We care about what we put into our bodies, but do we care about what we put onto our bodies?
The skin is not only a protective barrier but also the largest organ of absorption in the entire body. Both toxins and nutrients are absorbed through the skin, picked up by the lymphatic system and ultimately enter the bloodstream. So it is just as important to think about what we put onto our bodies, as it is to think about what we put into them! While it may seem obvious to stay away from certain creams and lotions, what about the clothes we put on our skin every day?
Toxins in Our Clothes
We do not usually think of toxins when we talk about garments. Perhaps this is because we are less informed about the chemicals used in producing our clothes. Nonetheless, several organisations including Greenpeace International, have released reports confirming the commonplace presence of toxic chemicals in our clothes. In one study, over forty different chemical compounds were found in a set of sixty garments available on the global market. Not all toxic chemicals in our clothes are proven to be hazardous to humans. However, several identified substances can cause skin irritation, while other more dangerous chemicals might lead to reproduction toxicity and other serious health problems.
While the direct health impacts of repeated contact with chemicals via our clothing is under-researched, it makes sense that we would want to stay away from them when we can!
So What Can I Do?
There are a few simple ways to try and limit the amount of toxic chemicals in our clothes. Here are a few key tips:
1. Smell Before You Buy
This may sound crazy, but give your clothes a good smell before you buy them! You can often detect the odour of chemically treated clothing, so steer clear of garments that have a strong smell. Even if you can’t smell anything, it’s still a good idea to give your clothes a wash before wearing them. This precautionary measure can significantly reduce skin contact with toxins, making them safer to wear.
2. Look for Warning Signs
There are a few red flags on your clothing labels that you should keep an eye out for. ‘Wrinkle-free’ and ‘Iron-Free’ are two great examples as they usually indicate the presence of Formaldehyde, a highly toxic poison. ‘Stain-Resistant’ and ‘Water-Resistant’ are also dubious. While there are great natural ways to make water-resistant garments (like using beeswax!), often stain and water resistant clothes have been treated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which is the same stuff used to make Teflon. In general, un-natural clothing properties often come from unnatural sources, so think twice before you buy!
3.Buy from Clean Brands
There are a lot of great companies that are making sure they keep the nasty stuff out of our clothing. Organic options are a great place to start as they are grown without the use of harsh pesticides or fertilisers. Oeko-Tex is another great certification as it ensures that the entire production process, from fibre to fabric, is free of toxic chemicals. Lastly, seek out clothing that has been coloured with natural dyes. Synthetic dyes can cause skin irritation, especially with darker coloured clothing.
Ultimately, the desire to stay away from chemically-treated clothing goes beyond our own personal health. We must also think of the garment workers who are exposed to these chemicals every day, and the effect this has on their health too. Furthermore, we must acknowledge the impact of these chemicals on the health of our environment. Without strict precautions, contaminated waste can readily leach into local waterways, ultimately impacting the surrounding ecosystems. The fact is that we can no longer only think about what we put into our bodies, but must have the same rigorous standards for what we put onto our bodies too.