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The Hidden Toxins In Your Clothes

Updated: Jun 25

In the world of modern fashion, it's easy to overlook the toxins in the fabric of your clothing. Each week, a new trend floods your social media feed, enticing you to stay on top of the latest styles. When it comes to revamping your wardrobe affordably, fast fashion often becomes the go-to choice for convenience, but have you ever thought about how these clothes are made? How can these companies affordably mass-produce these items?


Clothing in a clothing factory in piles on the floor

The answer is, they can do this by cutting corners and sacrificing your health. Hidden within the fabrics of your t-shirts and the colours of your dresses lies a mix of chemicals that companies use in synthetic fibres! These chemicals disrupt your hormones, cause skin irritation and inflammation, and increase your toxic load, which can burden your lymphatic system and exacerbate acne. Unfortunately, the toxicity doesn't end with your clothes, laundry detergents and tight clothing can further contribute to your toxic load and burden your detox pathways. So let's dive chat about what to look out for and explore holistic alternatives to improve your health and skin!


Toxic Fast Fashion: Shein And Beyond


Fast fashion companies like Shein have a large influence but they use a lot of toxic chemicals in production. Lead, phthalates, and other harmful substances have been found in many of Shein's garments, posing huge health risks. Despite mounting evidence of these chemical dangers, these companies turn a blind eye in favour of profit! In a recent study, inspections in Seoul uncovered a pair of shoes from Shein with phthalate levels 428 times higher than permitted, and three bags exceeding limits by 153 times, as reported by the city government. These chemicals are known for causing hormone disruptions as they are forever chemicals, meaning your body physically cannot break them down. Why would you want your skin (largest organ) to be breathing that in all day long? Unfortunately, phthalates are not the sole concern in the realm of fast fashion; heavy metals are also frequently detected.


Heavy Metals In Clothes


Heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, are often found in clothing produced by a variety of brands. A toddler's jacket sold by Shein contained lead levels 20 times higher than deemed safe by Canada's health department. Sadly, Shein is not alone in this either; other fast fashion giants like H&M, ZARA, and Adidas have also been found selling garments filled with heavy metals and toxins. These metals can enter the manufacturing process through dyes, pigments, and metallic embellishments. When these contaminated clothes come into contact with the skin, it can seep through into your bloodstream. Lead, for example, is a neurotoxin that can impair cognitive function, cause developmental delays in children, and contribute to cardiovascular problems in adults. Cadmium exposure has been linked to kidney damage, lung cancer, and reproductive issues. Mercury, another common heavy metal found in clothing, can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and liver. It's also important to note that when heavy metals build up in your tissues and your detox pathways are overburdened, the toxins start to push out through your skin resulting in acne and other skin conditions (check out last week's blog post to learn more about this)!


The Toxicity Of Synthetic Fibers


When you think about clothing, it's important to recognize that not all fabrics are made alike. While synthetic materials like polyester and nylon might seem convenient due to their durability and affordability, they have significant drawbacks for your health and the environment. These synthetic fabrics are derived from petroleum (a fossil fuel) and undergo extensive chemical processing to create fibers suitable for clothing production. The manufacturing process of synthetic fabrics involves the use of various chemicals, including solvents, dyes, and finishing agents. These chemicals can remain in the fabric even after production, posing a risk of exposure to anyone who wears them. This is because these chemicals can include toxins like phthalates, formaldehyde, BPA's, PFA's and heavy metals. If that wasn't enough, when you wash clothes made from synthetic fibers, they shed tiny plastic particles known as microplastics. These microplastics enter the waterways, where they can be ingested by marine life and ultimately make their way back into the food chain. To limit my exposure to microplastics, I always filter my water with the Live Pristine water filter in my shop (with a discount) and aim to buy organic high-quality meats and fish! It's not about being fearful, it's about finding easy ways to limit your toxic exposure to better your skin and health. Now, let's take a deeper dive into these chemicals:


BPA'S:


I know what you're thinking, you thought BPAS were only a concern for plastic! Unfortunately, it can also be present in clothing, particularly in fabrics made from synthetic materials like polyester and nylon. BPA'S are a known hormone disrupter due to their ability to interfere with the body's endocrine system - hello hormonal acne! This chemical compound can mimic the structure of naturally occurring hormones, such as estrogen, and disrupt their normal function. One of the key concerns with BPA's hormone-disrupting properties is its potential to affect reproductive health. BPA exposure has been linked to disruptions in the menstrual cycle, reduced fertility, and adverse effects on reproductive organs in both males and females. Additionally, BPA exposure during critical periods of development, such as during fetal development or early childhood, can have long-lasting effects on hormone regulation and reproductive function later in life. Research has shown that BPA exposure may also contribute to metabolic disorders, such as obesity and insulin resistance (check out of blog post on blood sugar and acne to learn more about this).


Fun Fact: There is no such thing as BPA free plastic! Don't fall for the marketing!


Phthalates:


Phthalates are a group of forever chemicals used in various consumer products, including plastics, personal care products, and clothes. They are primarily used as plasticizers, which means they are added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, and durability. In clothing, phthalates are often used to make fabrics softer and more pliable. However, the widespread use of phthalates in consumer products has raised concerns about their potential health effects. Research has linked exposure to certain phthalates to a range of adverse health outcomes, including hormone disruption, reproductive problems, developmental issues, and respiratory problems. Similar to BPA's one of the main concerns with phthalates is their ability to mimic or interfere with hormones in the body, particularly estrogen and testosterone. This can disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormone production and can lead to various health problems, such as hormonal acne, infertility, and early puberty. Some studies have also suggested that phthalate exposure may be associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer. Due to these health concerns, there has been growing regulation of phthalates in recent years.


Formaldehyde:


Formaldehyde is a chemical commonly used in the clothing industry as a finishing agent to prevent wrinkling, shrinkage, and mildew growth. It works by cross-linking with the fabric fibres, creating a stiff and durable finish. While formaldehyde-treated clothing may appear wrinkle-free and pristine, there are a lot of health concerns associated with this chemical. Formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by several health organizations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). In addition to being cancer-causing, formaldehyde can also cause a range of other health problems such as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Prolonged or repeated exposure to formaldehyde can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma and may even cause long-term damage to the respiratory system. It's also important to mention that formaldehyde can off-gas from clothing, particularly when they are new or freshly laundered. This means that you may be exposed to formaldehyde through inhalation or skin contact, especially in poorly ventilated areas or when wearing tight-fitting clothing that traps formaldehyde against the skin. Even though formaldehyde comes with these health concerns, it is still used in some manufacturing processes, and consumers may unknowingly come into contact with it through their clothing.


PFA'S:


PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are synthetic chemicals commonly used in various products, including workout apparel, water-resistant garments, and items marketed for their wrinkle and stain resistance. In 2022, Knix, a well-known Canadian brand specializing in period underwear, faced legal action in the U.S. due to allegations that its products contain PFAS, despite what they say in their advertising. It's important to think about how sensitive and absorbent intimate areas are, especially during menstruation, a time when our bodies are essentially detoxing. If there are chemicals involved, it's a big worry for women's health. Unfortunately, this problem isn't unique to Knix; Thinx, a brand offering similar products, is also facing legal challenges related to PFAS, which can make it hard to trust the integrity of brands. The Period Company is among my top choices for period underwear purchases because you can trust their products to be non-toxic and free from PFA's! PFAS can enter the body through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact, earning them the title "forever chemicals" due to their tendency to accumulate in your body and persist over time, meaning the more and more you come into contact with, the more they build up leading to cancers or disease. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a prominent PFAS compound, has been linked to various health issues, including cancer, reproductive problems, immune system disorders, and developmental delays. Similar concerns exist for other PFAS chemicals like perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).


Non-Toxic Fabric Options


If the array of chemicals found in synthetic fibers feels daunting, fear not! There are superior alternatives available. Organic clothing is gaining popularity and more brands are making clothes crafted from natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, and linen. These materials provide a safer and more sustainable option for your health and skin. One of the brands I love to shop at is PACT, which you can find in my shop with a discount code! In addition to purchasing organic clothing, here are some helpful tips to consider:


Be Mindful of Origin: Opt for products not made from brands like Shein, Zara, H&M, Zauful etc, as they may not adhere to the same safety standards as other brands.


Pre-Wash New Clothing: Before wearing new clothing items, give them a thorough pre-wash to help remove any residual chemicals or dyes.


Soak Non-Organic Clothing: For non-organic clothing, consider soaking them in a solution of vinegar and water, water and lemon juice, or diluted castile soap and water for up to two days. This can help reduce any lingering chemicals and make them safer to wear.


While organic clothing can be more expensive, it is often worth the investment, especially when it comes to undergarments! Beyond the choice of fabric, the fit of your clothing also matters for your health. Tight, restrictive garments like bras and underwear can impede lymphatic drainage, potentially leading to a host of health issues ranging from discomfort to more serious health conditions. Opt for looser, more breathable clothing can help promote better lymphatic flow which contributes to clear skin.


Clothes And Your Lymphatic System


The lymphatic system is like your body's cleanup crew, getting rid of waste and toxins. It's a network of tissues and organs that transport lymph, a fluid-filled with infection-fighting white blood cells. This system plays a crucial role in keeping you healthy by removing harmful toxins and maintaining fluid balance. Now, imagine this system as a series of highways. When you wear tight clothes, especially around areas like your chest, you create traffic jams on these highways. This congestion slows down the movement of lymph fluid, leading to a buildup of toxins in your body. If you already have a high toxic load from things like pollution, unhealthy foods, or chemical exposure, this congestion becomes even more problematic and creates symptoms like acne. It's like adding more cars to an already crowded highway – things can quickly come to a standstill. That's why it's crucial to let your lymphatic system circulate freely, especially if you have a high toxic load. For women, this can be especially important when it comes to wearing bras! While there are instances where wearing a bra is necessary, it is important to:


  • Minimize bra usage by removing it when at home or sleeping

  • Opt for bralettes or bras that don't have underwire

  • Remove sports bras immediately after exercising for optimal lymphatic flow


  • Consider lymphatic drainage techniques such as dry brushing to counter the effects of tight bras and clothing


Transitioning from concerns about clothing, let's now explore another aspect of your daily routine that has hidden dangers: laundry detergents. Just as the fabrics you wear can impact your health, the products you use to clean them also deserve closer examination.


Are You Washing Your Clothes In Toxic Chemicals?


Conventional laundry detergent is often packed with toxic chemicals that can harm your health. In the past, laundry detergents were simply made of soap but now there has been a shift to synthetic options made from petrochemicals. Since then, these detergents have become more complex and dangerous, containing over 25 toxic chemicals. Some of the concerning ingredients in laundry detergent include phosphates, bleach, formaldehyde, ammonium sulphate, and dioxane, each with its own health risks. Despite the belief that these chemicals get washed away, many residues stick to fabrics, leaving behind fragrances and harmful chemicals that can seep through your skin into your bloodstream. When your body's detox pathways are overburdened this can then lead to skin inflammation like eczema, dermatitis, acne, allergies, rashes and other health issues. Unfortunately the most popular brands like Arm & Hammer, Tide, Fab, Ajax, Gain, and Cheer are in the lead for toxic ingredients like dioxane, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, and sodium borate. It's important to check laundry detergent ingredients and choose safer options whenever possible. Look for plant-based formulas that are free from phosphates, bleach, and synthetic fragrances. Brands like Branch Basics and Aspen Clean are some of my personal favourites that are gentle on both your clothes and your health. Tools like the Think Dirty app and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) can be super valuable for identifying harmful ingredients to avoid and discovering safer product options.


In the world of fashion and health, it's crucial to understand the potential hazards lurking in your clothing so you can make informed decisions. From the big names in fast fashion to the laundry detergents you use, harmful chemicals are all around us. By staying informed about the risks of synthetic fibres, toxic detergents, and tight-fitting clothes, you can take charge of your skin. Whether it's embracing organic fabrics, opting for safer detergent options, or simply choosing looser, comfier outfits- every little change matters. If you're feeling overwhelmed about where to start or unsure if your body's detox pathways need support, schedule a free call with me. We can chat about your options and figure out the best path forward together!


P.S. Watch my FREE Clear Skin Masterclass to learn exactly how to get to the root cause of your acne. This is a must watch if you are starting your natural skin healing journey! You will learn the steps I take to get my clients life long results. 


None of this is medical advice.


Love Katie,

xoxo


Sources:


  1. (Source: AFP, L.M. with (2024) South Korea finds Shein products contain high levels of toxic chemicals, Le Monde.fr. Available at: https://www.lemonde.fr/en/economy/article/2024/05/28/seoul-government-finds-shein-products-contain-high-levels-of-toxic-chemicals_6672910_19.html# (Accessed: 29 May 2024).

  2. Toxic chemicals in fast fashion could be harming your health (2023a) Good On You. Available at: https://goodonyou.eco/chemicals-in-fast-fashion/ (Accessed: 29 May 2024).

  3. Wang, Y. and Qian, H. (2021) Phthalates and their impacts on human health, Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8157593/#:~:text=Human%20epidemiological%20studies%20have%20shown,allergy%2C%20asthma%20%5B24%5D. (Accessed: 29 May 2024).

  4. Author links open overlay panelXu Hong a 1 et al. (2023) Environmental endocrine disruptor bisphenol A induces metabolic derailment and obesity via upregulating IL-17A in adipocytes, Environment International. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412023000326#:~:text=BPA%20aggravates%20adipose%20tissue%20inflammation,BPA%20exposure%20and%20obesity%20risk. (Accessed: 29 May 2024).

  5. Formaldehyde and cancer risk (no date) NCI. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/formaldehyde/formaldehyde-fact-sheet (Accessed: 29 May 2024).

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