The Dirty Laundry List
You’re careful to avoid potentially-harmful chemicals and toxins in food, household cleaning supplies and cosmetics, but what about your intimates? They’re the first layer you put on in the morning, and they sit directly against your pores all day (and sometimes all night) long. What’s on you is in you and that means your skin can absorb any chemicals or toxins present in the fabrics you are wearing.
The U.S. has no laws requiring the listing of chemicals involved in the production of clothing material, which means that your lingerie drawer likely already contains toxic chemicals banned in Europe, Canada and many other countries. Below are the five chemicals most commonly used in the production of clothing, and why you should be wary of them.
Formaldehyde is most commonly known as a preservative (anyone else getting flashbacks to high school biology class?). In manufacturing, formaldehyde is used to prevent wrinkles and shrinkage during washing, but it’s also the most frequently reported allergen. It’s a known skin irritant and carcinogen, and with high levels of exposure, it can be hazardous to your health.
Flame retardants (aka “SCCPs” or Short-Chain Chlorinated Paraffins) are used to reduce flammability and inhibit the spread of fire. In manufacturing, flame retardants are used to protect the wearer from catching fire, but they’re also carcinogenic and tend to accumulate in fat tissue (like breasts). They’re included in the EU’s list of Substances of Very High Concern, and since 2004, their use has been restricted in certain applications.
Glyphosate is a herbicide used to kill weeds and it’s often found in cotton (FYI, cotton fibers make up about 60% of all women’s clothing). In 2019, researchers from the University of Washington evaluated existing studies into the chemical and concluded that glyphosate significantly increases the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a cancer of the immune system. Glyphosate has also been linked to reproductive issues and autism.
Most of us have used bleach at some point or another to whiten or remove stains from our clothes. On the bottle, you’ll notice warning labels like “skin and eye irritant” and “only use in ventilated areas,” because it has been linked to asthma, respiratory problems, and burns. In manufacturing, bleach is commonly used in natural fiber processing, like cotton and denim, and when exposed to skin, can cause irritation and rashes.
No, we’re not talking about Metallica. Heavy metals like lead, chromium, cadmium, and antimony are used in manufacturing for a variety of purposes, from dyeing leather to making synthetic textiles. Aside from causing environmental damage, heavy metals can also be highly toxic and have been linked to reproductive issues. They’ve also been shown to cause damage to blood cells, and may be harmful to your kidneys and liver.
The dirty secrets the intimates industry doesn’t want you to know
In the US, there is no law that regulates or requires the listing of materials outside of fabrics involved in the production of our clothing.
There is no one US Federal entity responsible for overseeing the chemicals used in clothing.
Manufacturers use thousands of substances to produce clothing and 99% of those substances do not show up on clothing labels.
There are over 1,000 compounds that have been declared illegal for use in products in Europe, Canada, South Korea, as well as many other countries. The US has banned fewer than 40 of these substances, forcing us to be our own advocates.
Never wires, always clean
While traditional intimates contain many of the chemicals on our Dirty Laundry List, everything Vibrant makes has been certified by OEKO-TEX®, an independent non-profit Swiss agency. To attain OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification, all components of a garment must be tested and found to be free from harmful levels of more than 100 substances known to be harmful to human health.