exercise enthusiast David Lyons, who has relapsing-remitting MS, dresses in it from head to toe, with bamboo boxer shorts thrown on in-between.

"Just switching to bamboo socks kept my feet dryer, so much so that I changed over to bamboo for all of my workout clothes," Lyons says. "Since then, I've been considerably cooler."

Malika Jones picks 100% cotton. "When I found out I had MS 3 years ago, I weighed 300 pounds. I didn't want to put a burden on people to lift me if I ever became disabled, so I went on the walking trail."

Since then, she's started a walking club at Georgia Highlands College, where she is a sophomore, and she's lost about half the weight. The MS Walk team captain wears tank tops, shorts or thin leggings, and ventilated socks as she trains.

The active-wear department offers lots of other casual styles to beat the heat. "Today's athletic wear features cooling and comfort technology that can certainly be adapted for medical-type applications," says Don Thompson, PhD, associate director of the Textile Protection and Comfort Center at NC State University.

Early versions of polyester and nylon were tight knits that were better for warming than cooling. But these man-made materials have become much "cooler" in the past few years, thanks to changes in fiber shape, yarn structure, and knit construction that boosted their wicking power.

As hot as yoga pants are in today's fashion circuits, sometimes you must dress up for success. No need to sacrifice style for comfort, says Susan Wade, lead instructor of fashion merchandising at Sanford-Brown College in Chicago.

The fashion designer was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2012. "For comfort," she says, "I prefer knits, but to keep a professional look, a crisp cotton shirt or linen jacket with a loose plain weave is best."

She recommends loose clothing to keep air moving. But that doesn't mean oversized, she says. Check the fit in the shoulders, sleeves, and length. It shouldn't hide your shape.

If you're a woman, say "yes" to the dress. "A stylish maxi with a waterfall hemline is comfortable and cool, and you'll look like a million bucks," Wade says. "This is a great item to pack on a summer trip, and you can wear it to dress up day or night." Pair it with flat or chunky-heel espadrilles made of cotton or hemp, which are easy to walk in.

And don't forget to buy a hat. The big trend this year is wide-brimmed, Wade says. "A straw hat with a wide ribbon to match your outfit is a perfect way to show off your style and keep cool."

A few more fashion tricks: Wrap a cool, damp scarf or bandana around your neck to beat the heat. Or wear some cool beads. Wade keeps a string of her new favorite accessory, "Hot Girls Pearls," in the mini-fridge at her office for just this purpose.

Imagine a fabric that will keep your body cool no matter how hot it is. That's the goal of an engineering project at the University of California, San Diego, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The idea is to keep your body at 93 degrees F, "the average comfortable skin temperature for most people," according to Renkun Chen, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and one of the collaborators on this project.

The smart fabric will be designed to control the temperature of the wearer's skin by becoming thicker when the air around you gets cooler and thinner when it gets hotter. There will be extra coverage in "hot spots," such as areas on the back and under the arms and feet. "This is like a personalized air-conditioner and heater," Chen says.

The main goal of the smart-fabric project is to conserve energy and reduce its cost, says Joseph Wang, distinguished professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego, "but health applications may be interesting side products."

Show Sources


National MS Society: "Heat & Temperature Sensitivity."

Barbara Giesser, MD, clinical director, David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Neurology MS Program.

Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada: "10 Tips to Beat the Heat."

Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Hot and Cold - the Effects of Temperature on MS."

National Sleep Foundation.

David Lyons, Founder, MS Fitness Challenge, Encino, CA.

Malika Jones, Student, Georgia Highlands College, Dallas, GA.

Good Housekeeping Institute: "5 Fitness Brands Heating Up the Cooling Trend."

Don Thompson, PhD, Associate Director, Textile Protection and Comfort Center, NC State University, Raleigh, NC.

Business of Fashion: "For the Activewear Market, There's No Way But Up."

Susan Wade, lead instructor, Fashion Merchandising, Sanford-Brown College, Chicago.

News release, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Joseph Wang, distinguished professor, Nanoengineering, UC San Diego.

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