Organic Consumers Association

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Care What You Wear

The Clothing Conundrum: Safe, Warm Winter Dressing

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Clothes for a Change Page.

Technology as Servant

Clothing serves a number of important practical purposes. It helps moderate our exposure to the environment. It can protect our skin from injury and attack from abrasions, bugs, bites, cuts, scratches, sun and harsh weather. It serves almost as a second skin in this regard, providing a much needed layer of protection. Clothing can also become a source of play and fun for anyone at any age: a way we express our personality and identify with others.

Why do clothes matter so much?

Your skin is your body's largest organ. Averaging twenty-two square feet in surface area and eight pounds for the average adult, the skin serves as our body's first line of defense against a host of dangers. The body also uses our skin as an important pathway to eliminate certain toxins, but at the same time, it thus also becomes an easy way of access for many toxins to gain entry into our body.1 This entry pathway may be even more dangerous than others, such as inhalation or ingestion, since toxins that enter through the skin bypass the digestive and respiratory tracks and the defenses these systems employ.

For instance, studies have shown that our skin possibly absorbs more chlorine in a five to ten minute hot shower than in drinking five to ten glasses of chlorinated water! When you use personal care products (make-up, deodorants, etc.), the chemicals in those products can show up in the bloodstream less than sixty seconds after being applied to the skin.

A 2008 study by the Environmental Working Group looked at twenty teenage girls and found sixteen chemicals with potentially harmful health effects in blood and urine samples from their personal care products.2

Yet while a lot of people are careful with what they put in their body by way of food and drink, many are careless with what they put on it by way of clothes.

Many modern fabrics are problematic in a number of ways. First, many are made from, produced with, or contain a plethora of hazardous chemicals, from flame retardants (generally bromated chemicals) to those wonderful sounding but not-so-safe stain repellants and wrinkle-free clothing treatments (which contain perfluorinated chemicals―PFCs―like Teflon).

The astute reader will notice that the two main chemicals used to "improve" modern clothing are both from the halogen family, the same as chlorine and all-important iodine. Thus, combined with the average person's exposure to chlorinated and fluoridated water, the production of clothes thrice exposes us to dangerous toxins: first in the disposal of waste from production that pollutes earth and water, second during wear and use, and last, as we launder these clothes more toxins are washed out into our precious water supply.      
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