Who hasn’t sweat through their yoga pants and t-shirts while burning the midnight oil on that monstrous treadmill? Hitting the gym is a fantastic way to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but have you ever considered the potential risks hidden in your workout routine? While you’re sweating it out in those trendy gym clothes, you might be unaware that they could be harbouring a hidden danger.
Gym clothes, primarily synthetic activewear, may contain chemicals that can leach onto your skin, raising concerns about the impact on your health. New research conducted by the University of Birmingham in October 2023, also pointed to this.
Dr B Shilpa Naidu, internal medicine, Manipal Hospitals, explained that while working out at the gym, we tend to sweat profusely, and this sweat often contains natural oils. “These oils possess chemical properties that facilitate the dissolution and diffusion of chemicals found in plastic materials, leading to the potential leaching of these chemicals into our bodies when we come into contact with plastic.”
In essence, the oily substances in our sweat play a role in releasing harmful chemicals from the microplastic fibers present in our gym clothing. These chemicals can then become available for absorption by the human body, potentially resulting in various adverse health effects, including thyroid diseases, disruptions in hormonal balance, and neurological issues.
Dr Swapna Priya, dermatologist, CARE Hospitals, noted that these chemicals can be present in the fabric itself, as well as in the dyes, finishes, and other additives used during production.
In the past, exposure to plastic chemicals primarily occurred through the consumption of plastic-contaminated food and beverages. However, it’s now widely recognised that humans can also be exposed to these chemicals through their skin. Dr Naidu explained that the concern stems from the fact that the harmful chemicals present in plastics tend to bioaccumulate over time, gradually building up in our bodies and persisting there.
What are the risks associated with these chemicals?
Allergies and respiratory issues: Certain chemicals may trigger allergic reactions or respiratory problems in susceptible individuals.
Endocrine disruption: Some toxic chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system, potentially leading to hormonal imbalances and long-term health issues.
Carcinogens: In some cases, the chemicals used in gym clothes can be carcinogenic, increasing the risk of cancer with prolonged exposure, Dr Swapna said.
How to protect yourself
Choose natural and organic materials
A simple and effective method to reduce exposure to these chemicals is to opt for clothing made from sustainably produced, minimally processed natural textiles that don’t contain the toxins associated with plastic materials.
Check for certifications
Look for clothing with certifications like Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) to ensure they meet certain environmental and safety standards.
The doctors suggested checking fabric labels and looking for items primarily comprising organic cotton, hemp, or merino wool. “These natural textiles are less likely to contain harmful plastic-related chemicals and provide a safer and eco-friendly choice for your wardrobe,” said Dr Naidu.
Avoid clothing with antimicrobial claims
Be cautious about gym clothes that claim to have antimicrobial properties, as they may contain harmful substances, said Dr Swapna.
Wash your gym clothes properly
Follow care instructions for your gym clothes, use mild detergents, and avoid excessive use of fabric softeners and bleach.
Ventilate your gym bag
Ensure your gym bag is well-ventilated to prevent the buildup of odours and moisture, which can exacerbate chemical leaching.