The 6 Most Dangerous Chemicals on Your Gym ClothesYou make the effort to exercise so you can enjoy better physical and mental health. But are toxins in your workout clothes undermining some of the benefits? Startling research finds chemicals in your workout clothes rub off on the skin, which may contribute to long-term health risks such as obesity, cancer and developmental disabilities. The problem exists regardless of whether or not you exercise. However, the sweat and friction produced during workouts cause toxins to be absorbed into the body more rapidly. Fabrics that are water, stain and grease-proof are particularly troublesome. The current leisure fashion trend makes the problem worse. In past years, workout clothes were worn exclusively for exercising; but today, women have abandoned their jeans for yoga pants. As this apparel has become the daily uniform for many, the exposure to harmful chemicals in clothing has increased. Most workout clothes, also called activewear, are made of synthetic fabrics; and the name-brand lines are fashioned of chemically coated synthetic fabrics that resist stains and odors.
Report Finds 10% of 2,400 Fabric Chemicals Pose Health RiskA review of recent research shows the use of toxic chemicals is rampant in the apparel industry. Earlier this year, the environmental group Greenpeace released a report describing how clothing companies fail to regulate the chemicals in their sportswear. Moreover, last year a comprehensive Swedish report found 10 percent of 2,400 chemicals contained within fabrics could pose a health risk. In addition, a 2012 report testing football jerseys from nine countries found endocrine-disrupting and carcinogenic chemicals, including lead, in all of them.
Worst Offenders1. Perfluorinated compounds: PFCs repel dirt and water, so they are used in some waterproof shoes, jackets and pants. They’re linked to low birth rate and prostate cancer. 2. Phthalates: These chemicals plasticize fabrics and are found in vinyl clothing. Some studies show they interfere with the body’s hormonal systems. 3. Alkylphenol ethoxylates: Textile companies use APEs to wash fabrics. They don’t break down well, so they linger for long periods. After clothing is laundered, APEs pollute the waterways and can accumulate in fish along with the people who eat the fish. 4. Triclosan: An antibacterial chemical, triclosan is used in some antimicrobial fabrics. It may be a hormone disruptor, and it turns into the dangerous chemical dioxin once washed down the drain. 5. Dimethylformamide: DMF is a chemical in fabric dyes and pigments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is easily absorbed through the skin and can cause liver damage. 6. Nanoparticle silver: A chemical used in anti-odor activewear, nanoparticles are present in such large amounts that they expose people to a significantly higher dosage of silver than that contained in dietary supplements. Some research associates the chemical to DNA damage and endocrine disruption.
How to Protect Yourself Against Chemicals in Activewear
- Purchase clothing made of natural fabrics. Look for labels that say 100% organic cotton and/or 100% cotton. Some companies also make workout clothes from hemp, flax and bamboo.
- If you don’t know what your workout clothes contain, wear a nontoxic layer underneath. Put on a cotton T-shirt under your favorite workout top.
- Wash any new clothing before wearing. This can help clear away some of the chemicals that prevent wrinkling and fight mildew.
- Avoid clothing with plastic prints or screen printing because they likely contain phthalates.
- Avoid trademarked technical fabrics, as most are synthetics with a chemical coating.
- If you like a certain brand of activewear, research it before making a purchase. Greenpeace provides a list of detox leaders, which are companies trying to rid their clothing of toxins, as well as detox losers, which are companies that don’t take responsibility for their toxic products.