The Dangers of Spandex
Spandex has made its way into everyone's drawers and wardrobes since its invention in 1959. The exceptional stretch, durability, and shape-keeping ability that spandex provides make the synthetic fabric functional, yet the benefits also come with its fair share of consequences.
Nowadays, clothes are made from a variety of different materials due to advancements in technology. Apart from organic fabrics, man-made fibers are also gaining popularity among textile manufacturers — one of them is spandex.
Commonly used in form-fitting consumer apparel, spandex is a lightweight and smooth synthetic fiber that has a unique elasticity. Most sports bras, leggings, t-shirts, tights, bikinis, and undergarments utilize spandex to give support, fit, and comfort. Its innumerable polymer strands allow the fabric to stretch up to 500%, retaining its original shape despite repeated stretching.
Garments made of spandex are also abrasion resistant, making them the suitable choice of fabric for hosiery, swimwear, sportswear, socks, gloves, cycling shorts, and motion capture suits. On top of its elasticity, spandex is also recognized for its high resistance to wear and tear caused by sweat, detergents, body oils, lotions, and others.
However, as a fully synthetic fiber, no organic components are utilized to create spandex, with all of its parts being made in a laboratory setting. The production of spandex also takes a lot of raw materials, toxic chemicals, and energy — a process that makes the fabric unsustainable, hazardous to health, and environmentally harmful.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF USING SPANDEX
According to YarnsandFibers, although spandex fibers have a lot of benefits, there are also certain "limitations."
SENSITIVE TO HEAT
The chemical composition of Spandex makes the fabric sensitive to heat. Its very low heat resistance comes from the chemicals used to create spandex. "Clothing that contains spandex has special care instructions because washing with hot water or ironing at high temperatures will ruin the fabric permanently," said YarnsandFibers, emphasizing that the fabric can get distorted after coming in contact with flame.
Apart from having low heat resistance, garments made with spandex also traps moisture, sweat, and bad odor near the skin due to its hygroscopic nature and very low breathability, which often result in skin rashes and various skin infections.
"This is the main reason that spandex material is not preferred in clothes for sweat-inducing activities such as exercising. White color clothing made from spandex materials turns yellow after a certain time," said YarnsandFibers.
DETRIMENTAL TO HEALTH
In case you didn't know yet, spandex is made from a chemical substance called polyurethane, a known carcinogen and mutagen. OneGreenPlanet explained that repeated exposure to polyurethane can "cause damage to the kidneys, liver, brain, and bone marrow."
According to Inkspire, long contact with polyurethane can cause asthma reactions and lung irritation. "Factory workers who are exposed to the fumes from the chemicals involved in this fabric’s production have reported several health disorders including vomiting, stomach pain, and dizziness," said Inkspire in its article, adding that the chemicals embedded in the fabric may induce headaches and brain swelling.
DAMAGING TO THE SKIN
Once the body sweats underneath the spandex, the chemicals used to create the fabric, from toxic dyes to formaldehyde, will be released into your skin, leading to contact dermatitis.
Since spandex does not have the ability to absorb sweat, moisture gets trapped, allowing the bacteria and other allergens to enter the skin. It can also become a fertile ground for fungal or bacterial infections, causing serious irritation, severe allergic reactions, ringworm, folliculitis, impetigo, and other pigmentations.
For people with skin allergies, it's no surprise that toxic chemicals in spandex can easily harm the skin. In fact, a sensitizer and carcinogen known as tolulene diisocyanates can also cause skin irritation. Other rubber or rubber-processing chemicals added to the fibers may also irritate the skin, contributing to your overall discomfort.
HARMFUL TO THE ENVIRONMENT
Aside from causing contact dermatitis and chemical sensitivity issues, there are a few issues attached to spandex that make the fabric harmful to the environment.
Sewport reported that the utilization of spandex brings a negative impact to the environment, to the extent that "no feasible solutions" have been made and pitched to curb the spandex-induced environmental degradation.
The production of synthetic fiber like spandex requires a huge amount of synthetic dyes. OneGreenPlanet explained that the use of man-made colorants, which are one of the most polluting factors in textile manufacturing, can compromise water quality, disrupt plant growth, make their way into the food chain, impair photosynthesis, and increase biochemical and chemical oxygen demand.
If you're thinking that the detrimental effect of spandex towards the environment only rests on its production, you’re wrong. Washing and burning spandex-made garments have negative repercussions too!
Washing of spandex produces tiny fiber balls, which enter the water system and affect marine life and drinking water while burning synthetic garments like spandex release carbon into the air and contribute to rising air pollution levels."
UNSUSTAINABLE FOR THE PLANET
What makes spandex an unsustainable fabric for the environment is the heavy consumption of energy and power during its production. Spandex-made garments are created from fossil fuels, specifically petroleum, which cause oil spills, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and methane emissions.
"This completely nonrenewable resource is responsible for half of the United States’ carbon emissions and about a third of the world’s carbon emissions," OneGreenPlanet stated. Moreover, as a non-biodegradable fiber, spandex remains in the biosphere for a long time, ending up in landfill with no notable method that could convert them to a biodegradable material.
WHAT'S SAFE TO WEAR?
It's no secret: we have been exposed to all sorts of synthetic fabrics, toxic dyes, and chemicals every day. However, we can still make the right choice by filling our wardrobe with clothes that care for your skin and the environment.
Make it a habit to always check the label of the clothes you're buying. There are many alternatives to petroleum and polyurethane-based synthetic fibers that don't endanger our already strained environment. The best route to take? Wear our 100% organic cotton clothing, made from organic materials and safe processes that don't cause skin irritations and flare-ups.
The avoidance of all potential irritants and allergens remains the best way to keep your skin from becoming itchy and irritated. For uncompromising prevention of severe allergies and multiple chemical sensitivities, visit our Allergic Contact Dermatitis collection — completely free from harmful allergens, elastics, chemicals, and dyes.
DISCLAIMER: The information presented on Cottonique is not, and will never be, intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content materials found on this site, from text, treatments, outcomes, charts, graphics, photographs, and study findings, are created and published for general informational purposes only. It should not, in any way, be construed as a standard of care to be followed by a user of the website.
Thus, readers are encouraged to verify any information obtained from this website with other accurate references and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with their physician. As Cottonique strives to help those with allergies live with better days, the hypoallergenic apparel brand encourages everyone to always seek the advice of their physician or other qualified health providers with any questions they may have regarding a medical condition.