Why are some fabrics damaging?In order to have a healthier lifestyle we pay attention to our diet, strive to sleep better, and exercise every day. One thing we never take into consideration is the clothes we wear. No, this isn’t about the price of clothes or where you buy them, but about the fabrics used to make clothing items you wear.
Some fabrics, usually synthetic or man-made materials, do not allow your skin to breathe. As a result, they induce skin irritation known as dermatitis. While most natural fabrics are breathable, synthetic materials trap moisture and damage your skin. Not only are they uncomfortable to wear, but they are bad news for the largest organ of your body.
Also, it is important to mention that fabrics vary in their ability to resist penetration and permeation of pesticides. The most common, and least understood way of pesticide poisoning is through skin absorption. All forms of pesticide can soil your clothes, and as you wear them, these pesticide granules come into contact with your skin which then absorbs them. While conclusive research has found significant health effects from people who work with pesticides and end up with contaminated clothes, as well as isolated studies which identify residual pesticides on cotton, more studies still need to be conducted to evaluate the extent of pesticide exposure for the average buyer.
Furthermore, synthetic or man-made fabrics usually undergo chemical treatment during processing. You end up wearing chemical clothes treated with chemicals. This explains why a lot of people experience skin irritation after wearing some clothing items.
Lack of breathability, pesticide absorption, chemicals, texture, can make some fabrics and clothing items damaging for your skin. Below is a list of clothing fabrics you should try to minimize as much as possible:
Rayon is created with recycled wood pulp, and it is one of the most widely used types of fabric around the world. To make sure the material is long-lasting and able to withstand frequent washing, manufacturers add a lot of chemicals including carbon disulfide, sulfuric acid, chlorine, and caustic soda which could cause side effects such as sleeplessness, nausea, headache, vomiting, just to name a few.
Go through your clothes and check the labels. You will notice that most clothing items contain polyester. Checking labels on most clothing materials in stores or online would yield the same discovery. Although widely prevalent, polyester is the worst fabric one can wear. It comes from synthetic polymers made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terephthalic acid. An early study conducted on mice found that polyester can contribute to different types of cancer, respiratory problems, and skin conditions. The study, published in the Mutagenesis, found that styrene (used in manufacture of polyester, synthetic rubber etc.) was associated with lung cancer and tumors in mice. More research is necessary to determine the full extent of health risks to humans.
Although one of the most common workout wear mistakes is wearing all cotton (because it isn’t resistant to moisture) and moisture-wicking clothes usually made from high-tech polyester are recommended, make sure you don’t wear this fabric too often. Save the fabric for workout sessions only and change immediately once you’re done.
Acrylic fibers are polyacrylonitriles which may contribute to a higher risk of some cancers including breast cancer in women. The 2010 research study found a significant increase in postmenopausal breast cancer risk for women who worked with synthetic fibers like acrylics. Since the process of making acrylic fabrics requires a lot of chemicals such as acrylic acid, methacrylic acid, or acrylonitrile, this means they are not only bad for your skin and health but the environment at the same time.
As you can see, the most harmful fabrics are the ones we wear on a daily basis, but the list doesn’t end with nylon. Other fabrics that you should minimize wearing include anything static resistant, wrinkle-free, stain-resistant, permanent press, or moth repellent. Bear in mind that many of these wrinkle-free or stain resistant materials are created with PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals) such as Teflon.
PFC’s have been linked to prostate cancer and non-hepatitis liver diseases, malignant and nonmalignant renal diseases, diabetes mellitus, chronic renal disease, and female hypothyroidism, as outlined in this 2014 meta-analysis.
Fabrics to wear
Now that you know what not to wear, you are probably wondering what fabrics are safe. Here are five suggestions:
- Organic cotton – the king of textiles, breathable, durable, hypoallergenic, natural
- Cashmere – adapts to the temperature, gentle on the skin
- Hemp – grows without the need of pesticides and other harmful substances due to the fact it is naturally insect-resistant
- Organic wool – although some manufacturers use wool that is contaminated with chemicals and irritates the skin, organic wool is becoming more common. Organic wool is chemical-free, hypoallergenic, durable, gentle
- Linen – ideal fabric for summer days because it doesn’t cling to the skin, has high air permeability, allows your body to breathe
How to buy safe fabrics
Don’t let the name of the fabric fool you, just because it should be natural it doesn’t mean it is. So, here are useful tips that will help you buy fabrics that are safe for you and the planet:
Buy high-quality clothing items because they are more likely to use natural, safe fabrics
- Try to buy fabric that is organic when possible, meaning it wasn’t exposed to chemicals e.g. organic cotton, organic wool
- When buying silk, be cautious regarding the use of synthetic dyes
- Buy in vegan clothing stores
- Buy clothing items made by American companies and produced on the US soil because it has stricter health and safety standards thus allowing you to buy clothes from worker-friendly workplace
- Buy clothes from eco-conscious brands like Amour Vert, Alternative Apparel, or Shift to Nature
Some fabrics undergo demanding processes which involve a multitude of chemicals that are harmful to both your health and the environment. Ideally, you should opt for clothes made of natural, not synthetic and man-made, fabrics and check to see whether they are organic.