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What materials should you be working out in? | The truth behind polyester

Do you know what is in the clothing you put on your body? And what happens when it combines with sweat? Most of the clothing you are wearing as you exercise is actually not designed to be in contact with your skin, and can in fact not only negatively impact the planet but also your own body.

If you take a look at all your workout clothes and the ingredients in them, a quite popular word that will come up is polyester. Polyester is convenient, cheap, and dominating the fashion industry, but this fabric is neither sustainable, ethical, nor healthy for you as it creates contact with your skin.

ODOR occurs much faster in polyester material as you sweat and that sweat reacts with the chemicals in the polyester you are wearing. A foul odor is created as hazardous chemicals mix with sweat. Polyester contains plastic microfibers and hazardous chemicals, and is not made to be in contact with our skin.

NOT BIODEGRADABLE Being an oil-based plastic, polyester stays in landfills for decades at the very minimum- and potentially for hundreds of years according to the CFDA. It is a non renewable resource and takes much more time and energy to create, but we'll get into that later.

DURABILITY is not a pro to polyester. Being cheap and in most fast fashion brands, clothing with polyester does not have a long shelf life. After just a couple of wears, you can start to see the wear and tear of clothing with this ingredient. We see polyester everywhere. It is used in shirts, hats, pants, home furniture, blankets, sheets, the list goes on.

As polyester is a synthetic material, it is widely known for its bacteria growth and fast forming odor. As you sweat, polyester won’t be your friend as it does not dry quickly. Over 90% of work out attire is derived from plastic based materials that are not eco friendly.


The science behind it...

Polyester is made of 4 ingredients: coal, water, air, and petroleum. By creating a chemical reaction, polyester is formed.

Polyester requires more than twice as much energy as cotton to produce. In the making of polyester, harmful chemicals like carcinogens are used that contribute to environmental problems. Petroleum, being a huge ingredient in polyester, is a non-renewable resource.

When creating polyester, you start with a monomer. This is essentially the combination of chemicals ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate. The reaction of these 2 in high heat create the monomer. The monomer is then paired with dimethyl terephthalate again to create a polymer. This polymer is then retracted from the reaction chamber in long strips. The long strips are cooled and dried, then broken down once again into smaller pieces. The small pieces are melted and extruded through a spinneret, creating fibers. After this, depending on what type of polyester finished product is desired, the process is redone.

70 million barrels of oil are used annually to create polyester!


Because polyester is mass produced, it is cheap. And therefore convenient for the consumer. However these unnatural materials that go into polyester are not meant for constant skin contact. If you have sensitive skin, you are especially at risk for developing irritation and allergies to polyester. These chemicals are rough on skin.

Skin exposure to polyester can cause rashes, itching, redness, dermatitis, blistering, or make prior conditions worsen. Heat releases these harmful chemicals in polyester onto your skin, so working out in polyester can only speed up this harmful process.

This material is also not durable. The shelf life of products largely consisting of polyester is not long. Natural options are much more durable and better for your body and for your planet.

Now you know. So what is safe and sustainable to workout in?

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is also proficient at combating foul odors that come from bacteria. Organic cotton is a natural performance fabric, and more durable than typical cotton. If you don’t want to absorb chemicals that polyester cause while sweating, then try exercising in organic cotton. And buying organic cotton gear means you aren’t contributing to acidification (reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere) eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen) and global warming.

Hemp fabric

Similar to organic cotton and bamboo materials, hemp fabric is also insanely breathable. Allowing air to circulate through the hemp fabric, you can stay cool during your workouts. Hemp is biodegradable, not contributing to plastic pollution. Hemp is also durable, protects against harmful UV rays, and water-absorbent.

Tencel Lyocell

This material is consisted of regenerated cellulose. The cellulose fibers are made by dissolving wood pulp and then spinning it. The end result is similar to the look and feel of nylon or polyester. It is biodegradable, extremely versatile, breathable and less susceptible to bacteria growth and odor.


SO.... Where can I find sustainable and ethical workout gear?


Pact has been a one-stop-shop for my wardrobe essentials ever since I started down the path of sustainable and ethical shopping. They provide affordable yet trustworthy pieces, and often have sales. Check out their organic activewear line and follow them for sale updates.

Toad & Co gives 1% of all sales back to the planet. Whether it be nonprofits, businesses, or individuals that aim to tackle the planet's most pressing environmental issues. Some eco friendly materials you can find in Toad & Co's clothing include organic cotton, hemp, lyocell, and recycled fibers.

You can find inclusive sizing, community-informed design, sustainable and ethical production, as well as playful and cute designs at Alder Apparel.

A company founded with a mission to provide affordable yet ethical apparel, you can count on LA Relaxed to use only materials that are good for you and good for the planet. Their activewear line is organic cotton and made in LA.

Athleta is a B corp, aiming to create a positive social and environmental impact. This brand chooses using recycled materials like plastic bottles and fabric scraps. Wood chips, wood pulp, and tencel modal fiber are used in Athleta's products.

At Beckons Yoga, you can find clothing made out of organic cotton, resulting in much softer, stronger, fabric. This brand is an official member of the Green Business Network and Organic Trade Association.

These are just a few of the many brands you can find that aim to lessen the harsh environmental impact most of our go to fashion brands contribute to. For the full list of fair trade activewear brands that use sustainable and organic materials, head to the World Changer activewear directory. To find more products with materials like these as well as other sustainable and ethical finds, check out

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