5 Toxic Fabrics That Can Be Harmful to Your Health and What You Can Wear Instead

11 months ago

Warm sweaters or light dresses, our favorite athletic leggings, or shaping underwear — so many things around us are made from synthetic materials. Even though they look good and comfortable, they can be dangerous for your skin and your general health, from bad odors to skin, rashes, nausea, or something even worse. Chemicals in synthetic fabrics aren’t the best companions for our skin.

Bright Side dug deeper into this topic and found out what wearing fabrics like polyester, rayon, or spandex can do to our health. Here’s the list!

1. Polyester

Polyester is one of the most popular and most used synthetic fabrics. Even though it can be produced with a blend of natural components, like cotton, to prevent wrinkles and tears, its effect on our health can still be harmful. While wearing polyester, it becomes hard for your skin to breathe. Moreover, rising body temperatures help to release chemicals from this fabric that are later absorbed by your skin.

This can cause a variety of problems and irritations like rashes, itching, redness, eczema, and dermatitis. So, it’s better to avoid polyester in your clothes and also in your linens.

2. Rayon (Viscose)

Rayon is a fiber that is made from cellulose that is chemically converted from wood pulp. Not only is the production of this material dangerous but wearing it can also be unhealthy. Rayon fabric can emit toxic substances that can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, chest and muscle pain, and insomnia. In addition to all that, its production is heavily polluting the environment.

3. Nylon

Socks, lingerie, underwear, pantyhose, and so many different everyday clothes are made from nylon. It is durable and not very expensive to produce, which is why it’s popular. At the same time, nylon is not the best choice to wear on your bare skin. Clothes made from nylon do not absorb sweat from the skin, which can cause bad odors and skin infections. While in its production, the fabric gets bleached or dyed with different chemicals. Wearing it on your skin can cause a variety of irritations as well.

4. Acrylic

Acrylic fabrics are made of acrylonitrile, which is a carcinogen and a mutagen. Exposure to this substance can cause different problems with your health. Among them are headache, nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, limb weakness, and many more. By wearing acrylic fabrics, you run the risk of absorbing some of the acrylonitrile into your skin.

Also, the manufacturing of acrylic is a huge cause of environment pollution.

5. Spandex/Lycra/Elastane

These types of fabrics are extremely stretchy and a lot of tight clothes are made with them like sports bras, leggings, T-shirts, shaping underwear, tights, bikinis, etc. Like other synthetic fabrics, these are made from harmful chemical substances like polyurethane, that is also considered to be a carcinogen. Prolonged contact with these fabrics can cause skin irritations like dermatitis.

Which fabrics are safe to wear

  • Cotton: it’s breathable, absorbs liquid from the skin, protects against heat in the summer and cold in the winter, and it’s hypoallergenic and durable. It’s one of the best fabrics you can wear to treat your skin to the most comfort.
  • Merino wool: it’s an all-natural, temperature and moisture regulating material that doesn’t lose shape or sag with time. Instead, it’s soft, lightweight, and also offers a natural UV protection! Alpaca wool can also be a good alternative.
  • Cashmere: this is a very precious and valuable material. No heavy chemicals are used to create the smooth silky feel of cashmere, and it is amazing and nice to feel on the skin on its own.
  • Hemp: this textile has been serving people for thousands of years. It is well-known for its strength and durability. It’s the best natural material when it comes to holding shape and not stretching. Also, the more you wear it, the softer it gets.
  • Silk: not only does this soft fabric have a luxurious texture, but it also has a bunch of health benefits! It can slow down aging, help with eczema and asthma, have an anti-fungal effect, help to avoid allergies, and improve sleep!
  • Bamboo: it’s an interesting new alternative to traditional natural fabrics. Textiles made of bamboo are just as soft and silky as other natural fabrics, but also hypoallergenic, highly breathable, and thermo-regulating. It can absorb moisture from the skin even better than cotton and protect you from UV rays like merino wool. Also, it’s biodegradable.
  • Linen: it’s a highly comfortable and durable material. It is also easy to take care of and is suitable for every season. Like some other natural textiles, it has hypoallergenic properties, will feel extra comfortable, and will allow your skin to breathe.

Which clothes and fabrics do you prefer to wear? Do you own a lot of synthetic clothing? Let’s share in the comments!

Illustrated by Alena Tsarkova for Bright Side


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If it was really that harmful then why do they still make those clothes? Just because it's cheaper or what?


I can't find a single brand with decent offerings of tencel/merino wool. Please recommend if there are any


You need to check your ethics when you recommend merino wool. The gathering process is extremely cruel.


Good article I love silk just can’t afford it all the time guess I will be sticking to cotton but I usually go for rayon polyester and spandex


My girlfriend was wanting to know where your references are. We’re trying to make sure we get trustworthy information. I appreciate, looking into and wanting to make sure we were the most natural and healthiest things but let’s be honest 80% of the apparel market uses polyester, spandex and nylon nowadays, it’s not very common to find things that only have cotton wool or linen and silk. If that was the case, then I would buy because I’ve been looking for some, nice furs but they not cheap.


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