Fast Fashion Fails – Textile Toxins That Make You Sick

Fast Fashion has hit the headlines in recent years – and it isn’t for a good reason. While the clothes made by fast fashion brands may be cheap and convenient, they have a dark secret. Not only are these clothes both bad for the environment and made using unethical employment practices, they might be harming your health. Some of these chemicals include:

  • Phthalates
  • PFAS
  • Heavy Metals
  • Formaldehyde
  • Azo Dyes

What Do We Know?

There have now been a few studies to show that our clothes might be harming us. One such study was when Environmental Chemist Miriam Diamond led a CBC investigation into the toxic chemicals that could be found in fast fashion items. The study took clothing from several fast fashion brands such as Shein, AliExpress and Zaful, and found high levels of toxic substances. These over time, can lead to a number of health problems. But what are these chemicals, and how can they damage our health?

Another study by environmental charity Greenpeace focused on fast fashion provider Shein. It found that much of the clothing contained these toxic chemicals. What is more concerning is that around 15% of the clothing tested actually had chemical levels that were higher than EU limits. The reason why these limits are in place is because these chemicals are dangerous and toxic to people.


These are chemicals used to make clothing more flexible. They are often used when the material is made partly from plastic. Clothing like leather-look leggings, gym wear and raincoats are most likely to have this chemical in them. The issue with phthalates is that they can lead to an increased number of allergic reactions, higher levels of asthma, insulin issues alongside type 2 diabeties. It is especially dangerous in pregnant women and children as it also impacts the endocrine system and growth.


PFAS are a group of chemicals used to make clothes waterproof or resistant. Often they are found in outdoor clothing to help keep the rain out. PFAS do not break down well like other chemicals in our list, so last longer, impacting the body even more. Some health effects of PFAS include organ damage such as liver damage and kidney disease.

Photo: GCShutter/Getty Images

Heavy Metals

Many heavy metals with bad health effects have been found in fast fashion clothing. One such metal is known as chromium VI. Chromium is found in leather and other similar materials. Toxic metals have been found to cause cancer and be toxic. They can weaken the immune system, meaning that a person may be more susceptible to illness, as well as lead to issues with the brain and reproductive system.


It is widely known that formaldehyde is toxic and in many countries it is classed as a cancer causing substance. The chemical is often used in cheaper clothing to reduce how much the fabric wrinkles. One health effect of this chemical, however, is that it can lead to skin irritation. This is not good if it is in clothing that is constantly against the skin. On top of this, formaldehyde can cause wheezing and breathing issues as well as permanently changing lung function.

Azo Dyes

Azo dyes are one of the most common set of chemicals in clothing. There are so many different colour dyes in clothing, with many using toxic ingredients. Azo dues themselves are actually banned in clothing made in the EU. As many fast fashion brands manufacture their clothes in Asia, these rules are not applied. Azo dyes are carcinogens known to cause cancer and irritation to both eyes and the skin.

Photo smartwatermagazine

The Take Away – Fast fashion

As you can see from the extensive list above, toxic chemicals are more common in clothing than we think. While these chemicals may be a cheaper option for clothing manufacturers, they can cause some horrible health complaints. The best way to avoid this is to stop buying from fast fashion. Instead look for eco-friendly or sustainable alternatives. These will not only be better for your health but also better for the environment.


Do these chemicals wash out of clothes?

While some chemicals may dilute and reduce when washing clothes, many won’t disappear or break down. It is always recommended you wash your clothes before wearing them.

Can chemicals from clothes be absorbed through the skin?

Yes they can. Chemicals against the skin can cause skin irritation and even be absorbed.



    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Maria Ljungström

    Maria Ljungström is the founder and writer at She is an expert in interior design and has worked as a home stylist with a solid background in interior decorating. Maria likes to offer tips on how to make your home beautiful and luxurious affordably. With Inredningsvis, she has participated in several well-known media outlets such as Expressen, DN, and has written for GP Bostad.

    Senaste inläggen

    Inredningsvis in media

    Follow Interior Style

    About inredningsvis

    Interior design is Sweden's most popular site about interior design and lifestyle, with thousands of readers every month. Maria Ljungström founded Inredningsvis and she has a true eye for how to make a home look luxurious and personal.


    Contact us

    All rights reserved - Copyright 2024