In today's fast-paced world, clothing, beauty, personal care, and household products have become an integral part of our daily lives. We trust these items to enhance our appearance, well-being, and comfort. However, what many people may not realize is that some of these products contain ingredients that pose hidden dangers to our health and the environment.

In this post, we'll explore the potential hazards associated with chemicals commonly found in clothing—and ways to avoid them. And since what we put on our body is just as important as what we put inside, we have another blog post about harmful chemicals in beauty, personal care, and household products

Health Concerns Explained

  • A carcinogen is a substance that can cause cancer.
  • An allergen or irritant is anything that might cause an allergic reaction or irritation, whether it’s systemic or isolated to the skin, eyes, nose, and/or throat.
  • An endocrine disruptor affects your endocrine (hormone) system, which regulates every biological process in the body. This includes metabolism and blood sugar levels, development of the brain and nervous system, function of the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, as well as the reproductive system. One experiencing fertility issues should look into their exposure to these ingredients. Endocrine disrupting compounds can also increase risk of hormone related cancers, like breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer.
  • A substance linked to organ system toxicity affects the development and/or function of certain organs such as the brain, liver, lung, kidney, skin, and reproductive organs.

Chemicals of Concern in Clothing

  • Azo Dyes are a group of synthetic chemicals derived from fossil fuel and used to color textiles. Some azo dyes can break down into aromatic amines, which are known to be carcinogenic. They can also cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, especially a type of azo dyes used on synthetic fibers called disperse dyes (azobenzene and anthraquinone dyes).
  • Phthalates are plasticizers used to make fabrics more flexible and durable. They have been associated with endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, developmental issues, and allergic reactions.
  • Formaldehyde is used to prevent shrinkage and improve the wrinkle resistance and durability of clothing. It is a known carcinogen and can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and allergies. An alternative for providing wrinkle-free benefits is dimethylol dihydroxyethylene urea (DMDHEU), however, it releases formaldehyde when broken down.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is a type of plastic, often used in raincoats, synthetic leather, and accessories as a waterproofing agent and to enhance chemical resistance and durability. It can contain toxic chemicals such as dioxins, vinyl chloride, phthalates, and lead. The life-cycle of PVC –from its manufacturing to its burning or landfilling– can release dioxins and chlorine gas that are harmful to both human health (i.e. carcinogenic) and the environment.
  • Coal Tar is used in dyes and as a waterproofing agent. It contains various toxic chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and is a known carcinogen. It can also cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
  • Antimony Trioxide is a heavy metal that is mixed with other compounds to be used as a flame retardant in textiles. It is a carcinogen, and prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory issues and skin and eye irritation.
  • Other Heavy Metals include lead, arsenic, chromium, mercury, barium, cadmium, and nickel, which commonly are found in clothing through dyes or contamination. Different metals have different impacts, with some being carcinogenic and others causing organ toxicity.
  • Perfluorinated Compound (PFA), also called “Forever Chemicals” and includes PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), are used to make clothing water and stain resistant. These chemicals can persist in the environment and have been associated with adverse health effects, including potential links to cancer and fertility problems.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) can be added in the manufacturing of polyester and spandex to improve the fabric’s lifespan or properties. BPA disrupts your endocrine system.
  • Triclosan is used in clothing as a preservative against bacterial growth. It can cause skin allergic reactions, endocrine disruption, and development of resistant bacteria.
  • Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPEO) is used as a surfactant and for textile and leather processing. It is linked to endocrine disruption, fertility problems, and aquatic life toxicity.
  • Tributyl phosphate (TBP) is used as a wetting agent and solvent in the production of textiles. It can be an endocrine disruptor, and cause skin and respiratory problems.
  • Dimethylformamide (DMFa) and dimethylacetamide (DMAc) are solvents used in elastane and other synthetics. They are associated with liver damage or cancer in workers exposed to them, and can harm the reproductive system and the environment.

Our Role

Advocating for stricter regulations and transparency in product labeling can help raise awareness and reduce the presence of hazardous substances in everyday products. Since regulatory agencies don’t prioritize regulating ingredients in clothing at this time, this is how you can reduce your exposure to toxic ingredients:
  • Choose organic and natural fibers like organic cotton or hemp, which are less likely to contain harmful chemicals
  • Look for clothing with certifications like Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or Bluesign, which ensures that the textiles are free from harmful substances
  • Wash new clothing items before wearing them to remove any residual chemicals.
  • Avoid clothing with easy care properties, such as water or stain resistant (may contain PFAs) or wrinkle resistant (may contain formaldehyde)
  • Consider second-hand or vintage clothing, as older items are less likely to contain certain toxic chemicals
  • Support sustainable and eco-friendly clothing brands that prioritize transparency and use safer production practices

To learn more, we highly recommend the book To Dye for, How Toxic Fashion is Making Us Sick by Alden Wicker for a comprehensive dive into the subject.

All of Sailaal’s products use natural fibers that are certified clean and non-toxic, drastically reducing if not eliminating exposure to the chemicals listed above. We provide full transparency on our suppliers and materials, and work hard to ensure fair, sustainable practices across our entire production process. .

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