In the pursuit of a lower toxin lifestyle, many of us have switched to a healthier diet, filtered our water, bid farewell to harsh chemical cleaners, beauty products with harmful ingredients, rid the home of toxic items with fragrances, and purge the kitchen of non-stick Teflon pans.
But, if we take a step back and look at our indoor environment based on my THREE HEALTH CONCEPTS: IN, ON and AROUND there is another, often overlook and crucial aspect of our choices—what our clothing is made of.
In our quest for style, comfort, and durability, we can often forget that clothing and rather, the fabrics and finishes they are made from; can have a profound impact on our health, with synthetic fabrics being a major contributor to potential harm. This is especially true for children, and even more true when it comes to their school uniforms - items of clothing they wear almost all day, almost every day, for 12-13 YEARS.
The Dark Side of Synthetic Fabrics
Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic, may offer affordability and durability, but their production involves a web of environmental and health concerns. These materials are often derived from petroleum-based products, leading to a significant carbon footprint. The process of creating synthetic fabrics involves the use of toxic chemicals and dyes, leaving a trail of pollutants in our environment.
Toxic Dyes and Chemical Treatments
The vibrant colours we adore in our wardrobe may come at a hidden cost. Conventional clothing is frequently dyed using harsh chemicals that not only harm the environment but also pose risks to our health. These toxic dyes can cause skin irritations and have been linked to more severe health issues, including cancer and hormonal disruptions.
Teflon Coatings: A Sneaky Threat in Kids' Clothing
A particularly alarming trend is the incorporation of Teflon coatings in children's clothing, including school uniforms. Teflon, known for its non-stick properties, is added to fabrics for stain and crease resistance. While it may seem like a practical solution, the dangers lie in the off-gassing of these chemicals, which can be absorbed through the skin. Considering the extensive use of school uniforms—worn daily for years—this constant exposure poses a significant threat, especially for growing children.
Teflon, a group of man-made chemicals like Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is part of the PFAS chemical family, linked to health issues such as thyroid disease and autoimmune disorders. Major manufacturers, like DuPont, concealed the dangers for over two decades, leading to millions in damages. Despite removing Teflon from non-stick pans by 2015, its replacement remains unclassified as "safe."
Now, Teflon infiltrates our clothing, notably in swimwear, school uniforms, sports gear, and even popular shoe brands like Nike, Puma, and Adidas, offering stain and crease resistance. However, Teflon-coated clothing releases off-gasses that can be absorbed through the skin, posing risks to our health. Despite efforts to reduce toxicity through washing and sunlight exposure, chemicals may still end up in our waters.
To identify Teflon in clothing, look for labels with terms like "Gore-Tex," "Teflon," "Stainmaster," or "Scotchgard," indicating possible PFAS presence. Choosing natural materials like cotton when making clothing purchases can help minimise exposure to these harmful chemicals.
BEWARE THE SCHOOL UNIFORMS
Children, with their developing bodies and immune systems, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of synthetic fabrics and chemical treatments. The prolonged and consistent exposure, as seen with school uniforms, can contribute to a range of health issues, from skin irritations to more severe concerns like hormonal imbalances and developmental disorders.
School uniforms are a minefield and often (in my own data collection and online research) are almost always made from synthetic fibres (or at a minimum, a blend) like polyester and nylon, which may seem harmless, but they pose hidden risks such as, they don't breathe, they shed microplastics into our waterways, and added chemicals labeled as UV-resistant, stain-resistant (teflon), and more; are introduced at various production stages, such as pesticides, silicone waxes, and heavy metals.
Making Informed Choices
Fortunately, as consumers, we have the power to make informed choices. Opting for healthier clothing made from natural, organic fibres like cotton, hemp, or bamboo can significantly reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals. These fabrics are not only gentler on the environment but also promote better health for ourselves and our children.
Protecting our children involves regular washing, soaking, and exposure to fresh air to reduce toxins. Opt for second-hand uniforms or wearing organic singlets of t0shirts under the shirt can further minimise exposure. Advocating for eco-friendly alternatives, like organic cotton polos, and replacing plastic buttons with biodegradable options can make a positive impact.
How to choose healthier clothing for our kids?
What our clothing is made from matters—a lot. The impact of synthetic fabrics, toxic dyes, and Teflon coatings on our health is undeniable. By choosing wisely and advocating for safer alternatives, we can ensure that our clothing not only looks good but contributes to our overall well-being. Let's dress consciously, for ourselves and our future generations.