We established a while ago that clothing can irritate your skin. But, why? The answer is two-fold. The first part of the equation is that the majority of clothing contains polyester (i.e., plastic), which doesn't let skin breathe, and consequently results in sweating and skin irritation. The second part is the chemicals used to process and coat your clothes. And believe it or not, there are A LOT of chemicals in our clothes!
What harmful chemicals are in clothing?
Sadly, there are almost too many to cover. For sake of time, we'll focus on addressing the most common toxic chemicals found in clothing and explain why they are bad for your skin (and broader health).
Conventional cotton is produced using a tremendously noxious blend of pesticides, herbicides, defoliants, and fertilizers. Frighteningly, seven of the 15 most commonly used pesticides used in U.S. conventional cotton production are listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "possible", "likely", "probable", or "known" cancer causing agents (National Wildlife Federation, 2006). Well... that certainly makes me think twice about 100% cotton being 100% safe. "Fabric of our lives" or "fabric of the afterlife"?
What are the health impacts of pesticides?
Glyphosate is the one of the most popular herbicides used in cotton production. Associated health impacts include increased risk of cancer, endocrine disruption, celiac disease, and autism (Meftaul et. al, 2020). None of these are pleasant.
How can I avoid pesticides?
If you are looking for cotton, choose organic. Hemp and linen are also good alternatives to conventional cotton, as they are exposed to comparatively less pesticides.
Who doesn't like a little color in their wardrobe? I certainly do. But, would you change your preferences if you knew that the dye used in your clothing could result in serious health impacts? Enter AZO dyes. AZO dyes are commercially important because they are used to color and treat clothing, leather, and other textiles. They are sometimes even found in certain foods, shocking as that might be. Let's be very clear... they are NOT good for you.
What are the health impacts of AZO dyes?
AZO dyes are carcinogenic (Chung, 2016). What does carcinogenic mean you ask? They have the potential to cause cancer. In fact many countries, including all in the European Union, have banned use of AZO dyes for this reason. In the U.S., the State of California also banned the use of AZO dyes.
How can I avoid AZO dyes?
Look for GOTS or OEKO-TEX certified clothing. Both standards adhere to guidelines for producing garments free of harmful dyes. If you elect to buy traditional clothing that may contain AZO dyes, make sure you wash all garments before you wear them.
Did you know that formaldehyde is in clothing? Yes, the same formaldehyde that is used to preserve dead bodies. Gross! Why would apparel companies use a toxic chemical like formaldehyde? The answer is quite simple. Formeldahyde is a preservative. It keeps clothing looking and smelling fresh. It is often used in wrinkle and/or stain resistant clothing. I don't know about you, but I would prefer wrinkles and stains over a toxic chemical.
What are the health impacts of formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde can cause allergic contract dermatitis and respiratory issues (Akarslan & Demiralay, 2015). As if seasonal allergies weren't enough of a pain.
How can I avoid formaldehyde?
Stay away from clothing that is marketed as "wrinkle resistant" or "stain resistant". Again, look for the GOTS or OEKO-TEX certification. You can be sure that any clothing labeled GOTS or OEKO-TEX certified is free of toxic chemicals and totally safe to wear.
Akarslan, F. and Demiralay, H. (21015). Effects of Textile Materials Harmful to Human Health. Acta Physica Polonica A, 128 (2B), B407 - B408. DOI: 10.12693/APhysPolA.128.B-407
Chung K. T. (2016). Azo dyes and human health: A review. Journal of environmental science and health. Part C, Environmental carcinogenesis & ecotoxicology reviews, 34(4), 233–261. https://doi.org/10.1080/10590501.2016.1236602
Cubie, Doreen. (2006). Cotton and Pesticides. https://www.nwf.org/Magazines/National-Wildlife/2006/Cotton-and-Pesticides
Meftaul, I. M., Venkateswarlu, K., Dharmarajan, R., Annamalai, P., Asaduzzaman, M., Parven, A., & Megharaj, M. (2020). Controversies over human health and ecological impacts of glyphosate: Is it to be banned in modern agriculture?. Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987), 263(Pt A), 114372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2020.114372