When trying to live a healthy life, we pay attention to what we eat, what we drink, and how we exercise. However, we almost always ignore what we put on our bodies. Certain fabrics and clothing types can trigger health issues ranging from skin irritation to life-threatening conditions. Whether you’re trying to be a more health-conscious person or just want to avoid illness, it may be time to clean out the closet and replace some clothing.
Athletic clothes have come a long way from the heavy, sweat-absorbing fabrics we used to wear. However, that comes at a cost. Most workout gear uses synthetic fabrics that designers have treated with chemicals like phthalates and nonylphenol ethoxylates to have better moisture-wicking and scent-repelling properties. These treatments can sometimes soak into the skin and cause issues like cancer, ADHD, asthma, diabetes, and liver issues. Plus, the runoff from the factories producing these clothes damages the environment and is a severe danger to aquatic animals.
While you probably imagine wool as a heavy, warm fabric, merino wool is different. Merino wool is a natural fiber from Merino sheep that is both thinner and softer than traditional wools. It also has incredible moisture-wicking and scent-resistant properties. Activewear using merino wool is lightweight and has everything you could want in some workout clothes. It’s also healthier and much better for the environment.
Leather is a textile that is as controversial as it is popular. Beyond the moral issues of using animal hide to create leather, there are also plenty of other reasons to avoid it. The process of tanning requires extremely toxic chemicals, such as chromium. These chemicals can cause skin irritation and respiratory cancer. The leather industry is also a major polluter and is very energy hungry, making it as poisonous to the planet as it is to humans.
If you love the look and feel of leather, try one of the many animal hide alternatives. Plenty of plant-based leather textiles are now available, each much more health-conscious and environmentally friendly. Cork leather comes from the bark of cork oak trees, which grow back within a few years. Ocean leather consists of kelp. Piñatex is a newer leather substitute that comes from the cellulose fibers of pineapple leaves.
A raincoat wouldn’t be handy if it weren’t able to repel water. The same process that lets Gore-Tex and similar fabrics shed water also helps other clothing resist stains. Unfortunately, this process uses per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), which can be toxic to humans. These “forever chemicals” can last in the environment for thousands of years and lead to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, liver damage, and even developmental issues.
If you’re hunting for clothes that are water-proof and natural, look no further than waxed cotton and boiled wool. Waxed cotton is a fabric with a dense weave and a wax coating. Wool is already pretty water-resistant, but boiling it makes it almost fully waterproof. Plus, research into better waterproof fabrics is moving at a steady pace. A new waterproof and health-safe fabric is on the horizon.
Polyester and similar synthetic fabrics are among the most popular textiles on the planet. Polyester is a lightweight, inexpensive, and durable material. It’s also extremely harmful to the environment and humans. Studies have found that creating synthetic fabrics requires a large number of harmful chemicals, and polyester has the highest concentrations. The fabric also traps odors and bacteria, potentially leading to skin infections.
Avoiding polyester and other synthetic fabrics is almost impossible because they are so prevalent in the fashion industry. Most polyester pieces mimic silk or wool, depending on the type of clothing. Silk is better for lightweight and breathable clothes, while wool is ideal for warmer, heavier outfits. If you can’t find purely natural textiles, a blend is preferable to 100% synthetic materials.
Few things are as annoying as opening a drawer or suitcase and realizing that your clothes are crumpled and wrinkled. Because of this, wrinkle-resistant fabrics are a popular option in the fashion industry. However, many of these options avoid wrinkles by using formaldehyde. Inhaling formaldehyde can cause asthma, nausea, and cancer. Additionally, wearing clothes with formaldehyde coatings can cause dermatitis and other skin issues.
Plenty of natural and safe fabrics are wrinkle-resistant without the need for any additives. Cashmere is a luxury fabric that is warm, soft, and durable. If it wrinkles, just hang it up to release the creases. Alpaca fleece has similar qualities and is equally wrinkle-proof. However, these fabrics are more costly than most other textiles. If you’re looking for a more affordable fabric, most types of wool resist wrinkles.
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