Chemicals in Your Clothes

Has it ever occurred to you that your clothes might contain chemicals that could be detrimental to your health?

An investigation led by Greenpeace International found trails of hazardous substances in clothing made by some of the biggest names in the fashion industry. Among these chemicals they found the presence of cancer-causing azo dyes, which governments like the EU and Australia have deliberated on banning completely. Some of the substances found are also linked to skin conditions such as dermatitis, allergic reactions and irritation, as well as hormonal and reproductive issues.  The effects of chemicals on the people and communities that form part of the industry are a whole separate topic of discussion (spoiler alert: they are horrifying).

The situation is more concerning when it comes to sportswear. When we exercise and sweat, toxins can be more easily released. Since our pores open up we become more prone to absorb these dangerous toxins. (And I believed I was healthier going to the gym… maybe not).

Even if this is the first time you hear about the hidden chemicals in your clothes, probably all of us at some point have experienced discomfort or itchiness from certain garments. We should try to become more connected with our bodies. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t good for you.

What can you do?

Don’t freak out! I am not suggesting you should go to your closet and throw away all your gym clothes (I have not done it myself). However, information is power and my goal is to help you become a more informed consumer. Some tips for when you do decide to go shopping:

  • Look for natural and organic fabrics such as organic cotton, linen, silk, wool.
  • Do a quick internet search on the brand, learn what kind of policies they have.
  • Statements like “wrinkle-free” and “stain-proof” could mean chemicals have been added to the garments.
  • Certifications like OEKO-TEX or Bluesign are always a plus.
  • Lack of transparency is a red flag – when a brand does not provide a lot of details on their processes, or even worse is reluctant to provide them, it might be better to choose a different alternative.
  • If you are at a store ask questions about the materials used, the production environment or about the store/brand guidelines. Generally, brands that care let their employees know and they tend to brag about it too.
  • Use a chemical-free or low-chemical solution for washing your clothing (I like Seventh Generation)
  • Listen to your body – if an item is itchy, don’t wear it.

A step in the right direction

In 2011 Greenpeace started the Detox campaign which according to PUMA’s Head of Corporate Sustainability “was a clear wake-up call for the whole industry”. This campaign served as challenge to big clothing brands to achieve “zero discharges of hazardous chemicals by 2020” and 80 brands committed to it.

According to Greenpeace in their 2018 findings “a lot more still needs to be done leading up to 2020” yet this sets the example for brands to take responsibility.

If you want to get more technical

Seriously, do I need to learn a new language now? These are some of the chemicals found in clothes:

Azo dyes: these are one of the most commons dyes used by industry. Some azo dyes can release chemicals known as aromatic amines, which have been linked to cancer. The EU has banned the use of these azo dyes that release cancer-causing amines in any textiles that come into contact with human skin.

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs): these compounds are commonly found in clothes and they have been linked to reproductive and developmental risks in rats. They also are also highly toxic for our environment and marine life.

Phthalates: these have been known to have adverse impact on the liver, kidneys, lungs and the reproductive system. As well they have been associated with cancer.

Nanoparticle silver: Used in anti-odor and antimicrobial activewear, they lead to the formation of “free radical cells”. Diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson’s are characterized by an overproduction of these.

Useful Links

https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-international-stateless/2018/07/Toxic_v14.pdf

https://www.greenpeace.org/archive-international/Global/international/publications/toxics/Water%202012/ToxicThreads01.pdf

https://www.shape.com/fitness/clothes/harmful-chemicals-hidden-your-workout-clothes

https://www.forbes.com/sites/eshachhabra/2018/09/05/the-new-brand-wants-to-talk-about-the-dirty-secrets-of-athleisure/#1f8d94e47314

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/these-are-the-gnarly-chemicals-in-the-cheap-clothes-we-buy_n_57d6e494e4b03d2d459b92ff

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-chemicals-in-clothes-and-how-to-avoid-them

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/02/toxics-apparel-nike-adidas-reach

https://www.cottonique.com/blogs/blog/4-facts-about-textile-contact-dermatitis