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Toxic Chemicals in Your Clothes and Bedding? The Top 8 Suspects.

Author: Dr. Rehan Lakhani, ND

Dr. Rehan is a Collingwood naturopath who provides evidence-based care to those struggling with brain fog, memory issues, chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, headaches and all things related to your gut health. Click here to schedule a free consult with our doctors.

DID YOU KNOW that the clothing you wear and the bedding you sleep in can contain toxic chemicals that can cause health issues?

We know that ingesting toxic chemicals like lead is bad for our health, and we know that living in toxic conditions (think: asbestos) is bad, but do you ever consider the clothes you wear on a daily basis and the bedding you sleep in for hours every night? 

A recent news spotlight on some products from some notable fast fashion companies has drawn attention to the shocking amount of toxic chemicals in cheap fast fashion clothing & accessories, and how this can expose us and our families to an unsafe chemical load that can trigger or exacerbate mental health, skin, respiratory and other health conditions. 

The thing about chemical exposure is that it builds over time, so you may not even realise that this is happening until your symptoms are at a severe level – and at that point, people often don’t consider that it could be something like the bedding they sleep in every night! We often get conveniences like waterproof, wrinkle free, stain resistant and flame retardant at a deceiving cost to our health. One clothing item in isolation may not be a significant exposure, but when you consider that our homes are bursting with products that may contain these chemicals it can add up in our bodies very quickly!

Adult and children’s clothing, jackets, purses, bed sheets, blankets, and towels are all items that can contain these chemicals, and common materials such as vinyl, polyester, rayon, acrylic, spandex and lycra are present in many fabrics due to the low cost and convenience. 

It’s especially worrying with infants and children, who have a much lower chemical load threshold and whose skin absorbs these chemicals more easily.

Here are the suspects to be aware of:

1. Lead

Often used as a cheap pigment or metal for zippers, it can cause brain damage with long term developmental problems and cause things like irritability, mood swings and depression. Lead exposure (too much at once and/or over time) can cause damage to your reproductive system, heart, brain and kidneys.

2. Formaldehyde

Helps reduce wrinkles, static and stains, but in exchange inhaling these chemicals frequently can aggravate or cause asthma, nausea and cancer. Wearing clothes with this chemical can also cause dermatitis or aggravate existing skin conditions. If it’s got that “new clothing” smell – it most likely has formaldehyde in it.

3. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Another known endocrine disruptor, PFAS are known as “forever substances” due to their inability to be broken down by the environment or flushed out by our bodies. They are most commonly used for waterproofing clothing items and helping with stain resistance. They increase risk of certain cancers like kidney and testicular, liver damage, developmental disorders, obesity and can impair immune function. They’re often used in outdoor/workout gear – items labeled Gore-Tex or Teflon might contain them.

4. Phthalates

Used to make fabrics more flexible (like the ink on screen printed shirts), this chemical has been in the spotlight more recently for its negative health effects on our hormones – going as far as Health Canada recommending DEHP be banned in all products sold. It’s a known endocrine disruptor, and can wreak havoc with your reproductive system, liver and kidneys. It has also been linked to breast cancer, asthma, ADHD and reproductive issues that impact fertility.

5. Azo dye

Used to get that desired blue jean colour (that rubs off on your hands and skin) Azo dye can be carcinogenic – so much so that certain Azo dyes have been banned for use in Europe, and require a warning label in California.

6. Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)

NPE’s are used when making clothing, but can also be in your laundry detergent. They are used for emulsifying and as a wetting agent. This chemical is banned from being used in clothing production in Europe, due to the health concerns of reproductive and developmental issues. They also can be washed away into our water, causing issues for marine life.

6. Brominated flame retardants

These are used often in children’s clothing as a flame retardant, and are banned for use in Europe. They can cause thyroid issues, and change the way the body processes carbs and fats. There is also ongoing research looking into whether there is a link to ADHD.

Unsafe chemical levels are a risk to us and our families, but also to the workers handling these fabrics day in and out. We can make a better choice by choosing safer tested natural dyes & fabrics, and not contributing to the fast fashion industry wherever possible. Look for labels showing Oeko-Tex or Bluesign that enforce strict safety compliance levels of restricted substances.

Are you feeling like your chemical load may be causing your fatigue, headaches, rashes or other symptoms? Worried about the chemicals you’re exposed to and want some guidance?

Reach out to your healthcare provider or click below to meet with Dr. Rehan for a personalized plan for your health, inside and out!

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