The Problem

Chemicals are used in the dyeing, washing, printing and finishing of fabric. According to the Swedish Chemical Agency, 240 of these textile-related chemicals pose a serious potential risk to human life and 120 pose a serious risk to the environment. Most of the of the substances with hazardous properties were found to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and/or toxic for reproduction.

The vagina is a mucous membrane and has shown to be more absorbent of medicines and other substances than external skinWe believe that toxic chemicals and sensitive vaginas do not go together! 

Why These Chemicals Are So Dangerous

1. Persistent: Chemicals don’t break down over time

2. Bioaccumulative: The chemicals will slowly build up in the environment

3. Biomagnification: Toxicity will increase as it moves higher up the food chain

4. Toxicity: Chemicals can be hazardous at even low levels

Effects on Humans

The Swedish Chemical Agency identified 134 chemicals that have a high to medium probability of release from textile articles. This means the chemicals can easily migrate from fabric to skin or saliva through inhalation, direct skin contact or orally through sucking and chewing on textiles. According to this research, the two chemicals that pose the biggest potential risk to humans are azo dyes (see #4 below) and fragrances: 

"In line with a precautionary approach (Section 2.1.1), it can be concluded that substances that may cause severe health effects, e.g. carcinogenic, reprotoxic or sensitising substances, should be avoided in articles with direct and prolonged skin contact."

A series of ground-breaking research studies by Greenpeace found toxic chemicals (in particular nonylphenol ethoxylates or NPEs) in finished clothing from many major brands, such as Adidas, H&M, Calvin Klein, Victoria's Secret and Ralph Lauren. When washed, a significant portion of the chemicals were released and into the water system where they become NPs--an even more toxic and hormone-disrupting compound.  

Chemicals and the Vagina

There is very little research available on the absorption of chemicals from textiles into the vagina specifically or the impact of these chemicals on the internal reproductive system. This is an astounding oversight and a major limitation of the existing research. As a company, Thundress is dedicated to bridging this knowledge gap and advocating for further research. We believe that the lack of attention to the impact of these chemicals on women's health and reproduction is a dangerous one and symptom of broader gender inequality.  

What we do know is that skin (dermal) absorption of chemicals is a commonly used method in the distribution of drugs and medicines (for example, the nicotine patch). Furthermore, we do know that the vagina (like the eyes, mouth and nose) is a mucous membrane, which is even more absorbent than regular skin. 

A 2012 study by the European Consumer Organization found that "sweat and movement friction can facilitate the migration of hazardous substances from the fabric to our skin." Certainly both of these risk factors are present in underwear. 

Although research on absorption through the vagina and the long-term effects on health is severely lacking, there is credible information out there to suggest we are at risk of absorbing textile-related chemicals into our bodies. To reiterate the Swedish Chemical agency, toxins which pose a risk to human health: "should be avoided in articles with direct and prolonged skin contact." 

For more information on the 11 most dangerous chemicals used in textile manufacturing, read more from Greenpeace

In the News

EU countries agree textile chemical ban, The Guardian

The price of success: China blighted by industrial pollution – in pictures, The Guardian

Bangladesh Pollution, Told in Colors and Smells, The New York Times

China Pays Steep Price As Textile Exports Boom: Suppliers to U.S. Stores Accused of Dumping Dyes To Slash Their Costs, The Wall Street Journal

‘Toxic Threads’ Study Finds High Levels of Dangerous Chemicals in Popular Brands, Time Magazine