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What Are The Toxic Fabrics That Can Be Harmful To Your Health?

Every day and night, we’re surrounded by fabrics. From the clothing we wear to the sheets on our beds to upholstery on our furniture or car seats, these are the fabrics of our lives. Fabrics are around us nearly all the time, but did you know that your material choices could either help or harm your health? Unraveling the production and life cycle of your clothing can inform more mindful choices that keep toxic fabrics off your skin and out of your life.

In this era of “fast fashion,” clothing makers are constantly turning out new styles at low costs and dizzying rates. This high-paced production is detrimental to both human health and the planet. Toxic fabrics now permeate the fashion industry, winding up in our closets, on our bodies, and in our landfills. However, by embracing a more mindful approach to our clothing, we can bring together healthier and more sustainable wardrobes.

FAQs

It is estimated over 8000 synthetic chemicals are used in the fashion manufacturing process, this includes carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Carcinogens are substances that are linked to the formation of cancerous cells. Other harmful materials used include flame retardants, AZO dyes, chromium and formaldehydes.

Polyester fabric releases chemicals like phthalates into the air and through contact with the skin. These chemicals have been shown to cause hormone disruption and health issues. Aside from the harmful chemicals that polyester releases, this fabric also poses some more direct health concerns.

Conventional cotton is grown with genetically modified seeds and sprayed heavily with toxic pesticide sprays like Roundup (the primary ingredient is glyphosate which is linked to cancer) and these persist in the fabric even after manufacturing.

Cotton. Although it is a natural fiber, conventional cotton is far from environmentally friendly. Cotton is mainly produced in dry and warm regions, but it needs a lot of water to grow. ... 99.3% of cotton is grown using fertilizers and genetically modified seeds.

Much as they're trumpeted by so-called eco-designers, plant-based alternatives to cotton are a minuscule piece of the fashion puzzle. Dwarfed by cotton and synthetics such as polyester, spandex and rayon, textiles made from flax, wood pulp, hemp and bamboo make up less than 2% of the market.

We’re Living In A Material World

Not that long ago, people stuck to the natural fabrics: wool, cashmere, cotton, silk, linen, and hemp. But if you take a look at your clothing labels today, you’re likely to find materials like rayon, polyester, acrylic, acetate, and nylon. On top of that, your shirts and slacks may be treated to be wrinkle-free or stain-resistant. These technological advances in fabrics may make our lives simpler, but at what cost? Chemically treated synthetic and natural fabrics are a source of toxins that may adversely affect your health and the health of the planet. For starters, here are some toxic fabrics to avoid.

Toxic Fabrics That Can Be Harmful To Your Health

Polyester

Polyester is one of the most popular and most used synthetic fabrics. Even though it can be produced with a blend of natural components, like cotton, to prevent wrinkles and tears, its effect on our health can still be harmful. While wearing polyester, it becomes hard for your skin to breathe. Moreover, rising body temperatures help to release chemicals from this fabric that are later absorbed by your skin.

Fabrics woven or knitted from Polyester thread or yarn such as Terylene, Dacron, Lycra or Vycron are the most prejudicial fabrics for our body. Besides that, technologic fabrics popular for wrinkle-free, wear resistance, drying up properties and water and wind resistance are also produced with polyester fibers and are not recommended for people with skin sensibility. A polyester fiber is made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terephthalic acid. That means, both of them are highly toxic and these toxins are not completely removed after the manufacturing process, finding an easy entry into our body through moist skin. In addition, researchers confirmed that plenty of healthy conditions and diseases come from the excessive wear of polyester fabrics, generating problems such as skin cancer and other types of cancer, chronic and severe respiratory infections as well as skin problems such as rashes, itching, redness and dermatitis. Some disorders such as reduced sperm count out and behavioral changes are also associated with the constant wearing of polyester clothes. Not only is polyester very harmful for people but also it is dangerous for the environment since it is hard to be recycled and also biodegraded and its production disposes toxins in the water and emits lots of pollutants in the air.

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This can cause a variety of problems and irritations like rashes, itching, redness, eczema, and dermatitis. So, it’s better to avoid polyester in your clothes and also in your linens.

Rayon (Viscose)

Rayon is a fiber that is made from cellulose that is chemically converted from wood pulp. Not only is the production of this material dangerous, but wearing it can also be unhealthy. Rayon fabric can emit toxic substances that can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, chest and muscle pain, and insomnia. In addition to all that, its production is heavily polluting the environment.

Rayon is a fiber produced from recycled wood pulp or bamboo cellulose processed by a combination of many chemicals involving carbon disulphide, sulfuric acid, ammonia, acetone and caustic soda to bear regular washing and constant wearing. The carbon disulphide emitted from rayon fabric can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, chest and muscle pain and insomnia as well as the toxins released from Rayon can also occasion tissue necrosis, anorexia and Parkinson’s disease for people who regularly wear clothing made of it. It is evident that rayon is a hazardous fabric for people, but its chemicals disposed in the factory effluents can also affect the Ecosystem by polluting the water, decreasing the plant’s growth and shortening animals’ life.

Nylon

Socks, lingerie, underwear, pantyhose, and so many different everyday clothes are made from nylon. It is durable and not very expensive to produce, which is why it’s popular. At the same time, nylon is not the best choice to wear on your bare skin. Clothes made from nylon do not absorb sweat from the skin, which can cause bad odors and skin infections. While in its production, the fabric gets bleached or dyed with different chemicals. Wearing it on your skin can cause a variety of irritations as well.

Acrylic

Acrylic is another fiber manufactured with a combination of toxic substances and it is pointed as one of the causes of women’s breast cancer. Besides that, Acrylic’s manufacturing process, if not properly monitored can result in an explosion. Acrylic fibers are highly inflammable and not easy recyclable nor biodegradable in the environment.

Acrylic fabrics are made of acrylonitrile, which is a carcinogen and a mutagen. Exposure to this substance can cause different problems with your health. Among them are headache, nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, limb weakness, and many more. By wearing acrylic fabrics, you run the risk of absorbing some of the acrylonitrile into your skin. Also, the manufacturing of acrylic is a huge cause of environment pollution.

This fiber is petroleum based and heavily receives chemical treatments using caustic soda, sulfuric acid and formaldehyde during its manufacturing. Moreover, the fabric receives a combination of bleaching and softer agents such as chloroform, limonene, pentene and terpineol. Because of this reason, nylon is one of the least eco-friendly textiles and even after the manufacturing process finished, the fabric still retains toxins residues that can be harmful to people’s health. Some health conditions are related to the frequent wear of Nylon clothes such as cancer, skin allergies, dizziness, headaches, spine pains and system dysfunction.

Spandex/Lycra/Elastane

These types of fabrics are extremely stretchy and a lot of tight clothes are made with them like sports bras, leggings, T-shirts, shaping underwear, tights, bikinis, etc. Like other synthetic fabrics, these are made from harmful chemical substances like polyurethane, that is also considered to be a carcinogen. Prolonged contact with these fabrics can cause skin irritations like dermatitis.

Conventional Cotton

While it may be naturally derived, conventional cotton also poses concern as a common toxic fabric among our clothing. Cotton accounts for an estimated 37 percent of fabric used in the textile industry. Alongside massive water consumption, the conventional cotton industry uses an immense amount of fertilizers and pesticides, creating pollution and introducing toxins into the cotton itself.

What To Do Instead?

Embrace The “Slow Fashion” Mindset

Weeding toxic fabrics out of our lives requires us to consider the production and treatment of our clothing, from a fiber’s creation to the first time we put our hands on our new attire. Choosing long-lasting clothing over the latest trends, quality over quantity, is a key step to a “slow fashion” approach that minimizes waste and the toxic fabrics that are so prevalent within the conventional fashion industry.

Choose Sustainably Grown Natural Fibers

When buying new, take your time to find clothing made with natural fiber fabrics that are grown and processed using sustainable methods. These include fabrics like organic cotton, linen (made from flax), and hemp. While clothes made of these fabrics may cost more than those of fast fashion, they’ll not only be healthier for you and your skin, but also save money in the long run by lasting much longer.

Natural, Non Toxic Dyes And Treatments

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Look for clothing made with minimal, nontoxic processing and natural dyes. For example, when selecting clothing made of organic linen, look for naturally occurring colors such as ivory, tan, and grey. Similarly, materials made out of bamboo can also be a great option, but it’s important to be sure that the bamboo was sustainably grown and minimally processed using responsible and nontoxic methods.

Shop Locally Made

Fabrics and clothing made close to home save on the carbon footprint associated with transportation. Plus, buying locally made clothes minimizes the need to protect products from the vulnerabilities associated with long-distance shipping that may be mitigated with biocides, fungicides, and other chemicals.

Reduce, Repair, And Reuse

The textile industry has one of the highest turnovers of any industry in the world. Considering this, being as eco-friendly as possible and detoxifying our collective wardrobe goes beyond reading labels and shopping locally. Driving the clothing industry toward less waste, use of nontoxic alternatives, and more sustainable practices means shifting our consumer demand to quality over quantity. This movement away from “fast fashion” can be accomplished by repairing the clothes we already have, prioritizing secondhand shopping over buying new, and using clothing until it is worn out.

What You Can Wear Instead

  • Cotton: it’s breathable, absorbs liquid from the skin, protects against heat in the summer and cold in the winter, and it’s hypoallergenic and durable. It’s one of the best fabrics you can wear to treat your skin to the most comfort.
  • Merino wool: it’s an all-natural, temperature and moisture regulating material that doesn’t lose shape or sag with time. Instead, it’s soft, lightweight, and also offers natural UV protection! Alpaca wool can also be a good alternative.
  • Cashmere: this is a very precious and valuable material. No heavy chemicals are used to create the smooth silky feel of cashmere, and it is amazing and nice to feel on the skin on its own.
  • Hemp: this textile has been serving people for thousands of years. It is well-known for its strength and durability. It’s the best natural material when it comes to holding shape and not stretching. Also, the more you wear it, the softer it gets.
  • Silk: not only does this soft fabric have a luxurious texture, but it also has a bunch of health benefits! It can slow down aging, help with eczema and asthma, have an antifungal effect, help to avoid allergies, and improve sleep!
  • Bamboo: it’s an interesting new alternative to traditional natural fabrics. Textiles made of bamboo are just as soft and silky as other natural fabrics, but also hypoallergenic, highly breathable, and thermo-regulating. It can absorb moisture from the skin even better than cotton and protect you from UV rays like merino wool. Also, it’s biodegradable.
  • Linen: it’s a highly comfortable and durable material. It is also easy to take care of and is suitable for every season. Like some other natural textiles, it has hypoallergenic properties, will feel extra comfortable, and will allow your skin to breathe.

Conclusion

Expensive clothing may seem overpriced, but the quality of the raw materials is superior. The fibers can be woven into beautiful fabrics that are soft and strong, requiring little chemical processing to make them suitable for you, the consumer. These garments last you for years, which makes them a cost-effective and sustainable purchase in the long run. Buying vintage or second-hand can also be a smart, sustainable act. Remember to avoid chemical dry cleaning whenever possible and wash your clothes in a “green” detergent. 

Reducing your toxic load by watching what you’re putting into your body and developing immune-boosting strategies, like sipping probiotic drinks and eating fermented vegetables daily, can have a tremendous impact on creating a thriving inner ecosystem. Organic food, pure water, and natural or organic clothing can work together to enhance your wellbeing and quality of life.

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