“Parts of our genome simply cannot survive a situation where the environment suffers from the full overload of toxins we currently live in.” – Kat Lahr, Parallelism Of Cyclicality
First, we don’t just absorb synthetic chemicals one time during the average day, we are exposed to hundreds of chemicals as result of using a wide array of consumer products on our skin that contain synthetic ingredients, particularly cosmetics and personal care products. Many of these same chemicals are used in synthetic clothing. Even natural fiber clothes are topped up with dangerous chemicals. That means we absorb tiny amounts of chemicals repeatedly from multiple sources until they add up and reach a tipping point within us that could be harmful.
Let us talk about chemicals in clothes now. Do you know there are chemicals in the clothes you are wearing right now? I know many people who are well informed in their respective trades but they have no idea about heavy use of chemicals in clothing industry.
We have the illusion that clothes made from synthetic fibers are safe, but the materials are in fact full of invisible chemicals the clothing industry prefers we don’t think about.
Rayon was the first artificial textile fiber, introduced in 1924 for commercial production. Since it is a man-made wood based compound, the true first synthetic fiber was nylon, its petro-molecule source being toluene, was introduced in 1939 for commercial production and used for mass production of parachutes for use in World War II. Then came Acrylic and modacrylic, wash and wear fabric in 1950, which replaced wool in sweaters. Polyester and Spandex followed in 1950s. They are made from xylene, ethylene and olefin, produced by cracking petroleum molecules into propylene and ethylene gases.
All dyed fabrics goes through “wet processing” which means applying a chemical action to the textile. It is a series of chemical applications where fabric is soaked and infused with chemicals, may times. The kind of chemicals vary as per the requirement of the process.
A $7 trillion/year clothing industry is manufactured using an astounding 8,000 synthetic chemicals. Nowadays Clothes also contain toxins like formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals (Teflon) to provide “non-iron” and “non-wrinkle” qualities. Insecticides are even applied in the name of good health.
For half a century, skin and chemicals have been interacting and creating problems like infertility, respiratory diseases, contact dermatitis, and cancer.
The more synthetic clothing you wear, the greater your risk of absorbing toxic chemicals that harm your health. Skin is the largest body organ and when toxins are absorbed through your skin, they bypass your liver, the organ responsible for removing toxins. You also may not realize that your skin keeps you healthy by venting up to a pound of toxins per day.
Petrochemical fibers restrict and suffocate your skin shutting down toxic release. Meanwhile, they contribute to your total toxic burden and may become the “tipping point” for triggering the onset of disease.
Two contributing factors
- Toxic buildup in your body
- Multiple chemicals that interact together to create even worse problems than the individual chemicals by themselves.
Skin rashes, nausea, fatigue, burning, itching, headaches, and difficulty breathing are all associated with chemical sensitivity. If you have mysterious health symptoms that you can’t seem to get control over, it’s worth checking out whether your clothes could be the problem.
With a “mere” 8,000 chemicals used in clothing manufacture, it’s a sure bet you’re wearing many as you read this. Let’s highlight some of the worst.
These kinds of fabric finish “scream” chemicals-
- Easy Care — Wrinkle free, shrinkage free garments release formaldehyde.
- Water Repellent — Fluoropolymers (as in Teflon) are used to repel oil and water
- Flame Retardants
- Bacterial and fungicidal chemicals — Triclosan and nano-particles are used for this.
The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment states on their website: “The Teflon fabric protector on your child’s shirts likely contains PFCs, and may break down into the common, toxic blood contaminant called PFOA. We aren’t yet sure which sources cause us to be most exposed to these pernicious chemicals, but it is best to opt out of stain/water/oil repellants whenever possible”.
Formaldehyde is linked to a 30% increase in lung cancer, plus skin/lung irritation and contact dermatitis. In an article published in NY Times on Dec 10, 2010 “When Wrinkle-Free Clothing Also Means Formaldehyde Fumes” reveals the anti-wrinkle finish comes from a resin that releases formaldehyde, the chemical that is usually associated with embalming fluids or dissected frogs in biology class. It is found in fabrics claiming to be Anti-cling, anti-static, anti-shrink
- Moth-proof and mildew resistant
- Chlorine resistant
It’s also used in dyes and printing to fix the design and prevent “running”.
Most governments restrict formaldehyde levels in clothing but not the U.S.
It’s important to realize that while individual chemicals might not endanger your health, the synergistic effect of multiple chemicals interacting can have unpredictable negative effects.
Here’s what you can do:
Choose natural fibers.
- Cotton — preferably organic. It remains the “king” of textiles. Organic accounts for less than 1% of worldwide production.
- Flax — one of nature’s strongest fibers.
- Hemp — grows without any need for fungicides, herbicides, or pesticides because it’s naturally insect-resistant. Its fibers are reported to be four times stronger than cotton. This is NOT the hemp known for its mind-altering properties!
- Silk — known as the “queen of fabrics”. Watch out for the use of synthetic dyes in silk.
- Wool — most of today’s wool is contaminated with chemicals, i.e., pesticides used to kill parasites. But organic wool is becoming more common.
- Other — alpaca, angora, camel, cashmere, mohair, ramie, aluyot. Read more
HERE’S WHAT PARENTS CAN DO:
- Just say no to sandals, shoes, boots or raingear made entirely or predominantly from rubber- or plastic-like materials. Keep an eye out when shopping for shoes treated with anti-microbial chemicals.
- Rid wardrobes of garments screen printed with plastisol, the thick, rubbery material used to create slightly raised designs and logos.
- Don’t purchase clothing promising stain-resistant, waterproof, or odor-fighting performance, technologies which utilize toxic chemicals.
- Steer clear of polyester, which frequently contains traces of antimony.
- Stick to natural fiber clothing, preferably organic.
- Select clothing manufactured in the U.S. and Europe where regulations are generally stricter.
- Don’t add insult to injury. Wash clothing in plant-based detergent without synthetic fragrance, which can contain hormone disrupting chemicals. And skip the fragrant dryer sheets.
The Organic Trade Association estimates that one non-organic cotton T-shirt uses one-third pound of pesticides and fertilizers. Cotton production uses one-fourth of all the world’s fertilizers. It’s another good reason to choose organic cotton to add to the ones above.
“Killer Clothes” written by Anna Maria Clement, PhD, NMD, LN and Brian R. Clement, PhD, NMD, LN
Images courtesy: pixabay.com, greenpeace.org