The Unknown Dangers of Chemical Dyes


The Unknown Dangers of Chemical Dyes

"We can say for sure that natural dyes are not just safe, but actually good for you."

In 2014, The Swedish Chemicals Agency made a remarkable discovery. On assignment from the government, it set out to analyze 3500 chemical substances used in textiles and determine their risks to human health. The results were shocking. Not only were over 10% found to pose a significant risk for allergic reactions and other health symptoms, a whopping 2000 managed to slip right through the EU's regulation system for hazardous chemicals.

A large number of these chemicals are found in the dyes that give fabrics their vibrant colors. In the past, these were natural and derived from plants such as madder and indigo. Today, over 90% of the textiles we wear use synthetic, artificially produced dyes. They are much cheaper to produce and stay on the textiles longer, but the toxic chemicals they contain penetrate the skin and thus bypass the liver. Skin conditions such as contact dermatitis and many forms of allergies are common symptoms, and some dyes contain chemicals that can even be cancerous.

One such group of dyes is called azo dyes, used in 60-80% of all colorants today. Many of its pigments are non-toxic, but others were found to be mutagenic and carcinogenic, leading many countries to ban them. Germany led the line in 1994 and the European Union followed suit in 2003 with its Azo Colorants Directive, prohibiting the most dangerous forms of azo dyes. Still, a recent study showed that 31 types of azo-structured dyes caused allergic dermatitis.

Truth is that science is still not clear on what adverse health effects the various components of chemical dyes might have, which brings us back to the Swedish study. The reason why the 2000 chemicals mentioned in it slipped through the system is that the EU only regulates so called SVHCs – Substances of Very High Concern. The paradox being that not enough research has been made on the unlisted chemicals to even know how harmful they can be.

Dr. Sreenivas Menon, Head of Dermatology at Al Noor Hospitals-Mediclinic in the U.A.E, has spent years performing patch testing on skin patients, trying to determine which substances cause allergic reactions. He is astonished by the fact that four major chemicals used in textiles linked to skin diseases – aniline, sulphur, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulphate – aren't even available for patch testing. "The awareness of how harmful these chemicals can be, even among dermatologists, is very low," he says.

Dr. Screenivas Menon

Menon advocates the use of natural dyes, employed for millennia for their skin-soothing properties. They also happen to be eco-friendly with their high biodegradability and low waste. Chief among these plants is indigo, the oldest natural dye known to man and perfected by the Japanese for centuries, its aizome explosion coining the term "Japan Blue" and dominating all rungs of the Japanese fashion ladder until cheaper, synthetic production methods took over.

Aizome Bedding wants to bring that age back into your bedroom, providing organic cotton bed linens dyed with natural indigo. Science is quite clear on the benefits of using natural dyes, but as you can't get a patent on indigo the big textile companies don't want to touch it. Besides being cheaper, there are also some advantages with synthetic indigo, such as how long the color sticks to the fabric. But we have found a way to merge science with tradition.

By employing a cutting-edge soundwave technology that makes natural indigo dye even more colorfast than chemical dye, while maintaining all of its skin-treating properties, we offer a bedding alternative to people looking for a healthier way to spend one third of their lives.

As evidenced by the Swedish report and countless other studies, the health effects of synthetic dyes aren't 100% known. But we can say for sure that natural dyes are not just safe, but actually good for you. Let's apply this analogy to another of our basic needs. If you have two sandwiches in front of you, one that you know is full of delicious nutrients and the other which you have no idea what's inside of, which one would you eat?