• Leonie de l'Orme

Your clothes affect your skin and health; here's what you need to know it.

Recently I talked about skin, your clothes and its influence on your health at the Dutch #1 podcast on Ayurveda. For those who understand Dutch, listen it here. For those of you would love to learn more: Read all about it in this article.


Your skin is your largest absorbent organ!

Did you know that as an adult, your average skin surface is one and a half to two metres and weighs 15 to about 20 kilograms?

As well as protecting you from cold, heat and other outside influences, your skin plays an important role in your immune system. It’s in its nature to absorb vitamin D from the sun, regulate your temperature and protect you from dehydration.

So when you think about it, what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body. It is better not to wear anything that you would not eat. No chemicals, no toxins and certainly no synthetic materials.

Yet about 60% of all clothing produced today is made of synthetic materials, or oil. Check your own labels.

Acrylic, polyester, nylon..., it’s just plastic actually; almost always full of chemicals and therefore strongly advised against. Especially for people with sensitive skin.

According to Common Objective there are about 8000 different intense chemicals used. Some in the dying and fabric production process. Others to make fabrics resistant to insects. Or they are used to give fire, smell, stain, water and crease-resistant properties to materials, for decorative details such as prints or to glue shoes together.

For example, there is the dye Disperse Blue 106, used to give deep dark colours to textile products (especially polyester and acetate). Which is quite notorious for irritating the skin.

Phthalates, is associated with harmful hormonal effects. This substance is used as a softener in PVC - often used for shoes, "vegan" leather and in decorative prints on T-shirts, for example.

Or Formaldehyde, which is used to wrinkle textiles, such as cotton and linen. Which can lead to very unpleasant allergic reactions. Fortunately, it is already being used less and less frequently, but still ....

Wouldn't it be nice if this was also stated on the inside of a clothing label?! If it were as clear as the ingredients on your day cream packaging, you would never let it anywhere near your skin.

All these and many more chemicals can penetrate your skin and cause allergic reactions.

Research shows that 1 in 50 Dutch people has experienced a skin reaction to clothing. In reality, this is probably more. Many people don't realise their symptoms were caused by clothing. Let alone they would report it.

What clothing is best for your skin and health?

If you have sensitive skin, at least wear loose fitting fabrics. And for everyone: only wear natural, preferably organic, materials (materials grown and harvested in controlled areas without chemicals or pesticides). This includes both animal and plant-based textiles.
 Because, with the exception of leather, natural fibres hardly ever cause allergic reactions. Also, don't forget to walk around naked more often :-)

And, of course, you prefer to wear clothes from responsible fashion brands that strive to keep chemicals to a minimum - and work ethically!

Silk, an animal textile, made by silkworms, is extremely breathable, quick-drying and can even moisturise the skin because of the amino acids it contains. Peace Silk is an animal-friendly alternative in which the caterpillar is not killed in the production process. My silk dream dress is from the French Azur, or is it the New York brand SVNR. I can’t choose...

Image courtesy to The Reformation and Accidente con Flores

Linen, a vegetable fabric made from fibres from the flax plant.
 Linen is very breathable and quick-drying. In addition, linen garments are usually designed loosely, so that they don’t sit tightly on the skin. 

A nice quality of linen is that it’s one of the strongest plant-based fabrics, making it very durable. If possible, choose organic here as well. However, the non-organic variety is already a lot more sustainable than many other materials, since the flax plant needs few pesticides, chemicals and water to grow. Pretty linen clothes can be found at the Dutch Palaver or American The Reformation, find the perfect linnen boyfriend blouse at WNU.

Organic Cotton, a vegetable textile made from the cotton plant. Cotton is enormously popular because it's very comfortable and soft and has a lot of stretch. 

It also absorbs moisture, such as sweat, and dries quickly. This prevents moisture from getting between the fabric and the skin, which is often the cause of irritation. 

Do choose the eco-friendly variant. Non-organic cotton uses a lot of pesticides, chemicals and other substances. Those items are better off left alone. Mastering (natural dyed) organic cotton are Organic Basics, Baserange and Story MFG.

Image courtesy to Organic Basics and Rhea

Hemp is increasingly being used in textile production, a welcome development as it is a highly sustainable plant-based material. 

Clothing made from hemp lasts more than three times as long as cotton, is highly resistant to stains, is warm in winter and cool in summer, naturally mothproof and keeps out more UV radiation than other fabrics. It is highly absorbent and very suitable for people with very sensitive skin. Nothing but wins. 

Hemp also needs little water and pesticides. I am a huge fan of the Amsterdam-based, handmade tops and dresses from Hempje. The ochre yellow longer version of Frans is my all time favourite for many summers in a row now. Mara Hoffman also has a great collection of Hemp clothes.

Tencel, also called Lyocell, is soft, strong and absorbs a lot of moisture. Tencel is made of Eucalyptus wood pulp. This comes from special, sustainably managed forests where a new tree is planted for every one that is cut. It also uses much less water and young trees absorb a lot of CO2. So it’s not for nothing that it is one of the most sustainable materials around. You can find nice Tencel under- and homewear at Armed Angels.

Bamboo is currently seen as the most sustainable material within the textile industry. This enormous, fast-growing plant absorbs five times more CO2 than the average tree, requires no chemicals. Only a little rainwater. The fabric breathes, feels silky and has a lot of stretch. The lyocell variant in particular is a good alternative for sensitive skin; the viscose variant still requires chemicals to manufacture the textile. Check out the beautiful bamboo tops from Hara the Label exclusively available in Europa at The Collection One (in Amsterdam and online)

Image courtesy to Hara The Label and Mara Hoffman

Wool, you either love it or you hate it. If you can handle it, it's a fine self-cleaning material that needs little washing. It doesn't absorb odour, but it does absorb moisture and breathes. Exactly what your skin likes. If possible, choose recycled or organic wool. Organic refers to both the way sheep are reared and the way the raw wool is processed. This means that they have free range and eat grass without pesticides or artificial fertiliser. They are also not given any preventative antibiotics and are shorn in an animal-friendly manner, which means, among other things, that no 'mulesing' (a cruel technique whereby the sheep's skin is removed without anaesthetic) is used. In addition, the wool is not treated with harmful chemicals, environmentally damaging degreasers (such as chlorine) or toxic dyes. I like to wear the Dutch brands Teym and ultra transparent and traceable Rhea. Also cool and colourful is SheepInc.

GOTS is the best known and most far-reaching label for organic textiles. It looks at both the environmental friendliness of a material and the working conditions under which it was produced. A good name to remember.

Little laundry tricks with big impact

Always wash your new clothes before you wear them. This way, you can wash out the first load of chemicals. Use a natural detergent, such as Seepje or Ecover. And preferably also use a GuppieFriend, a laundry bag that catches 99% of the microfibers during laundry. Especially during the first few washes, a lot of microfibres come loose. Did you know that the biggest environmental impact of textiles is during washing? Litres of clean water are used, plus the energy to heat the water (keep it low at 30 degrees). In addition, detergent often contains phosphate. This ends up in our oceans together with the microfibres. And with it, our drinking water and food.

Give your skin a good night's rest!

Your skin comes into contact with textiles almost 24/7. So don't forget your towel and bedding. It’s at night that your skin recovers. You wouldn't want to do that under a synthetic satin blanket, would you?

Why choose natural, organic fabrics?

  • Synthetic fabrics such as polyester and acrylic are made from oil. Which is the most polluting industry in the world.

  • Synthetic fabrics and chemical treatments during the production process and washing - in the form of microfibres - end up in our drinking water and food.

  • Synthetic clothing is not biodegradable and creates huge mountains of waste.

  • And then there is the matter of karma...



Karma tip of the day: Save a day in the life of your friend by forwarding this newsletter to her/her/they now.

According to WWD, consumers spent more than seven billion hours online searching for "sustainable," "ethical," "fair trade," and "eco-friendly" items in 2020.