Scary Wear: Toxins in Everyday Fabrics

By Dr. Shellie L. Rosen, PhD, DOM, L.Ac.

The skin is the body’s largest organ. It actively works to keep toxins from penetrating the interior. Dry, itchy skin, boils, rashes, or skin inflammation may be related to the fabrics we put near our skin. Unfortunately, most clothing is created for fast turnaround and contains toxins that affect human health. These toxins are absorbed through the skin, inhaled, and released into water systems. Synthetic fast fashion takes advantage of unsafe labor markets, plunders resources, pollutes production sites, and exposes toxins to consumers’ bodies. It is time to look at fast fashion’s scary personal and environmental health threats.

Many clothes we wear are polyesters formed from esters of dihydric alcohol and terephthalic acid, which include polymers. When heated (body heat, the sun, or a clothing dryer), polyester releases antimony oxide, a known carcinogen, which can be absorbed in sweat. In addition, the National Institutes of Health published Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics & Gynecology studies illustrating links between polyester (from underwear) and significant hormone changes in male and female animal studies, leading to sterility, impotence, and miscarriage.

Other fabric products that claim to be “natural fibers,” such as rayon and acetate, are derived from wood (pulp and fibers). They require toxic chemical processing, which remains in and on the thread to hold their shape over time. Nylon is made from petroleum and treated with toxins for strength and resilience.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the chemical that forms acrylic, polyacrylonitrile (a chemical linked to cancer), enters the body via skin, inhalation, and ingestion. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, petrochemicals, dioxin, chemical softeners, and detergents are too common in our fabrics. Millions of chemicals and microfibers pollute the water system when washing polyester, rayon, acetate, nylon, and acrylic clothing.

Fast fashion is a term for low-cost, poor-quality fabrics produced quickly without regard for the health of factory workers, local plant communities, and end-user consumers. These fabrics use methods with little to no care for the waste or harm caused, and they tend to have a short lifespan, causing them to end up as waste faster than more traditionally produced fabrics.

Throwing everything away in a fit of fabric fear is not necessary. Your future purchases of natural fibers can be responsible choices such as organic cotton, wool, silk, hemp, linen, bamboo, and cashmere. Make the change to cotton or silk underwear and cotton or wool socks. When you replace towels and bedding, Consumer Reports recommends you look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Greenguard Gold labels.

High-tech exercise clothing is often synthetic material. The designs provide sun protection, flexibility, sweat management and look fantastic. There may be an equally great natural workout fabric, but it is understandable why synthetic clothing is difficult to part with completely. Calculate the cost/risk-benefit for your “costumes” this October and lean toward sustainable, chemical-free fabrics whenever possible. Abundant Blessings.

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