Harmful chemicals hidden in your workout clothes

Harmful chemicals hidden in your workout clothes

2:09 PM, 22nd July 2015
Harmful chemicals hidden in your workout clothes
The growing trend of athleisure clothing.

DES MOINES, US: We consumers are good at telling brands what we want - and getting it. Our hard-earned dollars demand healthy, better alternatives, and the market has started supplying them. And now, we look smoking hot while we strive to be our healthiest selves, because workout clothes have become off-the-hook gorgeous. In fact, workout clothes are the daily uniform for a growing number of women, according to global information company the NPD Group. We've swapped our skinny jeans for yoga pants and athleisure is officially a thing.

But therein hides the blind spot in our otherwise noble quest for a life healthily lived. We buy the cleanest products and food we can, avoid toxins where possible and exercise, but are the workout clothes we wear while doing all this undermining our efforts?

The findings from two Greenpeace reports on chemical content in sportswear and fashion suggest they might be. Their analysis found that sportswear from major brands contained known hazardous chemicals, like phthalates, per-fluorinated substances (PFCs), dimethylformamide (DMF), nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and nonylphenols (NPs). And a Swedish study estimates that ten percent of all textile-related substances are “considered to be of potential risk to human health.”

In an article exploring toxic chemicals in sportswear, published by The Guardian, Greenpeace’s Manfred Santen suggests, “Endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can mess with the hormone system), for example, you don't know what the impact of long-term exposure is on human health.”

The potential presence of harmful chemicals in any amount in our workout gear, should be troubling because it’s designed to touch the skin. Independent Swiss company bluesign technologies - creator of the toughest textile certification system, which aims to prevent chemicals of concern from entering into materials in the manufacturing process - puts clothing for “next to skin use” and “baby-safe” in the same category, their “most stringent” one “concerning (chemical) limit values/bans.”

Yet, retailer REI says that “some type of chemical finish is applied to nearly every synthetic fabric in order to boost wicking performance.” Most trademarked technical fabrics - the ones we pay major bucks for - are chemically coated synthetic fabrics, said Mike Rivalland, director of activewear brand SilkAthlete.

But don’t despair. Adam Fletcher, Patagonia’s global director of public relations points out, “If one were to eat a closet-full of jackets, maybe then you would get on par with the exposure risk from food contact applications of these chemicals.”

Some big brands are now taking action, sourcing high-performance organic fabrics, recycled materials and seeking natural alternatives to chemical finishes. Patagonia has invested in Beyond Surface Technologies, which develops “textile treatments based on natural raw materials” and is phasing out PFCs, similar to Adidas, which has promised that their products will be 99 percent PFC-free by 2017. Both brands partner with bluesign technologies, as do REI, Puma, prAna, Marmot, Nike, and Lululemon.

Smaller brands have also been producing outstanding non-toxic activewear with high-tech traits we demand. Ibex specializes in organic cotton and merino wool activewear. Evolve Fitwear only sells American-made gear with organic cotton (like LVR’s 94 percent organic cotton leggings) and recycled materials. Alternative Apparel’s soft, slouchy basics in organic and eco-fabrics easily transition from yoga to brunch. SilkAthlete’s stylish silk-blend garments are not only naturally breathable and antimicrobial, they feel light as air and don't chafe like synthetic fabrics can. And Super.Natural makes high-performance, flattering workout clothes from engineered natural-synthetic fabrics hybrids. And these companies are a step ahead of the game in our highly health-aware, eco-concious culture.

© Meredith Corporation News

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