Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Before you purchase that next article of clothing, towel, or set of sheets, think twice, stop, and read this article. The money you spend can help or harm your health and the environment, which can also influence your health. 

You might be surprised at what you read here. It is natural to think that synthetic fabrics are worse for the environment than natural fibers, but that is not always true.

What are the most common synthetic fabrics, and how do they compare to natural fabrics?

Synthetic fabrics are man-made textiles produced from dozens of chemical substances through a process called polymerization. Some synthetic fabrics come solely from chemicals, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Other fabrics are semisynthetic, such as rayon, a combination of chemicals and natural polymers. The processing of chemicals into textiles can cause significant health and environmental risks.

Natural fabrics come from grown substances, including cotton and hemp. However, their growing processes can also lead to problems, making it crucial to know the sourcing of your products. Some companies use toxic fertilizers and pesticides to produce cotton, which is terrible for your health and the environment. Natural fabrics include cotton, cashmere, hemp, camel hair, silk, jute, and ramie. 

Some primary types of synthetic fabrics are:

  • Polyester: Second highest toxicity level
  • Nylon: Highest impact on climate change and fossil resource use
  • Acrylic: Highest level of toxicity

Is There Health Damage from Synthetic Fibers?

Synthetic fibers are chemical-laden products that contain various compounds, including acids, solvents, and biocides. Some compounds remain in synthetic fabrics indefinitely, no matter how many times they are washed, including toxic dyes. One of the worst chemicals is disperse blue 1 dye, a staple in acetate and 100% polyester clothes, which, according to animal experiments, can lead to tumor formation. Other toxic chemicals, such as dioxane and formaldehyde, are cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and hormone disrupters. They accumulate in body fat, staying in place for your entire life. 

We are not talking about using fifty or even one hundred chemicals, but thousands upon thousands of compounds used in textile production. Formaldehyde may be one of the most toxic and highly used chemicals. Besides being a known hormone disrupter and carcinogen, formaldehyde can cause headaches, coughing, and irritation to the skin, nose, throat, and eyes. 

Chemical dyes are a significant problem, as they require other compounds to help make their colors last. Some dyes are high in heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, and lead, which enter the body through skin absorption. The chemical dye fixatives accumulate in organs such as the brain, liver, heart, kidneys, and bones. Significant risks to factory workers exist for those involved in the production of synthetic fibers and textiles.

Bioaccumulation is the collection of toxins in body tissue, which can lead to autoimmune disorders and other health problems, including:

  • Acne, fungal infections, and skin irritations 

Synthetic fabrics are not “breathable” like natural fibers, trapping bacteria and moisture against the skin that can cause irritation, acne, and fungal infections. The flame-retardant, water-resistant, and wrinkle-resistant treatments used feature chemicals that absorb into the skin and lodge in body fat. These products influence hormones and health.

Not all skin issues are caused by fabrics. Some issues also can be related to hormonal level changes, such as HGH deficiency. Always consult a doctor to control your hormonal health and learn about how the results of Sermorelin can help in this situation.

  • Allergic reaction

People with allergies and some skin disorders, such as psoriasis or eczema, are more sensitive to contact with chemicals. Synthetic fabrics contain chemicals that are known irritants and allergens. 

  • Fire-warning

Synthetic fibers can melt if heated, increasing their risk of catching fire unless a chemical flame retardant is added. The fabric can stick to the skin, causing severe and life-threatening burns. To prevent these concerns, companies add flame retardants to clothing, especially children’s pajamas and bedding. Flame retardants have been linked to cancer while presenting a false sense of security to parents. 

  • Autoimmune disorders and hormone disruptors 

Synthetic fabrics may lose up to 10% of their weight, or more, during their lifecycle. That releases nanoparticles that penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. These nanoparticles accumulate in the cells and nerves, influencing brain functions (including hormone production), digestion, immunity, and reproduction. Some of the most common culprits include synthetic colors, antibacterial and anti-fungal treatments, flame-resistant, shrink-resistant, and wrinkle-free chemicals. Microfibers have been found in human placentas, which can lead to significant problems in developing fetuses and throughout life.

  • Respiratory problems

When synthetic fabrics are laundered, their chemicals leech into the water during washing and the air during drying and ironing. Many of the chemicals used in creating synthetic fabrics can cause respiratory problems and asthma. 

Can Synthetic Fibers Damage the Environment?

The production of synthetic fibers uses fossil fuels and causes greenhouse gas emissions, polluting the air and water. Transforming these fibers into textiles requires many chemical compounds that release microplastics into the environment and food chain. At every step of the process, from the production of synthetic fibers through processing, distribution, retail, use, and recycling, the environmental risks increase.

Formaldehyde, which we mentioned in the previous section, can damage crops and increase air pollution. Chemical dyes also pose significant environmental risks that can pollute the air, soil, and water. 

We often think of fabrics made from recycled products as being environmentally conscious – reducing what ends up in landfills. However, the chemicals used to “recycle” these items into other products may cause more environmental problems than we believe. Eco-friendly is not always the case. 

Here are some of the ways synthetic fabrics are bad for the environment:

  • Fossil fuel usage

Synthetic fibers require more energy than natural fibers, depleting fossil fuel resources faster. Many synthetic fibers are sourced from natural gas, a nonrenewable source. It takes more than three times the energy to manufacture nylon than conventional cotton. 

  • Air, soil, and water pollution

From manufacturing to laundering and usage, the toxins and nanoparticles in synthetic fibers enter the air and travel long distances, landing in the soil and bodies of water. Chemical run-off from factories enters the ground and water supply, poisoning food, livestock, fowl, and sea life, affecting the entire food chain.

Microfibers from synthetic fabrics release approximately 1.5 million tons of microplastics into the oceans each year, reaching from Antarctica to the North Pole. A single load of laundry can release as many as 700,000 fibers.

  • Long-term waste

Synthetic fibers produced from petrochemicals are not readily biodegradable, resulting in long-term pollution accumulating in landfills. Polyester is easier to recycle than nylon.


Sadly, many countries still perform testing on animals, especially with the chemicals used in fabrics. 

Avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals whenever you can helps both your health and the environment. Natural fibers such as linen, wool, and cotton reduce formaldehyde exposure, like fabrics certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oeko-Tex®.

Organic and natural dyes offer safer routes than chemical dyes but may not provide the vivid, long-lasting colors that people find desirable. These colors use naturally grown materials free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. However, natural dyes are not always safer if improperly sourced or processed. Labels can be misleading, so if you have concerns about fabrics and textiles, take some time to research these items before buying. 

Remember, these chemical toxins continue to build up in your body’s tissues throughout your life, increasing your risk of autoimmune disorders, cancer, reproductive problems, and other health issues. 

Even when synthetic fabrics come from overseas, the damage to their ecosystem spreads across the world. Environmental issues affect everyone, as toxins travel by air and water, as well as imported foods and products. 

Choosing safer products is good for the environment and health. Searching for organic, natural fibers or responsibly produced synthetics is the best option. 

By nitin

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