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7 Ways Your Clothes Can Be Bad for Your Health

7 Ways Your Clothes Can Be Bad for Your Health


For centuries, women in the western world wore corsets and mangled their internal organs in the process. Across the globe in China, foot binding immobilized generations of women. It’s been over a century since these practices have  gone out of fashion in mainstream society, and it’s easy to look back at them in horror and disdain. How could cultures champion such cruel practices just for the sake of something as shallow as physical beauty? I mean, it’s not like women alter their bodies in such extreme ways in today’s society… or do they? Millions of people go under the knife for cosmetic surgery every year, after all.

Even outside of a doctor’s office, there are plenty of women out there suffering for fashion. And we’re not just talking about your sore feet after a day of wearing 4-inch stilettos, either. Improperly fitting clothes have been linked to cancer. Cheap clothes and accessories have tested positive for high levels of lead. Too-heavy jewelry can seriously damage your skin. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. You don’t have to be a fashion victim. Read on to discover some of the most dangerous items in your closet.

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1. Heavy Earrings.

When it comes to earrings, the bigger, the more damage you’re risking to your ear lobes. They may look cool, but big, heavy earrings can actually cause skin to sag, the piercing to enlarge, and, in the most extreme cases, the lobe can even split in two. And, yes, to get your lobes back to normal, you’re going to have to pay an expensive, and painful, visit to a plastic surgeon.

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2. Flip Flops.

Flip flops ain’t no day at the beach. As you can probably imagine, flip flops offer little in the way of arch support. That, and because your toes curl to keep the darn things on (not to mention the fact that flip flops can’t absorb much of the shock from hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt), can lead to minor and major foot, shin, knee, and back pain. Flip flops can cause blisters, sprained ankles, and even broken bones. Try to limit how much time you spend wearing flip flops. They just aren’t an everyday shoe.

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3. Cheap Costume Jewelry.

People with allergies to certain metals already know that cheap jewelry can damage your skin. But the rest of us aren’t much better off. Tests run on costume jewelry by the nonprofit Ecology Center found that over half of the pieces tested contained high levels of toxins and carcinogens. Half contained lead, and half of the lead-laced jewelry contained more than the United States governments’ legal limit for children’s products. Other carcinogens, like cadmium and bromine, were also found in some products.

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4. Shapewear.

They flatten out your lumps and curves, sure, but when shapewear and hosiery is too tight, it can lead to a host of problems. Nerve damage, painful skin welts, yeast infections, digestive problems, bladder infections, breathing issues… just to name a few. Your health is not worth an extra inch off your waist — always buy properly-fitting shapewear!

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5. Heels.

High heels, pointy toes, and too-tight shoes are not doing your feet any favors! When you wear shoes that have a 2″ heel or higher, your entire body is off balance. Your toes are in an unnatural position, your body weight isn’t distributed the way it’s supposed to be, and your whole body shifts forward. Heels don’t just hurt your feet; they hurt your knees, your back, and your hips, too. Prolonged regular use of heels can shorten the muscles in your calves and back, and lead to muscle spasms.

In short? Pick shoes that are the right size and give your feet plenty of breathing room. Try not to wear heels every day.



6. Cheap Clothes and Accessories.

So-called “fast fashion” isn’t just bad for workers, it can also be bad for your body. Cheap, mall-ready clothes can contain an number of harmful chemicals. A Greenpeace investigation (PDF) of 141 pieces of clothing from 20 major international retailers found that nearly 2/3 contained nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a chemical thought to disrupt hormones in animals and humans. A few contained chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Though none of the levels of these chemicals are thought to be directly harmful to humans, they are toxic to the environment.

And that’s not the only thing that might be lurking in your closet. A recent investigation by the Center for Environmental Health found that 15% of the handbags and purses tested contained high levels of lead.



7. Collars & Neckties.

Over 2/3 of men buy shirts that are too small for their necks, and that can surprisingly have serious repercussions for their health. Too-tight collars and ties have actually been linked to cancer.  Tight collars can cut off circulation to the brain, and increase pressure in the eyes, one of the most important risk factors for glaucoma.

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Read more: Beauty, Body Image, Conscious Consumer, Fashion, Hands & Feet, Skin Care

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Katie Waldeck

Katie is a freelance writer focused on pets, food and women’s issues. A Chicago native and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Katie now lives in Oakland, California.


+ add your own
12:06PM PST on Dec 31, 2014

I don't wear any of them.
Thank you :)

9:32AM PST on Dec 31, 2014

i wear all of these items for short periods of time. i use mostly cotton clothing. the quality of clothes and shoes have gone downhill. they're made to be worn for a week and thrown away. i've returned through 3 pairs of boots this year(one was very expensive with a leather upper and rubber sole but unfortunately it was made in china and fell to pieces in two weeks - the sales assistant was aghast as to how quickly and terribly it broke).

i have two now but the fit in one is very uncomfortable for my toes (too narrow even though it's a square tip).

12:42AM PST on Dec 31, 2014

Cotton growing and cotton processing and lousy wages go into all those T-shirts.
Hemp products are normally less harmful - but more expensive.

I don't think Chinese manufacturers have sleepless nights over what they put in the making of fabrics and clothes. After all, the West has given them 90% of the work and the main reason they can't breathe due to air pollution.

11:38AM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

I would love to be able to buy clothes that I knew weren't toxic and that the workers were payed fairly for on the high street. As it is, I usually buy what I can afford, and there is no way of telling which chemicals were used during manufacture, and whether the person who made the clothes had reasonable working conditions or not.

11:29AM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

Anyone know where to get reasonably-priced toxic-free, organic, or unbleached etc clothing?

1:30PM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Roger that! I wear pumps on weddings and formal activities for the rest I do wear comfy shoes! Never worn heavy earrings. I wear my everyday pair of hoops that are a whooping half inch in diameter...LOL I do not know how to walk on flip flops BUT I do keep them because my feel gets really swollen and that is the only piece of shoewear I can deal with.

1:11PM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Interesting! Is there anything that won't harm us?

9:39PM PDT on Jun 4, 2014


9:48PM PST on Mar 2, 2014


1:24AM PST on Feb 3, 2014

I'm not worried about the costume jewelry and handbags. I only wear them for short periods and not that often. I don't wear high heels or tight clothing. I do wear flip flops most of the time in the warm weather because I have bunions and most shoes hurt my feet.
Seems like everything you eat is bad for you, now it's clothing and accessories. Should we stop eating and go naked? I'll risk the consequences.

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