It May Be Time to Detox Your Wardrobe
Spandex yoga pants have become the new skinny jeans – and with good reason. They seem to magically hold in the parts we wouldn’t miss (goodbye cellulite and sag!) and emphasize the ones we’re rather proud of (hello curves and calves!), while somehow being almost more comfortable than the skin we’re born in. When I’m in my super-snug, just-thick-enough black tights with the belly-flattening waistband, I’m one happy girl. Ask my co-workers. Whether topped with an oversized button up or a long V-neck, these babies are a daily wardrobe staple.
Rather, my spandex leggings were a daily wardrobe staple.
Closed-Minded vs. Clothes-Minded
I’ve been on a health journey long enough to know that the hardest parts are the moments of discovery. Whether it’s a way of eating – or in this case, a way of wearing – we do something for years and and then BAM! A nugget of knowledge lands in our laps, saying we best be givin’ it up. We can look at this as a negative – yet another sacrifice in the name of health – or we can see it for what it is as another step away from ignorance and toward freedom that will bring greater freedom and health. If you’re anything like me, compelling excuses will ensue…
My go-to clothes may be laced with flame retardants and Teflon?!1 How can this be?! But if everyone wears this stuff, it can’t be that bad. I mean, I’ve made so many healthy changes. I’m just not going there.
Well, save yourself the trouble because we already know the ending. The evidence has mounted and the verdict is in. Game over. Take off your pants.
Just kidding. If only it were that easy. My hope is that this article will make you re-consider your fashionably functional synthetic staples, or at least WHEN you choose to wear them.
The Cost of Being Cool
It wasn’t long ago that most workout, lounge and comfort wear were made from cotton. Unfortunately, the trend has shifted to synthetic alternatives that promise to keep us cool by wicking moisture and drying quickly. Dubbed “performance apparel”, these chemically derived fabrics now make up a multibillion-dollar industry, driven by our demands. Just as a candle draws wax up the wick, producing a flame, these synthetic fabrics pull our sweat through the material so it can be evaporated out into the air. While it may sound fairly simple, the toxic chemicals the clothes are made of – with their respective derivatives and byproducts – are far from innocent.
First, most performance apparel is a blended concoction of polyester and its close cousins, acrylic, rayon, nylon and spandex – all derived from synthetic petroleum-based chemicals. These fabrics are the result of scientific breakthroughs from chemists like Wallace Carothers of DuPont, who developed Nylon in the 1930s as a replacement for silk, and John Rex Whinfield, a British contender of Carothers whose investigation of an even better polymer resulted in the first polyester fiber known as Terylene. It didn’t take long before these brainchildren were produced en masse by huge petrochemical companies like Imperial Chemical Industries and Dupont.2
Formaldehyde + Teflon in My Yoga Pants?
Today’s performance apparel also allows us to ditch the iron and stain-removers. But again, convenience comes with a price. Wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with textile resins that release formaldehyde, a toxic cancer-causing chemical according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.3 Avoid this VOC at all costs. There is also a link between wrinkle-free clothes and the continuing rise in contact dermatitis, a skin condition that causes itchiness, rashes and blisters.4 In addition, many brands use additives like PFAS/Teflon to make clothes stain repellent and even add toxic chemicals like Triclosan to prevent odor.
And these fabrics aren’t just bad for our health. Being far from renewable or biodegradable, it goes without saying they’re bad for the planet. During the production of nylon and polyester, nitrous oxide is created, which is over 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Formaldehyde gas is emitted when fabrics are treated with flame-retardants. Also, dyes used in fabrics are usually synthetic and may be produced from heavy metals, which pollute our water and wildlife.5
Be Your Own Advocate
Where’s the consumer protection, you ask? According to a 2010 New York Times Article, we consumers are in the hands of the clothing industry. “The United States does not regulate formaldehyde or any other chemical levels in clothing, most of which is now made overseas. Nor does any government agency require manufacturers to disclose the use of the chemical on labels.”
Greenpeace’s Manfred Stanten says, “The concentration (of chemicals) that we find in clothing may not cause acute toxic problems for the wearer in the short-term…. you don’t know what the impact of long-term exposure is on human health.”6
Making the Change: The WHEN Really Does Matter
Ok, so I get that we’re not all running to our closets, inspecting every tag and putting up garage sale signs. Even I found that a few select stretchy pants seem to escape my recent closet cleanse. But I’m pretty picky about when I wear them. Our skin is our largest organ and a major mode of eliminating our bodies’ stored toxins. It’s like a sponge, absorbing about 60% of what we put on it.7 Thus, it’s super important to make sure the clothes we cover our skin with during times of detoxification and restoration are breathable and toxin-free.
Exercise of any kind activates this natural detoxification process, which is ramped up even more by sweating. Research has found that sweating not only regulates body temperature, but also helps you eliminate toxic chemicals such as heavy metals and petrochemicals. Two studies published in 2012 found that sweating enhances the elimination of two toxic, endocrine-disrupting petrochemicals: BPA and phthalates.8 For me, this is reason enough to welcome this natural process versus wishing – or should I say wicking – it away.
Another time to avoid synthetic fabrics is when resting. Our body naturally shifts to a mode of relaxation and rejuvenation, which is only impeded when we wrap ourselves in petroleum-based fabrics. It’s the perfect time to wear only natural fibers like cotton and let our skin breathe.
If you are like me, and just can’t quite give up wearing your favorite clothes, then your nighttime sleep should be your body’s “break time” from the day’s exposures to chemicals of all types. This is when the body’s repair, restoration, and rejuvenation processes take place. If the body is busy detoxifying chemicals from the clothes we sleep in, then the healing and recharging doesn’t take place as it should. This is prime time for pulling out your 100% (organic!) cotton underwear and pajamas.
My Go-To Choices for Letting My Body Breathe
As we like to say over here at Branch Basics, just go back to basics! Cotton (preferably organic) is great at any time. Wool, linen, cashmere, and even silk are also pure, comfy choices. All of these are natural, durable and tried-and-true over thousands of years. Most importantly, they allow our body to breathe!
My favorite choice for workout gear, loungewear, and underwear is cotton and I choose organic whenever possible.* According to the Pesticide Action Network, 10% of all pesticides are reserved for conventionally grown cotton (9), 94% of which is genetically modified.10 Fortunately, organic cotton is becoming more and more prevalent.
My go-to brand for organic wear is PACT. The fabrics are comfy, the patterns fun and the company is doing great things. I replaced most of my workout T-shirts and socks with their V-necks and no-see-ums ankle socks. As for transitioning from harmful to healthy yoga pants, it’s not as easy because, let’s be honest, we gotta have a little stretch! PACT makes theirs with 95% organic cotton and 5% elastane (Spandex), which is much healthier than my previous ones. Synergy Clothing, Alternative Apparel and American Apparel also have some great organic cotton choices. As for nighttime, I’m the kind that goes for a simple cotton T-shirt and boxers, but for those cuter sleepers, Garnet Hill’s Eco-Friendly section is a great place to start.
And you never know where you’ll find other options sneaking up! During a recent trip to ZARA, I came across a large display of affordable, 100% organic cotton V-neck T’s in every color of the rainbow. So there’s hope that the trend toward pure is catching on and our buying habits will only serve to expedite it.
Are You Re-Considering?
Again, I realize some of these “nuggets” may make you cringe. Or bring excuses with them! So let me encourage you to make changes as you can and not get overwhelmed. For me, that was my sleepwear. I can’t stress enough the importance of removing any obstacles that get in the way of our body’s nightly restoration and rejuvenation processes that happen while we sleep. Perhaps this is an excuse to treat yourself to these? Because that’s where I’m headed now…
*Note that the brands I recommend also offer clothes made of synthetic fabrics. We recommend only purchasing the natural fiber options (organic cotton is best), with the exception of a small amount of Spandex that’s added to some clothing for stretch.