Synthetic fibers have become increasingly popular over the years due to their affordability, durability, and versatility. However, these benefits have hidden costs that can severely affect our health and the environment.
Disadvantages of Synthetic Fabrics
• Environmental Impacts
- Non-Renewable - Synthetic fibers are made from non-renewable resources such as petroleum. Their production involves energy-intensive processes that emit tons of greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.
- Non-Biodegradable - Synthetic fibers are not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to decompose, leading to accumulation in landfills and oceans.
- Microplastic Pollution - Synthetic fibers shed microplastic particles during washing, which can enter waterways and harm aquatic life. According to an Environmental Science & Technology study, a single garment made from synthetic fibers can release over 1,900 microplastic particles per wash.
• Health Impacts
Synthetic fabrics are often treated with additional chemicals that add desirable properties to the material; however, using these chemicals can lead to skin irritation, respiratory issues, and even cancer, especially in hot weather, where synthetics begin to break down. Some of the hazardous chemicals that can be found in synthetic fabrics like polyester include:
- Antimony is used to make fire-retardant materials and is known to cause cancer. It is also released into the air and water during production.
- PFOA is used to make fabrics waterproof and has been linked to thyroid disease, cancer, and reproductive problems.
- Formaldehyde is a finishing agent in polyester and nylon production, which is linked to respiratory issues, skin irritation, and cancer.
- Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are used to make polyester stain-resistant and have been associated with various health concerns.
- BPA improves the lifespan of fabrics and creates anti-static properties often found in synthetic materials.
- Phthalates is a plasticizer used to make plastics pliable. Studies have shown phthalates to disrupt normal reproductive development and function.
- Reduces Sperm Count in Men - Synthetic fabrics trap heat close to the skin, increasing testicular temperature and lowering sperm count and mobility. In addition, compression can affect circulation and cause damage to the testes. Lastly, synthetics are often treated with chemicals such as formaldehyde, which can disrupt the endocrine system and potentially reduce sperm count.
- Miscarriages and Infertility in Women - Plastic fabrics can cause infertility and miscarriages in women due to phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which can disrupt the endocrine system and mimic hormones in the body, leading to reproductive health issues.
- Unpleasant Odors - Synthetic fabrics tend to trap moisture and heat, creating a favorable environment for bacteria to thrive. Additionally, they often do not allow for proper air circulation, leading to foul odor caused by bacteria growth.
- Allergies and Sensitivities - Some people may be allergic and experience skin irritation and itching when wearing synthetic fabrics due to chemicals and dyes in the material.
Why are Synthetic Fabrics so Popular?
- Affordability - Synthetic fabrics are generally less expensive than natural fibers, making them a popular choice for people on a budget. Due to lower costs, brands and companies can maximize their profit margins.
- Performance - Many synthetic fabrics are designed to wick moisture away from the skin, keeping you dry during physical activities. Additionally, synthetic fabrics, such as spandex, provides comfort and stretch, making them popular choices for activewear and other performance-oriented clothing to allow for less resistance when moving.
- Easy Care - Synthetic fabrics are generally easy to care for, requiring little to no ironing or special washing instructions.
Why Natural is the Way to Go
While natural materials are often praised for what they don't contain, such as harmful chemicals, they do have some inherent performance advantages make them superior to synthetic fabrics:
- Breathability - Natural fibers allow air to circulate and keep the wearer cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. Although moisture-wicking is often touted as a performance benefit, our bodies have naturally evolved to regulate temperature through moisture. Cotton can be more effective at reducing sweat than synthetic polyester materials by retaining more moisture than removing it from our bodies.
- Comfort - Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and spandex are not as breathable. They can trap heat, leading to discomfort, skin irritation, and its famous lousy odor. Natural fibers, especially premium ones like Supima® Cotton, are soft and comfortable to wear and smell fresh throughout the day, making them a popular choice for everyday wear.
- Durability - Synthetic fabrics are durable but tend to break down more quickly when exposed to heat and sunlight. This can lead to premature wear and tear, causing them to lose their shape and color. Natural fibers, like our extra-long staple cotton, are generally more durable than synthetic fabrics and tend to get softer and more comfortable with age.
- Hypoallergenic - Natural fibers such as cotton and linen are hypoallergenic and gentle, making them an excellent choice for sensitive skin. In contrast, synthetic fabrics can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions due to their chemical composition.
- Sustainability - Cotton is a renewable resource that can be grown and harvested year after year. At the same time, synthetic fibers are typically made from non-renewable resources like petroleum. Cotton is also biodegradable, which means it can break down naturally over time, while synthetic fibers can take hundreds of years to decompose and can release harmful microplastics into the environment. In addition, cotton can be grown using sustainable farming practices such as organic or regenerative agriculture, which can help to reduce the environmental impact of cotton production. These practices can help to conserve soil, reduce water use, and minimize the use of harmful chemicals.
In conclusion, while synthetic fabrics may have their benefits, they cannot compare to the advantages of natural fibers. By choosing natural fibers for your clothing and other textiles, you make a more sustainable and responsible choice for the environment and your health. At Livelihood, we believe in the benefits of natural fibers. We are committed to providing high-quality clothing and textiles that are both eco-friendly and comfortable.
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