Written by Dr. Alyssa Puorro
We are constantly bombarded with environmental toxins — in the air, in the water, in our everyday household items. The same is true for the clothing you may be wearing. Since your clothes are on your skin all day, and chemicals on them accumulate with repeated exposure, it is important to choose wisely. Here are some things to consider:
The chemicals used in clothing manufacturing are linked to health effects such as ADHD, asthma, cancer, diabetes, dermatitis, and reproductive issues (making it vitally important to choose only the best quality for undergarments).
Any time you see clothing labeled as “moisture-wicking,” “sweat-resistant,” “stain resistant,” this is a good indicator that chemicals are lurking in these fabrics. Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFA’s, are used in clothing to resist grease, heat, stains, and water. This is the same chemical used for teflon pans. Most commonly found in rain jackets and other outdoor gear for their resistance to water.
Glyphosate, a genetically modified herbicide used on crops, is also used for growing cotton. According to research from the University of Washington, “exposure to glyphosate increases the risk of some cancers more than 40 percent.”
Bromenated flame retardants, or BFR’s, are commonly used in children’s sleepwear. In 36 epidemiological studies, it was found that, “BFR exposure was linked to diabetes, neurobehavioral and developmental disorders, cancer, reproductive health effects, and altered thyroid function.” Look for tighter fitting pajamas (these are not required to have flame retardants) or those labeled as “flame-retardant free.”
Phthlates, which were mostly banned in children’s products in 2008, still are found in underwear, jeans, rain coats, and artificial leather. It may also be found in children’s diapers, along with chlorine, latex, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Due to the odor associated with VOCs, some diapers contain added fragrances. Since babies go through an estimated 8,000 diapers, search for unbleached, plant-based disposable brands, or organic cotton if using cloth.
Another thing to look out for is push-up and underwire bras. These cut lymphatic flow and the chemicals that may be present in the material cause a release of a hormone disrupting chemical to the mammary glands. It is best to minimize bra usage and look for ones with natural fibers and no underwire for times when you do wear one.
Here are some other things you can do. Look for organic cotton or hemp textiles, invest in high quality items that will last over many years, and wash all of your new clothes after purchasing. This will help remove some of the chemicals and reduce risk of skin irritation or rashes. When purchasing clothes, look for certified GOTS, Cradle to Cradle, and OEKO-TEX. These certifications ensure environmentally safe and sustainable production of garments.