Clean beauty has exploded in the last few years. Originally, the movement was pioneered by independent and small-batch product makers — but as more people have become aware of the effects of toxic ingredients on their personal health — clean beauty has well and truly entered the mainstream. Honestly, the fact that you can pick up an organic and fair trade mascara in the cosmetics aisle at Rite Aid speaks volumes for the shift in consumer consciousness. However, the same mindset has not made its way into mainstream fashion.
Although people are waking up to the negative impacts of fast fashion, generally the conversation centers on forced labor and the significant havoc it causes the environment. Not as many consumers are aware of the toxicity and personal health risks that are associated with the fibers in synthetic textiles.
In fact, many materials contain microplastics that get absorbed into our bloodstream and end up in our oceans. Considering that our clothes hug our largest organ for most of the day, swapping to cleaner materials is definitely worth the upfront homework.
Here’s a rundown of the best and the worst materials for your body and our favorite clean fashion brands and designers that are committed to all-natural textiles and dyes.
The Biggest Offenders
One harmful toxin in polyester is phytoestrogens. You may have noticed the second half of that word — estrogens. According to studies cited in Austin Publishing Group, phytoestrogens act as endocrine disruptors and can be responsible for reproductive disorders for women. Additionally, these studies have shown polyester responsible for lower sperm counts in men. Aside from hormonal problems, if you’ve ever worn polyester on a hot day, you know the material is far from breathable and can also cause redness, itchiness, and acute skin rashes.
Spandex, Sweat, and Moisture-Wicking
On the issue of toxins, our workout gear is one of the trickiest wardrobes to navigate. In the pursuit of trying to help people decrease sweating during a workout, companies have increased the chemicals used in many textiles including moisture-wicking, spandex, and wrinkle-resistant clothing.
Jane Fonda made Lycra sexy back in the ‘80s and it has stayed with us — but we’re now realizing it’s also a major cause of contact dermatitis, a less cute look.
Moisture and sweat-wicking materials at first glance seem like an athleisure wearer’s dream, but further research indicates the opposite.
Remake World, a group of millennials and Gen Zers on a mission to put an end to fast fashion, warned, “Don’t be fooled by popular marketing terms like “sweat-wicking” or “performance fabrics.” These fancy claims equate to a high synthetic fiber content which suffocates your skin. Wearing synthetic fabrics can cause anything from headaches and nausea to skin rashes and respiratory problems.”
This controversial group of dyes are often used to dye clothing because they are a cheap method that produces a strong result. Banned in the EU, they are carcinogenic in nature and water-soluble, meaning that sweat or rain can make them more easily absorbed into your skin causing potential skin and eye irritation.
How to Make Cleaner Swaps
Check your labels for clothing that uses plant based dyes. Alternatively, go for clothes that aren’t dyed at all; usually labelled undyed, unbleached or natural.
Check for GOTS or Oeko-Tex certifications as these are organizations that prohibit toxic chemicals and dyes.
The BLUESIGN sign system certification also means hazardous chemicals are kept to a minimum and are potentially absent during manufacturing and in the end product.
Skip Synthetic and Technical Fabrics
Pass on trademarked technical “fabrics,” most are chemically coated synthetics that rub toxins on skin and end up washing out to our oceans. A slightly sweatier workout tee or a wrinkled shirt is far better than messing up our bodies and planet. Plus, following the Matthew McConaughey rule to “break one sweat a day” is sexy.
Launder Your Clothes First
If you must buy or wear an item you’re unsure contains toxic chemicals, throw it in the washing machine first to remove excess chemicals and dye.
After working out, it’s especially important to get out of your clothes and to wash them as soon as possible as the chemicals and bacteria can create further issues.
The Best Au Naturale Brands in Our Humble Opinion
Wol Hide is a holistic design company that uses natural, organic and deadstock materials as much as possible with minimal dyeing or chemical processing. Designer Leah D’Ambrosio chooses fibers based on their impact on us and on the environment. Some of their heavily featured textiles include alpaca, merino wool and pima cotton. Each piece is timeless — we’re big fans of their boxer bomber in bone. Plus, they partner with a small family run factory in Peru for their machine knitting and local artisans for their one of a kind hand-knitted pieces.
When it comes to natural dyes, there’s no other brand doing it better than Older Brother. Each of their ranges is inspired by Mother Nature’s color palette and their unisex staples are dyed with hibiscus, turmeric, and indigo. In terms of the cloth itself, their eco-conscious range includes organic cotton from Japanese farms, unique blends of wool and woven rice paper, and linen from the flax fields in Japan’s cooler climates — once the source of Imperial ceremonial robes.
And if you’re looking for non-toxic items for the babes and kiddos in your life, look no further than Rudy Jude. All their garments are plant-dyed using roots, berries, bark, flowers, leaves, lichen, and wood. Plus, their fabric is sourced from mills using only organic and sustainable practices. Each garment is happily sewn in Los Angeles and ships worldwide with zero plastic waste.
Everyone deserves the right to self-expression through fashion and design. It might seem overwhelming at first, but exercising a little loving curiosity about the garments and textiles we are wearing, will only serve to help us feel even better in our own skin. And who knows, with early adoption and conscious consumer choices, perhaps we’ll see non-toxic materials enter mainstream fashion in the not too distant future.
Rachel Guest is the Editorial Director at THE FULLEST and a forever student of all things wellness and healing. She feels incredibly privileged to be able to learn as she edits the contributions from the inspiring and knowledgeable roster of THE FULLEST writers.