Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Organs are made up of tissue. Tissue is highly permeable. What does this mean? You are not only what you eat, but you are also what you wear.
Environmental impact aside (and that’s a big aside, because the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world), clothing manufacturers gets away with adding a lot of toxic chemicals that are great for fast and cheap production but terrible for our bodies. When we wear these garments — and sweat in them, and sleep in them, and live our lives in them — we expose ourselves to a largely unregulated onslaught of harmful synthetic compounds.
As a nutrition response testing practitioner, I’ve picked up on these substances in many of my clients — especially those that spend the majority of their days in synthetic workout clothes. While I love the environmental responsibility of brands that create leggings out of recycled plastic, hot plastic is one of the LAST things you want on your body when you’re sweating. Body heat and sweating increases absorption of chemicals in the body.
There are over 8,000 synthetic chemicals used in clothing manufacturing, and many of these chemicals are known to be carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting and hazardous to our health.
According to a Greenpeace study, there are eleven hazardous chemicals frequently used in the production of clothing that should be banned. The list includes alkylphenols (used in the cleaning and dyeing process), phthalates (used as a softener), brominated and chlorinated flame retardants (used in fireproofing), azo dyes (the main type of dye used in textile production), organotin compounds (used in anti-bacterial and anti-sweat odor products), perfluorinated chemicals (used as a water repellent), chlorobenzenes (used in the manufacture of dyes and as chemical intermediaries), chlorinated solvents (used in the fabric cleaning process), chlorophenols (used as biocides), short-chain chlorinated paraffins (flame retardants and finishing agents) and heavy metals: cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium (VI) (used in certain dyes and pigments).
These substances are linked to a slew of health issues ranging from skin irritation and hormone disruption to infertility and cancer. A separate Greenpeace study found hazardous chemicals in 63% of clothing items they tested from 20 different textile brands (including major brands you’re definitely wearing).
TL;DR: If you’re wearing conventional clothing, you’re getting exposed to harmful substances.
Conventional (non-organic) cotton
Luckily, there are plenty of sustainable alternatives — and that number is growing every day. And if overhauling your wardrobe sounds expensive and overwhelming, commit to purchasing healthy alternatives going forward and slowly making swaps as your need for new clothes arises and your budget allows. Re/make has a great list of eco-friendly brands. Here are some standouts and personal favs:
Chic and sustainable basics. Their products feature GOTS certified cotton, non-toxic, low impact dyes and are produced ethically in Los Angeles. We’re huge fans of this female-owned business and the work they’re doing to produce stylish garments that keep us (and the planet) healthy.
Boyish is produced with sustainable fabrics through a completely environmentally-friendly and cruelty-free process. Boyish Jeans' efforts in sustainable fashion include working with ethical factories, using less harmful chemicals during the dyeing process, utilizing one-third of the amount of water typically needed to produce a pair of jeans, and working exclusively with recycled fabrics and materials for everything put out by the brand.
HARA’s ethically produced, organic bamboo bras and underwear are a major must-have. If you’re looking for a place to start, we absolutely recommend beginning with undergarments since toxic chemicals in clothing are highly linked to infertility issues.
Prana’s workout apparel features 100% organic cotton. When it comes to yoga gear, this is a much better option than brands that use synthetic fabrics.
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