Gif in kleding: schadelijke chemicaliën in textiel?

Poison in clothing: harmful chemicals in textiles?

When we talk about toxins in consumer products, you might not immediately think of the yoga leggings you're wearing. Yet there is (justifiably) a growing concern about harmful chemicals, such as PFAS, in textiles and clothing. Many textile products are treated with chemicals during the manufacturing process to improve properties such as color, water resistance and "crease resistant". Unfortunately, many of these chemicals are harmful to your health. For example, PFAS has been linked to various health problems, including hormone disruptions, reduced fertility and even cancer. Not okay as far as we're concerned - and that's actually an understatement .

PFAS and BPA in textiles

Ever put on a new top and found it itchy? Or at the end of a long working day you took off your uniform and found out that you are covered in rashes? Chances are you've had to deal with harmful chemicals.

Various studies have shown that our “ordinary” clothing often contains large amounts of toxic chemicals. For example, a CBC study - led by environmental chemist Miriam Diamond - found that clothing from some of the world's most popular fast fashion brands contained toxins. And perhaps even worse: elevated levels of chemicals (including lead and PFAS) were also found in clothing for children. Greenpeace has also been involved with poison in textiles for some time. Their research showed that some major international fashion brands, including Zara, Mango and Calvin Klein, sell clothing that contains chemicals that can be harmful to our health. Most recently, a 2022 University of Toronto study found that 65% of garments tested contained PFAS.

But PFAS isn't the only thing we need to worry about (sorry!). BPA is also a frequently seen toxin in our outfits. BPA stands for Bisphenol A and is a controversial substance that mainly occurs in artificial fibers in clothing. Think especially of that beautiful synthetic ( hello polyester! ) sports outfit of yours. For example, BPA has been found in high concentrations in sports bras and sportswear. The CEH found bisphenol A in very high concentrations (sometimes as much as 22 times over the “safe limit” according to California law) in sports bras and sports shirts from brands such as The North Face, Nike, Reebok and PINK.

Health problems due to poison in textiles

Yes, we know: not all chemicals hidden in textiles are harmful to our health. We will also never claim that those sweatpants you wore once are responsible for all your complaints. But we cannot ignore all the potential health problems that can arise from harmful chemicals in our clothing. For example, PFAS is associated with several serious health problems, including: 

  • Cancer;
  • Asthma;
  • Weakened immunity in children;
  • weight gain;
  • Disruption of the endocrine system;
  • Infertility;
  • Elevated cholesterol level.

BPA affects our hormones (it's a chemical that mimics the effects of the female hormone estrogen) and has been linked to heart disease, infertility, cancer, obesity, and neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety, among others.

BPA is increasingly being replaced by the chemicals BPS and BPF due to growing concerns about its effect on our health. Unfortunately, it turns out that these substitutes can be about as harmful to our health as BPA. Not an improvement though.

How big is the health risk?

It is not yet clear exactly at what level of exposure health problems begin to occur. It is therefore impossible to say exactly how great the health risk of your yoga leggings is. What is clear is that an awful lot of clothing contains toxic chemicals. Add to that the fact that we are exposed daily to other consumer products that are packed with chemicals and the size of the exposure suddenly becomes a lot more worrying. It adds up. Moreover, we now know that endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA can cause damage even in very small amounts.

The accumulation of chemicals, also known as "body burden", is of particular concern to us. What are the risks of wearing those yoga leggings not just once, but throughout your life? 

We prefer not to wait for the answer, and opt for non-toxic or less toxic where possible.

Clothing without harmful chemicals

Well, the bad news is that that fancy outfit of yours probably contains PFAS, hormone-disrupting chemicals, and/or other dangerous toxins. And yes, as far as we are concerned, you can get very angry about that.

The good news is that more and more clothing is coming onto the market that is free of harmful chemicals or at least a lot less toxic . But before we go deeper into that, we want to give you a few guidelines that we use ourselves when detoxing our wardrobe:

  1. Avoid synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, if possible. Synthetic materials often contain chemicals.
  2. Pay extra attention to clothing that is close to your skin or in which you sweat a lot , such as underwear and sportswear.
  3. Look for clothing that is "rain repellent" . Think especially of outdoor clothing. These types of garments often contain PFAS or other harmful chemicals.
  4. Look for garments with GOTS certification (the highest standard for textile production). If a product is GOTS certified, it should not contain PFAS or other harmful chemicals. In our opinion, the second best is the OEKO-TEX Standard 100.
  5. Avoid clothing with too bright (neon) colors. Often these colors are obtained through synthetic dyes that may contain harmful chemicals.
  6. Preferably no printed products (so no t-shirts with plastic logos if possible).
  7. Consider buying second-hand clothing. Second-hand clothing has usually already been washed several times, which has sometimes reduced the presence of harmful chemicals.

How to buy non-toxic clothing?

More and more fashion brands are entering the market that are actually serious about offering safe clothing without harmful chemicals. A few of our favorite brands are:

Disclaimer (Do Your Own Research): We are happy to share with you our experiences and knowledge that we have gained in our quest for a toxin-free life. At the same time, we want to emphasize that you are solely responsible for your health (that goes without saying, right?). The information we share here is for general educational purposes and is not personal medical advice. Everyone is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

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