Natural vs. Synthetic Fabrics



Synthetic Fabrics

Your skin is the largest organ of elimination and absorption—what goes ON the skin goes IN the body. When toxins are absorbed through your skin, they are taken-up by the lymphatic system, then into the blood stream and eventually the liver. Natural fabrics have been around for thousands of years – these are typically harvested from plants or animals. Synthetic fabrics are a 20th century invention.

Synthetic fabrics like rayon, polyester, acrylic, acetate and nylon are worn by many of us as they seem to make our lives simpler, like wrinkle-free or stain resistant, but at what cost?

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Polyester doesn’t breathe like natural textiles. This is the worst choice if you live in warm climates. Some of the toxins found in clothes with synthetic fibers include:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Brominated flame retardants
  • Perfluorinated chemicals


What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and to produce many household products. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories. Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in the environment. It is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes.


The short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure.

At levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction.


Can formaldehyde cause cancer?

Exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats.  Can it also cause cancer in humans? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of prolonged exposure can cause cancer in humans.


Brominated flame retardants

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are mixtures of man-made chemicals that are added to a wide variety of products.


  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – plastics, textiles, electronic castings, circuitry
  • Hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDDs) – thermal insulation in the building industry
  • Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) and other phenols – printed circuit boards, thermoplastics (mainly in TVs)
  • Polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) – consumer appliances, textiles, plastic foams
  • Other brominated flame retardants.


Effects on human health.

Young children are particularly susceptible to the toxicity of Brominated flame retardants. They have been linked to cancer and can harm the liver, kidney, brain, and testes. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has been shown to cause neurological and reproductive harm in laboratory animals as well as cancer.


Perfluorinated chemicals (PFC)

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are containing chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain- and stick-resistant.

There are many forms of PFCs, but the two most commonly found contaminants are:

  • Grease-resistant food packaging and paper products, such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, contain PFCs.Carpet w/kid
  • PFOS was used until 2002 in the manufacture of 3M’s Scotchgard® treatment, used on carpet, furniture, and clothing.
  • PFOA is used to make DuPont’s Teflon™ product, famous for its use in non-stick cookware.
  • PFCs are in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and denture cleaners.


Perfluorinated chemicals can cause several types of tumors and neonatal death and may have toxic effects on the immune, liver, and endocrine systems.

PFCs cause a range of other problems in laboratory animals, including liver and kidney damage, as well as reproductive problems.

PFOA’s half-life in our bodies, or the time it would take to expel half of a dose, is estimated at more than 4 years. PFOS’s half-life is estimated at more than 8 years.

Exposure to PFOA or PFOS before birth has been linked with lower birth weight in both animal and human studies.


To avoid any such dangers of synthetic fabric effects on yourself:

  • In future buy natural fiber clothing, especially for your children and babies. Good options are cotton, flax, hemp, silk, wool and linen; Less common natural fiber options include alpaca, angora, camel, cashmere, mohair, ramie and Salyut;
  • Try and buy only organic clothing when possible, certainly organic undergarments, since the reproductive organs are among the areas most sensitive to toxins;
  • Avoid “Easy Care” and flame-retardant clothing;
  • Start getting rid of synthetic clothing you’ve accumulated (up-cycle, reuse, recycle or donate them).

Chemical Manufacturers Don’t Care About Your Health