You can't deny it: we live in a plastic world.
We wear it. We wrap our food in it. We even sleep in it.
The health effects of chemicals in our food and beauty products are often spoken out. But what about the hidden toxins in clothing?
Clothing – especially our activewear – is something we wear for long periods without a second thought. We put it on to stay healthy yet we could be exposing ourselves to a deluge of unhealthy substances.
It begs the question: are we sleepwalking into a health crisis?
In this guide, we discuss the hidden toxins in activewear, safe ways you can limit toxin exposure, and how Tripulse addresses this important issue as a sustainable activewear brand.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Harmful Toxins in Clothing and Activewear You Should Know About
Caption: Dangerous toxins in clothing you should be aware of.
Synthetic fabrics are the athletic industry’s it girl. They permeate the supply chains of most prominent fast fashion brands. It’s what keeps the profit-obsessed apparel system turning.
Compared to natural fibres, synthetic materials are significantly cheaper to produce and consume. They also have qualities athletic wearers love: stretchy, moisture-wicking, crease-resistant, stain-resistant and more!
But there is a price to pay for such convenience.
Synthetic fabrics are derived from crude oils which means a lot of our activewear is processed with an alarming cocktail of hazardous chemicals. When you’re working out and sweating, your pores expand, making you more vulnerable to toxin exposure.
Approximately 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in the fashion industry with many causing a slew of environmental and health problems. A significant number of toxins in clothing are endocrine disruptors which interfere with the normal functioning of the body.
Here are some prolific toxins in clothing and activewear you should be aware of:
BPA (bisphenol A)
BPA is a chemical mainly used to make rigid plastics. And it’s everywhere. Food storage. Children’s toys. Even your activewear.
A recent study by the Centers for Environmental Health (CEH) found critically high levels of BPA in the sports bras and athletic shirts of major fast fashion brands. Individuals could be exposed to 40 times the safe limit, according to California law.
BPA can be absorbed through the skin in a matter of seconds. One study found people who frequently handled receipts contaminated with BPA had higher than normal levels of the chemical in their bloodstream.
So what does this mean for BPA in activewear? Activewear is worn on the skin. We sweat in it and often wear it for extensive periods.
BPA is a known hormone disruptor as it mimics estrogen levels. Exposure to BPA is linked to a myriad of health problems from reproductive issues and cancer to diabetes and obesity.
Did you know we’re launching our very first sports bra this year? Made from premium wood-based fibre and completely free from harmful toxins. Sign up for early access!
Caption: Tripulse non-toxic sports bra made from premium wood-based fabric.
Flame retardants… in clothing?!
In an increasingly plastic world, flame retardants have become widespread. As petroleum-based plastics are highly flammable, flame retardants are the fashion industry’s go-to – especially for children’s clothing.
But did you know flame retardants can cause an overwhelming number of health problems? Flame retardants are bioaccumulative meaning they become more condensed in the bodies of living things over time.
Children are found to be most vulnerable to flame retardants with research linking exposure to reduced IQ levels and neurotoxicity. A study by the University of California, Berkley found flame retardant PBDE changed thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy, putting mother and baby at risk.
PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Another persistent group of man-made chemicals found in just about everything – including our bodies!
And one powerful way toxic PFAS can enter your body (you guessed it!) is through your activewear.
PFAS – short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are often used to treat fabrics because of their unparalleled ability to make clothing grease-, water-, and stain-resistant.
So, what’s the problem with PFAS? You ask!
Well, PFAS are almost impossible to destroy – hence the term “forever chemicals”. Studies show PFAS may cause a wide range of health issues including cancer, thyroid problems and liver damage.
They also wreak havoc in the natural environment from contaminating drinking water to bioaccumulating in wildlife and ecosystems. A recent study found hundreds of animal species are contaminated with disturbingly high levels of PFAS.
Azo dyes are also responsible for toxins in clothing.
Azo dyes are a large group of synthetic chemicals used to dye fabric. Renowned for their efficiency, approximately 60-70% of all dyes used across the fashion industry and beyond are azo dyes.
Azo dyes pose a great risk to human health due to their carcinogenic properties. Plus, they are water-soluble so can easily absorb through the skin.
The EU banned azo dyes due to their toxicity. However, laws in other non-EU countries – including the United States – are more precarious. This means they are still used by fashion brands in many corners of the world.
Formaldehyde is another hazardous offender to add to the mix of toxins in clothing and activewear.
Formaldehyde in clothing increases wrinkle- and stain-resistance. It’s also effective in retaining colour which is why fashion brands use formaldehyde in jeans.
Nevertheless, formaldehyde can be detrimental to your health. Exposure can cause skin, throat and lung irritations. In fact, high levels of formaldehyde in the body can cause cancer.
Heavy metals are found in the natural environment but they are also used synthetically. For example, textile manufacturers use lead when dying fabric as it helps enhance and retain colour.
The presence of lead in the body can profoundly impact your health – especially in young children and women of childbearing age. According to the World Health Organisation, lead can damage the brain, liver, kidneys, bones and nervous system. Lead exposure, at any level, is considered harmful.
Phthalates are used to make plastic materials more flexible. For this reason, phthalates are commonly found in synthetic activewear.
Exposure to phthalates is connected to extensive health problems from allergies and asthma right through to obesity and diabetes. Plus, phthalates can disrupt the endocrine system leading to significant reproductive issues.
What Clothing Materials are Toxic?
Although we slip on our favourite activewear to feel good and healthy, it could have the opposite effect depending on the fabric.
Here are some synthetic and non-organic materials you should be aware of when considering toxins in clothing.
Caption: Synthetic fabrics you should avoid when considering toxins in clothing.
Polyester is a synthetic fabric manufactured from petroleum. It’s one of the most commonly used fabrics in the world. Plus, over 50% of the global fibre market is saturated with the stuff!
It’s considered cheap, durable, wrinkle-resistant, moisture-wicking and quick-drying. Hence polyester is prolific in activewear.
But polyester is a flawed material – especially when you exercise. Polyester can react to your body heat, which causes the chemical antimony to release and absorb through the skin when you sweat.
Antimony is used as a flame retardant and catalyst during the PET manufacturing process. It’s a known carcinogen and can adversely affect the lungs, heart and stomach. It can also cause skin and eye problems.
Unpopular opinion: polyester isn’t breathable! It’s a tightly woven fabric designed to repel moisture. This means it traps heat and bacteria causing skin irritations and bad smells.
Another synthetic crowd-pleaser among activewear brands and wearers alike. Nylon comes in many forms but the most popular thread is nylon 6 6. Similar to polyester, nylon is stretchy, durable and dries fast.
The bad news? Nylon is responsible for a multitude of toxins in clothing. Derived from crude oil, nylon follows an intense chemical process. Chemical residues left on nylon can cause skin allergies and immune system problems.
Plus, nylon is a poor conductor of heat meaning it’s not as breathable as natural fibres.
Rayon is an incredibly versatile material. It’s considered a fabric shape-shifter mimicking the likes of wool, cotton and silk. Rayon can be used to make almost any type of clothing – including activewear.
But rayon has its downsides – mostly when it comes to toxins in clothing!
Rayon is derived from wood pulp, namely eucalyptus, spruce, and pine trees.
So, how can rayon be toxic?! You ask. Well, it all comes down to how it is processed.
Fashion brands commonly follow the viscose process when manufacturing rayon. Toxic chemicals are used to transform wood pulp into fibre.
One such chemical is carbon disulfide. Viscose textile workers exposed to carbon disulfide were found to develop coronary heart disease, birth defects, skin conditions and cancer. Even people living near the viscose factories were affected.
Rayon is also produced from cellulose acetate giving it a cotton-like feel. The chemical residue left on acetate rayon has been found to cause vomiting, dizziness, headaches and chest pain.
Elastane is hailed for its exceptional stretchiness. It’s widely used for sporty attire and often blended with other fibres to increase elasticity and strength.
Polyurethane is one of the main elements of elastane. Although considered a safer plastic, it’s still produced with urethane which is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” according to the National Institutes of Health.
Pro tip: Look out for athletic brands that use more sustainable alternatives to elastane. For example, we use toxin-free ROICA® V550 and PYRATEX® Power III to make our activewear. More on this later!
What’s more, people prone to skin allergies and asthma should be cautious when buying polyurethane-based products. Isocyanates – another component used to make polyurethane – are linked to respiratory problems and skin irritations.
Do you have sensitive skin? Find out how our skin-friendly activewear can change your workouts for the better!
Although derived from nature, cotton can contain harmful synthetic substances depending on how it’s produced.
Did you know conventional cotton is considered the world’s dirtiest crop? And for good reason!
Cotton is traditionally cultivated with a deluge of chemical pesticides and insecticides. In truth, cotton is responsible for 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of its insecticides. It’s estimated around 200,000 cotton farmers die from poisoning every year as a result of chemical exposure.
So, can this cocktail of chemicals contribute to toxins in clothing? Although they are more likely to harm the workers than the wearers, a 2004 study by the Technical University of Lódz, in Poland, found dangerous pesticides lurking on cotton clothing!
Bamboo is a naturally occurring material. So, how does it cause toxins in clothing?
Growing bamboo is actually very environmentally friendly. It’s a fast-growing crop and requires zero fertilisers and little water. Plus, it’s 100% renewable!
Yet to achieve bamboo’s silky soft texture requires large amounts of chemicals. Bamboo rayon follows the viscose process which is harmful to the environment and human health.
Pro tip: Bamboo is a step up from synthetics and conventional cotton. However, if you’re looking to completely eradicate toxins from your activewear, we recommend opting for natural fibres like TENCEL™ Lyocell.
At Tripulse, we don’t use synthetics or other chemically processed materials, offering you healthier options made from TENCEL™ Lyocell. Discover our skin-friendly and toxin-free activewear.
Caption: Tripulse high-performing, skin-friendly and toxin-free Original Leggings and Sports Bra
A Note on Toxins in Clothing and the Environment
Aside from the countless health risks, toxins in clothing cause untold chaos in the natural environment.
We’re on the brink of a water pollution crisis and the fashion industry has a huge part to play. From hazardous pesticides contaminating natural waterways to microplastics shedding from synthetic fabrics.
Textile dyeing and finishing contributes to approximately 20% of global clean water pollution.
A report by the CDP found many fashion brands have poor regulations when it comes to tackling water pollution in their value chain.
In China, it’s estimated that 70% of rivers and lakes are contaminated by 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry. Meanwhile, the UN estimates that 80-90% of wastewater globally goes back into the environment untreated.
How to Avoid Toxins in Clothing: Detox Your Activewear Today!
When chemically infused synthetics saturate the fashion industry, is it possible to completely avoid toxins in clothing?
In short: yes it is!
With a little due diligence, we promise it’s possible to create a toxin-free athletic wardrobe.
Keep reading to find out how you can avoid toxins in clothing from sustainability certifications to natural materials.
Look Out For Sustainable Fashion Certifications
One powerful way to avoid toxins in clothing is by choosing products with sustainability certifications.
Sustainability certifications are voluntary and issued by a third-party assessor. To become certified, a brand or product must meet strict social and environmental standards.
Here are some sustainability certifications to keep in mind when considering toxins in clothing:
OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100
OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100 is a well-known independent certification within the textile and fashion industry. If an item of clothing carries a STANDARD 100 label, you can trust every element is free from harmful substances. In fact, all textiles under STANDARD 100 are meticulously tested against 350 toxic chemicals!
Not sure if your OEKO-TEX® label is official? You can easily check this through the OEKO-TEX® free label checker.
Global Textile Standard (GOTS)
The Global Textile Standard (GOTS) is a global textile processing standard for organic fibres. A GOTS-certified product meets the strictest social and ecological standards. The GOTS standard is rigorous and eradicates toxic chemicals from the textile supply chain.
Is blue the new black? Certainly blue – or rather bluesign® – is the right choice when identifying toxins in clothing.
Clothing with a bluesign® PRODUCT label means it’s made with bluesign® approved fabrics. The bluesign® certification is your way to test if an item of clothing is made in a safe and eco-conscious way.
You can view bluesign®’s strict sustainability attributes for approved chemicals here. Hint: biomass or bio-based substances are a must!
Curious to see how sustainability certifications look in practice? Check out our Sustainability page to see how we follow strict health, social and environmental standards when creating our toxin-free activewear.
Be Wary of Greenwashing Claims
Greenwashing is when a company invests in marketing tactics to exaggerate environmental and ethical claims.
As people start to pay more attention to the true cost of a product, companies have an incentive to keep up with the rise of conscious consumerism.
Many brands still want to continue using the same profitable business model so use deceptive techniques to win the public over.
How do you spot greenwashing? Here are a few tricks to be mindful of when avoiding toxins in clothing:
- Using fluffy buzzwords like “eco-friendly” and “sustainability” without clarity.
- Making vague environmental and ethical claims with no data or certifications to back them up.
- Creating a “sustainable” collection but the rest of the company’s business model is still environmentally and ethically poor.
- Making hypocritical statements, e.g. brands that promote fair working conditions but outsource manufacturing to countries with poor labour rights.
Pro tip: If you’re looking to benchmark a brand’s environmental and ethical claims, check third-party directories like Good On You.
Good On You uses expert analysis to create easy-to-understand ratings focusing on three overarching categories: People, Planet and Animals. For example, Good On You rates Tripulse as “Great” in these areas – the highest score a brand can receive.
Check out our Good On You sustainability rating here.
Choose Natural Performance Fibres
Another way you can keep away from toxins in clothing is by choosing natural performance materials. In other words, materials derived from nature.
Here are some fabrics you should consider:
- TENCEL™ Lyocell: derived from renewable wood pulp and follows a toxic-free production process. TENCEL™ is high-performing, ultra-breathable and naturally odour-resistant. In other words, it’s perfect for activewear hence why we use it. More on Tripulse and TENCEL™ later!
- Organic Cotton: a healthier alternative to conventional cotton. Organic cotton eliminates the use of poisonous synthetic pesticides during cultivation. It also uses significantly less water than standard cotton and isn’t treated with toxic chemicals if GOTS certified.
Note: Organic cotton is very durable which is why we use it to make the inner drawstrings for our Pro Workout Leggings and Original Leggings. Learn more.
Caption: Tripulse Original Leggings with carefully crafted hidden drawstring so your leggings always stay in place!
Avoid the Most Toxic Clothing Brands
Many fast fashion brands – especially in the athletic apparel industry – are responsible for toxins in clothing.
But how do you spot them? Avoid brands that:
- Bring out new collections nearly every week with temptingly cheap price tags
- Provide little to no information on how they reduce environmental impact
- Provide little to no information about their supply chain or where their products are made
How Tripulse is Tackling Toxins in Clothing
At Tripulse, sustainability is in our DNA. It’s at the heart of everything we do and every decision we make.
We create high-performing activewear powered by nature rather than plastics. Activewear that is skin-friendly and completely free from harmful substances. No compromises.
So, how exactly do we achieve toxin-free activewear? Is it possible to create high-performing activewear without hazardous chemicals?
Keep reading to find out more!
Caption: Tripulse Pro Workout Leggings are made from ultra-comfortable and non-toxic premium wood-based fabric.
The Power of TENCEL™ Lyocell
A fundamental part of our clean activewear initiative is selecting the perfect materials that protect people’s health and the environment.
That’s why we use TENCEL™ Lyocell by Lenzing. TENCEL™ is a powerful natural fibre that’s completely non-toxic and derived from sustainably sourced renewable wood pulp.
TENCEL™ is the model choice for toxin-free activewear because:
- It’s naturally high-performing and skin-friendly. TENCEL™ absorbs 50% more moisture than cotton. This means it’s the perfect material for exercise as it keeps your skin cool and dry. It’s also naturally antibacterial and odour-resistant.
- It follows a strict chemical-free process. That’s right! No harmful substances are used in TENCEL™. It only uses water and environmentally harmless solvents that are reused at a rate of more than 99% during production. Our dyed TENCEL™ material is also free from toxic chemicals and OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100 certified.
- It’s certified biodegradable and compostable. It’s true: TENCEL™ can return to nature in a relatively short amount of time depending on the environment. That's a key difference to chemically produced synthetics like polyester that can take centuries, or more, to decompose.
Other Toxin-Free Materials We Use
Roica® V550 is a compostable version of synthetic elastane that’s Cradle to Cradle Certified® with the material health category “Gold”. This means it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals and can revert back to nature.
Our signature Original Leggings made with TENCEL™ contain ROICA® V550. The result? Extremely stretchy and supportive activewear – like a second skin!
Discover Tripulse Original Leggings with side pockets.
Discover Tripulse Original Leggings with hidden pockets.
Caption: Tripulse ultra-breathable, skin-friendly and versatile Original Leggings 2.0 hidden and side pockets
Dyes and Finishings
Our dyes and finishing are OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100 certified and REACH compliant. REACH is an EU regulation that protects human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals. It ensures clothing can be safely worn without harming the wearer
Water-Based Inks and Care Labels
When it comes to reducing toxins in our activewear, details are everything!
That’s why all of our prints are made from eco- and health-friendly water-based inks and our care labels are from organic cotton or TENCEL™ Lyocell.
They also have the following certifications:
- Organic 100 Content Standard
- GOTS certified
- OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100
PYRATEX® Power III
A top-tier fabric from a sustainable and health standpoint! It’s free from toxic substances and its entire lifecycle – from raw material to production – has a very low environmental impact. Plus, it has the following certifications:
- EU Ecolabel
- FSC and PFSC
- OEKO TEX Standard Class 1
Our Pro Workout Leggings are made with PYRATEX® Power III to create ultra-stretchy, smooth and highly breathable workout attire.
Discover Tripulse Pro Workout Leggings.
Caption: Tripulse high performance Pro Workout Leggings and Tank Top.
Natural Rubber and Organic Cotton Waistbands
Instead of petroleum-based elastane, we use 60% certified organic cotton and 40% natural rubber to make the waistbands in our leggings.
Our GOTS-certified supplier ensures environmentally and socially responsible production, the use of organic fibres, and no toxic chemicals.
Learn More About Our Toxin-Free Supply Chain
A clear understanding of how our activewear is made and where the materials come from is not a bonus, it's a necessity. This is especially true when minimising toxins in clothing!
All of our products are ethically made in Europe. Our suppliers and production partners in Portugal are REACH and STEP certified by OEKO-TEX, meaning they adhere to strict social, environmental and health standards.
Plus, our production factory is GOTS certified and our PYRATEX® Power III
fabric supplier is closely audited by the bluesign® certification.
Still curious? Find out more about our ethical and traceable supply chain here.
Caption: The unpolluted river next to our GOTS certified garment factory in Portugal.
Toxins in Clothing: Join the Clean Activewear Revolution
Toxins in clothing and activewear are putting our health and the planet at risk.
The fashion industry is fixated on cheap and profitable synthetic and non-organic materials.
As a result, our activewear is dripping with hidden – and extremely hazardous –chemicals.
In truth: the invisible and insidious nature of toxins in clothing could mean we’re on the brink of an invisible health crisis.
So, what’s the solution? Toxin-free activewear powered by nature!
There are many natural and sustainable alternatives to the synthetic status quo. At Tripulse, we use premium wood-based fabric to make high-performing and skin-friendly activewear free from toxins.
Because you deserve better.
Are you ready to move with nature rather than toxic plastic?
Caption: Choose Tripulse and avoid harmful toxins in clothing.
Toxins in Clothing and Activewear FAQ
How Do I Know If My Clothes Have PFAS?
PFAS are a prolific toxin in clothing. Look out for key phrases like “water-resistant”, “stain-resistant” and “moisture-wicking” on the label. PFAS are most prevalent in synthetic fabrics. If your clothing isn’t certified to be free from harmful substances then assume it does contain PFAS!
Can Chemicals in Clothes Be Absorbed Through the Skin?
Yes – chemicals in clothes can be absorbed through the skin. It is possible for toxins in clothing to enter the bloodstream. As mentioned above, BPA can be absorbed through the skin after touching till receipts.
One study looking at the risks of chemical exposure through the skin found that textile dyes can leave harmful residues causing skin irritations and possible absorption of hazardous chemicals. This is especially true when working out in synthetic activewear. When you sweat your pores expand, leaving you more vulnerable to toxins in clothing.
Are Shein Clothes Safe to Wear?
Simply put, Shein's clothes are considered unsafe to wear. A CBC investigation found dangerously high levels of toxins in Shein clothing and other major fashion brands.
38 samples of children’s, adult’s and maternity clothes and accessories were tested. 1 in 5 items were found to contain risky levels of chemicals including lead, PFAS and phthalates. One test found a toddler’s jacket by Shein contained almost 20 times the amount of lead deemed safe for children by Health Canada.
Check out our guide to toxins in clothing to learn about the health risks of chemical exposure and safer alternatives.
Can Toxins Be Washed Out of Clothes?
Although you can’t completely eradicate toxins in clothing, it’s always a good idea to wash new clothes before you wear them. It feels counterintuitive but it’s important to wash out any toxic residue that may still be lingering on the fabric.
Pro tip: Use unscented, non-toxic laundry detergent when washing new clothes. If the item has an overpowering synthetic smell, we recommend sending it back!
In the end, the only way to truly avoid toxins in clothing is by choosing natural fabrics that are free from hazardous chemicals.
This article was written in collaboration with Christie Johnsson, an avid sustainability and health writer.