Healthy living isn’t only about what you put directly into your body. It’s also about what you use to cover your body with. If you’re trying to avoid toxins that may enter your body, you’re probably well aware of the harmful ingredients in cosmetics, which ones you should avoid and why you should avoid them. But did you know that even your clothes can be harmful to your health?
This is especially the case with synthetic fabrics. Polyester, rayon, nylon, acrylic, and acetate are just some of the synthetic fibres that we find in most commercial clothing. Even that cotton T-shirt often contains quite a bit of polyester, Lycra, spandex or other manmade fibres. These fibres help to improve stretch, make your clothes more resistant to wrinkles and increase the fabric’s ability to dry quickly, for instance. However, synthetic fibres aren’t always good for you and here's why it’s better to opt for natural fabrics instead.
1. The Risk of Fabric Finishes
We are surrounded by chemicals every day. Synthetic fabrics are usually made through chemical processes that turn polymers, often derived from petroleum, into the fabric that makes up your fashionable clothes. These fabrics get their colours and patterns with the help of dyes that are chockfull of chemicals too and just to add to the soup, chemicals are often added in a thin layer to coat the fabric too.
The Teflon that coats your frying pans and makes them so easy to clean can do the same for your clothes, for instance: It makes the fabric stain resistant and easier to clean, in addition to being wrinkle-resistant. Teflon is one of the chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs. Research has so far linked PFCs to conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, reduced fertility, lower birth weights, an increase in bad cholesterol, an increase in uric acid that can put you at risk for hypertension and certain types of cancer. (For an overview of this research, see ncceh.ca
Another nasty that’s often used as a finishing agent on fabrics is formaldehyde. Yes, the same chemical that is used to preserve the remains of dead animals or to embalm corpses is also used to keep your clothes from creasing. However, formaldehyde is toxic and can cause skin and eye irritations, among other health problems. It has even been linked to cancer. (For more information, see cancer.gov Some governments, including some in the EU, have placed restrictions on the levels of formaldehyde that certain products, including clothing, may contain.
While natural fabrics are obviously much less likely to contain harmful chemicals, it doesn’t mean that all-natural fabrics are safer to wear than synthetics. Commercially produced textiles made of natural fibres may still be finished in chemicals like formaldehyde and it’s a good idea to carefully check the label. If it says that the fabric is ‘crease-resistant’, ‘easy care’, ‘water repellent’ or ‘flame retardant’, for instance, there’s a very good chance that it’s been drenched in nasty chemicals.