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The alarming effects of


and the solution

The cycle of plastic clothing fibres from manufacturing to wear into the environment into human bodies

Synthetic fibres represent the largest share of landbased man-made micro-plastics, which end up in the ocean [1]

Clothing sheds tiny plastic micro-fibres, which end up polluting air, land and water, whilst picking up toxins along the way, thus compromising living organisms, plants, animals and humans. [2]

How synthetic fibres end up in the body

A bitter pill to swallow, we’re essentially eating our own clothes! Maripaz Carballo Palazon - Naturopath

1. Synthetic fibres: their production and conversion into wearable textiles involves high energy and water consumption, as well as an array of chemicals, which can get expelled into the environment

2. Wearing & washing sheds fibres from a few thousands to millions per load resulting in 3.5 quadrillion = 878 tonnes =10 blue whales in aquatic environments (US&Canada alone according to Ocean Wise & others [2] & Brenmicroplastic synthetic jackets washing machine lose, on average 1,174 mg of microfibers travelling to the local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them could enter into rivers, lakes, and oceans, depending on the plant. [3]

3. Skin and lungs absorb micro plastics & chemicals, fish, animals and plants (via soil and rain and air) absorb/eat them and toxins accumulated by the fibres on the way [4]

4. People eat seafood, animals and plants, use salt & drink water and beer in which micro-plastics have been found [5]

5. Health issues and diseases emerge. We'll talk about this more on pages 4-6.

Synthetic fibres body alert

The skin which can’t breathe

The skin is the human body’s largest breathing organ, which through sweat expels toxins keeping it healthy. Wearing synthetic clothing has the opposite effect, locking in heat and sweat. At best allergic reactions and clogged pores are its response, or worse chronic dermatitis may develop. [6]

Locking in additive chemicals

Next step up is the risk of absorbing chemicals used to produce synthetic fabrics. And there are many, including plasticisers, softeners, flame retardants, water and stain proofing, as well as dyes.

Research on the health effects of these additives to human health, including endocrine disruption leading to reduced testosterone, infertility, adult obesity, and developmental issues, lowered immunity and cancer, is ongoing. [7]

For example Bisphenol A common in sports garments has been found in breast milk. And PFC in the blood of animals. [8]

Plastic fibres, with or without additives, are so small that they could be absorbed via the skin and digestive systems into organs, as well as cross blood-brain and placental barriers. [9]

While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, lymphatic system, and may even reach the liver. Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health. [10] Dr. Phillip Schwabl - Physician-Scientist at Medical University Vienna

The importance of hundreds of chemicals in circulation becomes clear when we look at Viscose Modal Rayyon and Lyocell, a wood - or bamboo -cellulose, instead of petroleum - based fibre. It can still be a skin and respiratory allergen. This is largely attributed to the chemicals used to create the fibre. Some producers have found a way around it, such as Lenzing under its brand names Tencel, EcoVero and Monocel. [11]


Dizziness [14]


Nausea - Respiratory

Breast Cancer [14 & 15b]


Chemical used Antimony

(Skin, lung, heart & liver

diseases) - Endocrine

& cancer [14]

Breathing in Synthetic Fibres

Tiny, smaller than 5 mm [12] in diameter and disintegrating into micro-and- nano millimetres, the microfibres rub off clothing during wear, and when heated, such as in strong UV light (sun). Plastic particles end up in the air and humans breathe them in.

Research on how lungs deal with the intruders is still in its infancy but preliminary studies have come up with some concerns. [13]

“The plastic itself and its additives (dyes, plasticizers) could lead to health effects including reproductive toxicity, carcinogenicity and mutagenicity.” [14]

“Synthetic fibers have already been detected in human lung biopsies” [14]


(polyethylene terephthalate - PET)





Elastane Spandex/Lycra

(polyether-polyurea copolymer)

What are plastic polymers?

Strong molecule fibres resulting from a chemical process (polymerisation) involving fossil fuels, air and water using heat. For polyester is made of purified terephthalic acid (PTS) or dimethyl ester dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and monotheluene glycol (MEG). Mix in alcohol, and carboxyl acid and monomer, plural polymers emerge.

Plastic fibres are invariably linked to the use of additives [15] to achieve the desired properties - durability, soft, stretchy, stain resistant, wrinkle-free, water repellent, fire safety, colourful, etc. There are thousands of them - some mentioned below have been restricted for use. [16]


Stain resistant & anti-wrinkle

Formaldehyde -carcinogenic & PFC (Perfluorocarbon) endocrine disrupter

Flame Retardants /Water Resistant

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) & Perfluorooctane sulfonatePFOS - endocrine disrupters & Asthma

Softeners & Plasticisers

Phthalates -endocrine disrupters

Dyes & Butyl-Parabens

Azo dyes convert to aromatic amines & Parabens anti-bacterial - carcinogenic

Diseases linked to synthetic fibres

Plastic fibres and chemicals can penetrate skin ending up in blood, cells and organs via heat, sweat, stomach and air. Symptoms linked include:

For example:


Various types
of cancer

Endocrine system

For example:

Hormonal imbalance
Infertility in men
and women

Respiratory allergies
& diseases

For example:


Skin allergies

For example:


For example:

Kidney disorders

Research on the link between the diseases and synthetic fibres and how human bodies deal with it are ongoing. [17]

From the Expert:

“Thoughts on synthetic fibres and their effect on health.”

Maripaz Carballo Palazon - Naturopath

What are the main risks if one were to wear synthetics close to our skin?

We need to remember that synthetic clothing are made from fossil fuels and over 170 different chemicals are used to produce them. They have known human health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive and development toxicity, impairment of the immune system and more. These toxins have direct and documented impacts on skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems, liver, and the brain.

Infertility is just one effect of a multitude of body malfunctions, due to endocrine disruption, which seems to be a major concern. Why the prevalence, and how can we protect ourselves?

Probably because of the wide-spread use of polyester, also considered a flame retardant, being one of the biggest endocrine disruptors. In contact with the skin, our biggest organ, firstly it prevents the skin from breathing, and secondly, micro plastics can be filtered into the bloodstream through the skin pores and the mucous membranes.

This is why, if you cannot avoid synthetic clothing entirely , we need to ensure that the first layer of clothing is made of 100% cotton, or other natural materials.

The outer layer of the epidermis, as well as nostrils, and genitals are made of bacterial flora, thus preserving the integrity and health of our flora is vital for our immunity. Our first barrier of defence against disease is the skin.

Obviously, we don’t all react the same to our environment, including what we wear. Who should take special care?

Babies , immune compromised people, and people suffering from allergic reactions, as well as diabetics, in particular should avoid synthetic clothing, and not forgetting the bedding, including pillows.

Is the use of synthetic fibres, though in some instances, simply a necessary evil?

We have moved from using natural materials such as cotton, linen, or animal skins to more practical synthetic clothing. It's cheaper to produce, practical in terms of drying quicker, does not require ironing, provides elasticity and so on.

In some industries clothing with fire retardant is a requirement, as in uniforms for fire fighters, airline crew etc. We can not deny the practicality of these clothing materials, but we need to be aware of the many hazards they imply related to health and environment.

So you're saying we can't manage to avoid synthetic clothing entirely?

As a natural health advocate I choose natural fabrics as much as possible, although it isn't always easy. However, we can still protect ourselves. I will always tell my patients to use only natural fabrics for their underwear, and any other clothing that is in direct contact with the skin, including bedding .

Point about skin care taken, but we're also polluting our water and food, with fibres, a scary thought. how is this possible, and can it be stopped?

All plastic waste management technologies, including incineration, co-incineration, gasification and pyrolysis result in the release of toxic metals, such as lead and mercury, dioxins, furans, acid gases, and other toxic substances to the air, water, and soil. Moreover, less than 1 percent of clothes worldwide are recycled, meaning that piles of clothing only keep on accumulating, and will pollute the earth for hundreds of years to come. A scary thought, yes, but now that we have this knowledge we just need to take the right steps towards change, recycling, using ore natural fibres and so on.

Healthier Alternatives

As governments and NGOs are keeping an eye on toxic additives, eco-and -health conscious apparel manufacturers, have been switching to using more recycled synthetic, as well as natural fibres, and safe additives.

Plant-based dyes can not only colour textiles, but some of them could even promote health containing detoxifying, immunity stimulating, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Equally, natural fibres are safe to wear, as long as no adverse chemicals have been added, the skin can breathe, allergy free.

Indigofera tinctoria - arthritis relief

Henna - anti-inflammatory


Tannins - tea or coffee grounds

Avocado skins Cherries Grand Fir Tree


Carob & Iris root

Artichoke Chamomile Delphinium

Brazilwood Bedstraw & BeetRoot

Annatto Seeds Bee Balm

Safe Labels

Eco-labels, such as the EU Ecolabel, as well as OEKO-TEX, considered the gold standard, is an easy way to assure a garment has been made with the best environmental and health practices possible. [18]

Not every brand may carry such a label yet could still be safe.

Checking the ingredients on-line [19] and the Made In Label is advisable. Europe, Australia and the US and some other countries and their brands have to adhere to stricter government regulations in terms of health and the environment. Check!

Natural Fibres

Traditional: Cotton - linen (flax) - wool - cashmere - silk - wood *

Emerging: Bamboo * - Hemp - Eucalyptus - Milk - Coffee - Algae - Banana - Corn - Nettles

* Viscose Rayon and modal fibres, including Lyocell, are made from wood cellulose, including beech and eucalyptus, as well as bamboo, but can contain a lot of chemicals. Opt for a brand like Lenzing, which under its brand names Tencel, EcoVero and Monocel, has come up with a sustainable way to produce healthy viscose rayon and modal fibres.

Label Watch

There are instances where the use of some chemicals is hard to avoid.

Waterproof clothing is in general not a healthy option, nor good for the environment, but sometimes required, such as in certain types of jackets and shoes. The safest option is to keep synthetic fibres from lying right on the skin.

Cotton and polyester blends are often softened with an overload of ammonia also to prevent shrinking, and may irritate throat, eyes and nose.

Avoid apparel with clothing labels, or check which additives and dyes have been used, which read:

Non shrinkable

Non flammable

Wrinkle free

Easy ironing

because they may contain harmful additives

Avoid apparel with clothing labels, or check which additives and dyes have been used, which read:

Wash colours separately

Wash before first use

& be weary of clothing with prints

because they may contain harmful additives

A label saying natural may be deceiving. It isn’t always possible to create 100% natural. Checking the composition is advisable, the higher the percentage of the natural ingredient the better.

Tips to reduce synthetic fibre impact

Change is a process. In the meantime synthetic apparel remains in circulation. There is a dire need for consumers to become more aware and do their part, taking into account that between 600,000 and 17,700,000 micro-plastic fibres get washed down the drain in every 5 kg washing machine load of synthetic clothing. [20]

Did you know, one acrylic scarf along can shed up to 300,000 microfibers during washing?

Did you know, one pair of nylon socks can shed over 130,000 microfibers during washing?

Did you know that the fashion industry discards close to 100 million tons of unsold items polluting our environment, seeping into soil, water and air going up in flames ? [21]

Minimising fibre shedding/rubbing:

Wash less, avoid full loads, use liquid detergent low in PH and oxidising agent, as well as softener, wash no higher than at 30 degrees and use short cycles

Strong UV light breaks down synthetic fibres - dry in the shade

NO synthetics in the dryer chemicals

will be released into the home

Buy less synthetic clothes and wear them longer, if possible purchase those made from recycled materials

Finding our way back to nature

It would be unrealistic to assume synthetic clothing would disappear from one day to the next, finding workable alternatives is a long process.

Reasons are manifold. To produce a 100 percent ecological garment, fashion houses require access to natural fibres and additives en masse. As their use has only recently re-emerged in terms of traditional natural fibres, and newly discovered ones are emerging, availability isn’t widespread.

Scarcity equals a high cost of production. It won’t be until all, or at least most apparel makers, phase synthetic fibres out and thus demand for natural fibres rises, that costs will come down to a reasonable level, and hopefully equalling that of synthetic fibres. Equally, research into safe additives should continue.

At Inner Mettle we believe this is the way to go, our environment and health is too precious to risk getting to the point of non-recovery.

Hence, we are continuously working on coming up with apparel that is as sustainable, eco-friendly, and as healthy as is possible during present times. We improve our recipes as times goes on, and maintain accessible prices.

So, yes, our apparel isn’t just yet 100 percent natural, but close enough to put our minds and bodies at ease.

We invite our customers to join us down the path, which takes us back to nature, saving on medical bills and investing a little into the health of the world that nurtures us, without fresh water, food and air to breathe, our existence could reach threat levels.

We hope you enjoyed the read.

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