We wear it because it’s comfy, and useful for activities that improve our wellbeing. But here are 5 ways sportswear can seriously harm your health
By Chere Di Boscio
I confess: I live in sportswear. When I used to edit magazines in Paris, London and Dubai, I would have been horrified by the very notion of yoga tights and tees. But now, that’s basically my daily uniform.
This kind of clothing is super comfy, and I thought it was fine. Until now.
I’ve just learned some pretty scary info, and I’m compelled to share it with you.
Image credit below: Everlane
Plastic is NOT our friend
Loads of fashion brands are now boasting they’re making their goods from plastics rescued from the oceans. While that’s fine for outerwear and shoes, and of course there’s no doubt that fishing garbage out of the seas is a good idea, putting it next to your skin is not.
That’s mainly because of this fact: we don’t know what kind of plastics are being spun into yarn for clothing. Namely, your clothing could very well be made of toxic bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA plastic.
Recently, sports bras and athletic wear made by some major global sports brands were found to contain dangerous levels of the estrogen-mimicking chemical BPA, according to legal notices sent by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH).
“Sports bras and athletic shirts are worn for hours at a time, and you are meant to sweat in them. So it is concerning to be finding such high levels of BPA in our clothing,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, director of the Illegal Toxic Threats Program at CEH. In short? BPA content is the main reason sportswear can harm your health.
And the worst part? It’s not just clothing made from recycled bottles that has BPA. In fact, the CEH said its investigations have also found BPA in new polyester-based clothing containing spandex.
What is BPA? And why should you care?
Bisphenol-A (BPA) – and its chemical cousin bisphenol S (BPS) – are industrial chemicals used in plastics manufacturing. Both are added to many commercial products. These could include the lining of food containers, baby bottles, plastic water bottles, and feminine hygiene products.
BPA can easily leach into foods and beverages, and into your skin from contact – especially when you sweat. Which you do a lot when you’re wearing athletic wear!
Research suggests that BPA exposure may lead to a number of health problems. That’s mainly because BPA mimics the structure and function of the hormone estrogen. The result is that BPA can bind to estrogen receptors and influence bodily processes, such as:
- cellular repair
- fetal development
- overall energy levels
- reproductive health
The chemical can also interfere with other hormone receptors, such your thyroid, thus altering their function.
Which products contain BPA?
- Items packaged in plastic containers
- Tinned foods
- Grooming products
- Menstrual products
- Thermal printer receipts
- CDs and DVDs
- Household electronics
- Dental filling sealants
Even some drinking water pipes are lined with epoxy resins containing BPA. Yipes! Generally, if you see recycling codes 3 or 7 on the bottom of something made of plastic, it’s going to contain BPA.
And of course, if you’re wearing clothing made from recycled plastic bottles, it could also contain highly levels of BPA.
Here are a few ways wearing such sportswear can harm your health.
Why clothing made from recycled plastic is dangerous
Eating foods from boxes and tins lined with BPA and drinking from plastic bottles is bad enough. But when you add clothing into the mix, you’re seriously putting your health at risk.
Our bodies are so sensitive to the stuff, even touching a thermal printed receipt for a few seconds leads to significant BPA or BPS absorption into the body.
Here’s what can happen to you when. you wear clothing containing BPA:
1. It can harm your heart
Studies have found that high levels of these chemicals in sportswear can result in heart problems. Ironic, since most people who don sportswear are trying to improve their cardio health. The worst part? Loads of sports bras, which lie close to the heart, contain high levels of BPA.
2. It can lead to obesity
Here’s another irony: other studies show that high levels of BPA can lead to obesity. So, by wearing sportswear that can harm your health, you’re also at risk of getting fatter – even whilst exercising like crazy!
3. You might get diabetes
More research is pending for more definitive conclusions, but it seems infusing your body with BPA can lead to diabetes, in addition to obesity.
4. There’s a strong link to cancer
Sportswear can harm your health in the worst way possible: by giving you cancer.
5. The next generation might suffer, too
“Even low levels of exposure [to BPA] during pregnancy have been associated with a variety of health problems in offspring,” said Dr. Jimena Díaz Leiva, science director with CEH. So if you’re pregnant, or planning to be, avoid that stuff. And needless to say, if you have a wee one, make sure their clothing is organic!
6. When you wash it, you eat it
As you probably know by now, when you wash clothing made from recycled bottles, it sheds tiny plastic micro fibres into the water. These microplastics then go back into our oceans and rivers, and are eaten by fish. Then, when you eat the fish, you’re also eating….you guessed it, plastic microparticles. Which build up in our systems, eventually harming our health.
Brands making sportswear that can harm your health
If you’re wondering which brands are the worst for sportswear that can harm your health, the CEH cites the following:
- Athleta, PINK, Asics, The North Face, Brooks, All in Motion, Nike, and FILA all make toxic sports bras
- The North Face, Brooks, Mizuno, Athleta, New Balance, and Reebok are making toxic activewear collections
Testing conducted on branded clothing showed that individual wearers were exposed to 22 times the safe limit as permitted under California law. Investigations have discovered BPA in polyester-based clothing with spandex, including socks made for infants.
“Even low levels of exposure during pregnancy have been associated with a variety of health problems in offspring,” said Dr. Diaz Leiva. The resultant abnormal developmental growth can increase the likelihood of “developing breast or ovarian cancer later in life.”
Which sportswear brands are safest, then?
Even some really well known ‘sustainable’ brands, like Girlfriend Collective and Reformation, make leggings out of plastic bottles. No thanks!
Here are some non-toxic sportswear brands that won’t kill you – or the planet.
Non-Toxic Sportswear Brands We Love
You know what I want next to my skin? Organic cotton! And that’s what most of Tentree’s athletic wear is made from. Despite being totally sustainable and organic, their pricing is really fair, with leggings starting at just $25. Plus, they plant a whopping TEN trees with every purchase. Fabulous!
No matter what your shape or size, PACT has non-toxic sportswear for you! From TENCEL to organic cotton, all the fibres they use in their leggings, tops, bras and more, are guaranteed to protect your health, and the planet, too.
This activewear brand makes tights, tops and bras from an ultra-smooth and durable fabric blend of eucalyptus, spruce and birch wood fibres. All of these are naturally antibacterial and highly breathable. We love their designs, as well. Each style aims for high performance, no matter what your fitness level.