As consumers, each day we consider how much water we should drink, which foods to avoid and our amount of alcohol consumption. We agonise over what goes into our body, and in terms of our makeup and skincare, what goes on it. But do we really ever think about how the materials and chemicals in our clothes may affect us? Of course some of us prefer the luxurious feel of silk, some of us prefer the stretchiness of nylon, but generally not from a “harmful” point of view – because surely clothes wouldn’t be sold if they contained any kind of toxic chemicals? Well, you would hope so. So what in my wardrobe could be doing the damage?
Some dyes have been thought to be linked to cancer as they are thought to release carcinogenic chemicals when worn. Specifically, “azo” dyes, or more commonly known as the blue colour that rubs off of jeans and onto any light coloured surface in your vicinity. It contains formaldehyde, harmful to both humans and the ecosystems, with waterways becoming contaminated with industrial pollution as a result of the manufacturing process. It’s also thought of as that “new clothes smell” as the chemical has great preserving properties (that’s why it’s used in embalming!). In Europe they are banned, but not in the US and although they are only thought to be a low level of risk, the link to cancer is a worrying thought.
So in future, if possible, look for brands that use natural dyes as these often actually contain health benefits rather than dangers.
Sometimes working out is only as good as the gear we perform in, and so breathable, performance fabrics are often attractive marketing angles for health conscious consumers. However, synthetics like nylon and polyester actually prevent our body from its natural process of releasing toxins which can lead to unwanted skin issues or even respiratory problems. Plus, washing these materials releases hundreds if not thousands of microplastic fibres which end up in our oceans and in our own bodies through the water we drink.
Instead, consumers can opt for leisurewear made from naturally occurring materials that are safer and are not known to react as badly with our skin. Plus, they are more likely to be biodegradable or at least more environmentally friendly.
Lastly, plain old cotton isn’t even safe! It is thought that non-organic cotton farming involves heavy usage of pesticides which, if exposed to the human body, could lead to brain damage and infertility. Higher body temperature means faster absorption of these chemicals into your system!
Choose organically grown cotton to avoid this and you will most likely be supporting fair trade practises too.
As an industry, there needs to be greater transparency and regulation of the chemicals and fabrics that our bodies are allowed to come into contact with, especially if they could increase risk of cancers and other health conditions.