Turtlenecks with dangling earrings, one of my favorite outfit-accessory pairings. What isn’t my favorite is the fiber component of most turtlenecks – acrylic. Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that is man-made in a factory. Other synthetic fibers we tend to wear a lot are nylon, rayon, and polyester, which are popular due to its price tag (for example, I’ve noticed Forever 21 using rayon in practically every article of clothing they produce). Synthetic fibers do last longer than natural fibers (man-made, so it’s understandable), but they are not biodegradable nor recyclable (because they are man-made…hope I’m getting my point across). Because of this, clothes made from synthetic fibers pile up in landfills, and when they start breaking down into smaller pieces, the chemicals and toxins used to make these fibers are released into the atmosphere and soil contaminating our environment and us!
“Natural fibres breathe, wicking moisture from the skin, providing even warmth and body temperature; they are renewable, and decay at end of life. On the other hand, synthetics do not breathe, trapping body heat and perspiration; they are based on crude oil, definitely a non-renewable resource and they do not decompose at end of life, but rather remain in our landfills, leaching their toxic monomers into our groundwater,” (EcoTextiles).
Most people know that water heated in a plastic bottle is known to create carcinogens (think: drinking water that’s been sitting in your heated car). The same concept applies to synthetic fibers and our bodies. The human body is mostly made up of water, and synthetic fibers are made up of plastic. By harboring synthetic fibers on our bodies, we are activating a process that is quite dangerous to our bodies. In fact, a study done in Canada shows the correlation between acrylic fibers and breast cancer in women [post-menopause].
“The key ingredient of acrylic fiber is acrylonitrile, (also called vinyl cyanide). It is a carcinogen (brain, lung and bowel cancers) and a mutagen, targeting the central nervous system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acrylonitrile enters our bodies through skin absorption, as well as inhalation and ingestion….data included women working in textile factories which produce acrylic fabrics – those women have seven times the risk of developing breast cancer than the normal population, while those working with nylon fibers had double the risk,” (Occupational and Environmental Medicine).
I know what you’re thinking – I’ve been able to wear whatever I want, and nothing bad has happened to me! Our bodies can only handle so much, so it may or may not catch up to you, but what about your children or later generations? Do we ignore the bigger picture just because you are able to handle toxic fibers? And what about the factory workers who are at a higher risk for cancer (by 7x) due to synthetic fiber manufacturing exposure? I personally experienced my partner go through cancer at age 21, so the information I’m constantly learning about fashion and toxicity resonates deeply with me, and I hope resonates with you too. Cancer is not fun, so why take the risk by wearing carcinogenic fibers? Seems silly.
So what do we wear?! Recycled synthetic fibers could be an option, but I prefer natural fibers such as organic cotton, merino wool, and Tencel. You will definitely stay warm and properly ventilated with natural fibers, as well as prevent carcinogenic molecules from entering our bodies and environment. Sound like a simple and reasonable option?