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The Toxic Chemicals Lurking in Your Clothes

By Edited Jan 11, 2014 0 0

Toxic Chemicals Lurking in Your Clothes
Credit: Ben Aalvik

Many people may be unaware of the dangers of wearing certain fibers or even sleeping on sheets made of certain materials.  The body absorbs many toxins through the skin and therefore, whatever we put on our skin will affect us in some way or another.  Continuous buildup of toxins in the body from this source, often combined with food sources as well, will cause various health affects such as allergies, extreme sensitivities, or cancer. 

Studies have shown that the chemicals in clothing have been linked to cause:

  • contact dermatitis (which can lead to cancer)
  • leukemia
  • hormone disruption (mostly reproductive)
  • damage to liver and kidney function
  • and more

 The chemicals that are causing these problems are wide-ranging and exist in mostly synthetic fabrics, but also in cotton which is highly treated most of the time. The reason for using these chemicals is usually to add features that will add value to the consumer and make the clothing items more appealing to purchase. Not for me!

  • Formaldehyde – makes clothes wrinkle-free
  • Phthalates – used in dyes and adds durability
  • Silver Nanoparticles – makes item antibacterial
  • Trichlocarban & Triclosan – makes item antibacterial

 There are thousands of chemicals involved in the production of apparel.  Many have been banned, but thousands have not and not all have been tested to learn of their effects on the human body.  Either way, I would avoid as many as possible by wearing natural fibers such as wool, silk, hemp, bamboo, or linen. Organic Cotton is nice as well but some can be treated, so watch out.  

You can get some of the same features that synthetic and treated fibers provide from natural fibers as well.  Hemp and bamboo are naturally antibacterial and neither wrinkle easily. The treated garments don’t hold their antibacterial properties long enough to make it worth the while anyways. Silver nanoparticles have been shown to wash out after 3 washes, thus going out into the environment and never breaking down. But the environmental factor is a whole other story.

Formaldehyde
This chemical is used to create wrinkle-free, easy care, or shrinkage-free garments and is used on synthetic and cotton fibers. It releases into the air to be inhaled as well as being absorbed through the skin.  It is classified by the EPA as a known human carcinogen, which has been linked to causing leukemia. Studies have also shown that exposure to formaldehyde causes an 30% increase in chance of lung cancer and 30% increase in lung/skin irritation or contact dermatitis which can lead to cancer. This can happen from wearing clothes that are marked waterproof, anti-static, mildew resistant, wrinkle-free, or shrinkage-free.  It’s also used to set colored fabrics including bed sheets!  This means we could be inhaling formaldehyde and getting sick while we sleep!  It is said that dark colored synthetics provide the highest risk of contact dermatitis, which can form rather quickly without prior symptoms.  And unfortunately, washing does not eliminate formaldehyde although it can reduce the levels present.  So one would think that this should be regulated or banned? Not in the U.S. 

Phthalates
These are pronounced “thalates” which are a man-made chemical derived from petroleum. They are used in plastics, cosmetics, perfumes, and clothing to add durability and stability. Their use in apparel, lies in the dyes used to color the fabric.

These wonderfully toxic chemicals are found in almost 100% of people tested.  Even though they can be flushed out of the body within hours of absorption, most people are constantly exposed.  The danger they pose is hormone disruption, especially testosterone.  More testing needs to be done to find out further affects, but I wouldn't suggest leaving it to chance.  The EU, Canada, and US have put restrictions on use of certain phthalates for children’s toys and clothing, but nothing else. 

Silver Nanoparticles
Silver is usually not thought of being toxic, especially because people take silver supplements. But when it comes to nanoparticles, not so much.  These are used in many workout clothes such as those polyester Addidas and Underarmor type shirts to make them antibacterial.  Although more studies need to be performed, it has been known that silver is more harmful at the nano level and that they do not differentiate bad bacteria from good bacteria.  Some bacteria is essential to human function.  Tests have shown that silver nanoparticles damage lung, liver, and kidney function in animals.  How different are we from animals really?  

Trichloban and Triclosan
I put these two together because they have the same purpose and are usually used in conjunction with each other and sometimes combined with silver nanoparticles. Oh joy!  Trichloban and Triclosan are used for antibacterial purposes. They are hormone disruptors that can affect reproductive hormones and thyroid function.

 The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention know that triclosan is present in the urine of 75% of the US population and that concentrations of the chemical have increased by 42% since 2004. (nyrnaturalnews.com)  These chemicals are not limited are regulated in the U.S. 

Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE)
This has been called the gender bender chemical by some.  As you may guess, it’s another hormone disruptor especially in reproductive systems.  It’s a large threat even at low levels of exposure. Basically, the body cannot tell the difference between NPE and estrogen.  This has been causing problems in newborn males, resulting in a shortened perineum. Studies showed that affected boys were much less interested in male toys.  The problem does not lie in that it may be causing some males to be homosexual, but it’s de-gendering some males.

 NPE has been banned in Europe, but not the U.S.  It’s present in many laundry detergents and even if it isn’t, it’s been found that NPE is released in significant amounts after washing clothes that contain it.

Conclusion
These are only some of the prominent chemicals found in most clothing. When many chemicals are combined together, they can form a “toxic soup” that can only make matters worse. There may be a food revolution happening now where the focus is turning towards organic and non-GMO foods, but we also need to look at the clothes we put on our skin.  We wonder why there are so many health problems in this world and babies are born with disorders and defects, but yet we expose ourselves constantly to a combination of toxins from wide-ranging sources. Consider avoiding synthetic and chemically treated fabrics, harmful household cleaners, and GMO, non-organic foods.  Treat your body well and you will feel well. Nothing is really cheap in life because you pay for it one way or another: either your wallet, health, or the environment (which comes back around to your health). You deserve to be healthy, so consider your choices, especially when it comes to apparel.  That cheap $10 shirt, may not be so cheap in the long run if or when it causes other problems for you or your unborn children.

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Bibliography

  1. "Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk." National Cancer Institute. 6/10/2011. 3/01/2014 <Web >
  2. "FORMALDEHYDE IN CLOTHING AND TEXTILES FACTSHEET." Australian Government Department of Health. 3/01/2014 <Web >
  3. "Congress Must Ensure Important Information about Chemical Use Is Not Hidden from People: Phthalates." Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Resources. 4/01/2014 <Web >
  4. "Antibacterial clothing – a fashionable threat to human health." NYR Natural News. 29/12/2011. 3/01/2014 <Web >
  5. "How Big Companies are Making You Unwitting Accomplices in the Toxic Water Cycle." Mercola. 12/4/2012. 3/01/2014 <Web >

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