About a year ago, I blogged about a horrific rash I got from a Victoria’s Secret bra, and my discovery that when Victoria’s Secret moved their manufacturing to China in the mid-2000s, customers began complaining about rashes everywhere the bras touch their bodies. The culprit? Formaldehyde. You know… the stuff they embalm bodies with? Pickle animal parts in for dissection in biology class? If you’ve ever smelled it, you’ll never forget the noxious, overpowering smell.
Of course, there’s not enough formaldehyde in the fabrics to detect by smell, but the skin test works: Just put it on. Do you soon have itchy, red welts and an insatiable urge to scratch, even to the point of bleeding? There you go. Something is in your clothing that you body is trying desperately to reject.
I say “clothing” because apparently the issue isn’t simply with Victoria’s Secret, but is rampant through the clothing industry. Check out this blog, O Ecotextiles, which lists the various types of fabrics that are suspect for containing formaldehyde: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/formaldehyde-in-your-fabrics/
Some key tip-offs: if the fabric is wrinkle-resistant, permanent press, or anti-cling or anti-mildew.
But wait, there;s more!
That formaldehyde? It’s nasty stuff:
Formaldehyde is another one of those chemicals that just isn’t good for humans. Long known as the Embalmer’s Friend for its uses in funeral homes and high school biology labs, formaldehyde effects depend upon the intensity and length of the exposure and the sensitivity of the individual to the chemical. The most common means of exposure is by breathing air containing off-gassed formaldehyde fumes, but it is also easily absorbed through the skin. Increases in temperature (hot days, ironing coated textiles) and increased humidity both increase the release of formaldehyde from coated textiles.
This link provides information about skin reactions to formaldehyde, as well as lists of other products besides fabrics that contain it. It also notes that some people are actually allergic to formaldehyde and has a photo of a typical reaction (look familiar, ladies?):
Here’s what the New York Times wrote on the topic. Is it worth exposing yourself to allergens at best and toxins at worst, just so you can skip ironing?
The story notes:
“The textile industry for years has been telling dermatologists that they aren’t using the formaldehyde resins anymore, or the ones they use have low levels,” said Dr. Joseph F. Fowler, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Louisville. “Yet despite that, we have been continually seeing patients who are allergic to formaldehyde and have a pattern of dermatitis on their body that tells us this is certainly related to clothing.”
A common thread in all these stories is that skin reactions to formaldehyde in fabric has been going on for years…. and yet, it’s still there. Check out the quote from the Times article – the manufacturers simply LIE about the presence of formaldehyde.
Bottom line, it seems, is that consumers can’t look to manufacturers to solve the problem, nor can they look to the US government to start screening clothing. It’s not likely the government will take action unless someone dies. As consumers, our only option to fight back is to refuse to purchase items that cause suspect skin reactions. No matter how much you love that product, as was the case with Victoria’s Secret bras (my absolute favorite) you must fight back with the only weapon you have: your wallet.