I swear, I’m not a clothing snob. By any means. The extent of my fashion sense is what I can find at thrift stores – or if I’m feeling exceptionally splurgy, I’ll rummage around the clearance racks of a Forever 21.
And I have to confess, as of writing this blog, my closet is primarily peopled with polyesters, rayons and acetates.. basically, non-natural fibered clothing. And I’m not exactly losing sleep over that fact. The thing is, I am still in the throes of losing the excess baby weight, and so I’m still in the trying-to-fit-into-pre-pregnancy-clothes state.
But I AM slowly losing the weight! Which gives me a bit of a dilemma: I only brought maternity clothes with me to our new home in Pensacola. All my not-pregnant clothes are locked up in storage in California. So soon I will be cleaning out and filling up my wardrobe, so as not to go naked and junk.
Since I am rearranging my lifestyle to be health centered and toxin-free for my precious baby daughter, I decided to give some thought to the topic of replenishing my wardrobe. What would be the healthiest materials to have pressed against and rubbing on my skin every minute of every day? (Well, minus showers and dancing naked around the living room, that is.)
The answer is: Natural Fiber Fabrics!
What Are Natural Fiber Fabrics?
All fabrics are produced from fibers. Most clothing (lots of greenie websites I stumbled upon set the number at two-thirds) is produced from synthetic, chemically derived, man-made fibers. Natural fiber clothing, on the other hand, is created from the naturally occurring fibers of plants and animals.
The number one reason people tend to wear natural fabrics by choice, is primarily for ecological reasons. For those of you who know me, I LOVE the planet, but it’s not my first concern. My family, their health, and our budget get first dibs in my priority line up. So for the record, my personal interest in wearing (and promoting) the use of natural fabric vs. synthetic, is for the health benefits.. the ecologically friendly aspect is just a pleasantly awesome bonus!
So all ecological bonuses aside, what interests me is that:
There are verifiable health benefits in wearing all natural fibers against your skin!
The inherent characteristics of natural fibers offer breathability, natural temperature regulation, superior durability, water absorption, antimicrobial properties, and more!
Meanwhile, synthetic fabrics tend to offer low breathability, low water absorption, and poor thermal regulation. A side effect to synthetic fabrics that have low breathability, is that your skin reacts by creating a barrier and encourages a favorable condition for bacteria growth, which can cause or worsen skin disorders like acne and can exacerbate allergic reactions. No fun!
Health Benefits of Some Basic Natural Fabrics
This is by no means a thorough list, and every category has variations and sub categories. But these are the basics of the basic of the most popular natural fibered fabrics.
Cotton is one of the most widely used fabrics, and for good reason – its soft texture and breathable nature makes it very wearable, and it just feels good against your skin.
Cotton has been cultivated in many different parts of the world for more than 5,000 years. Even though the people who grew and used it never came in contact with each other, they still managed to develop similar tools to clean, prepare, spin, and weave it.
The arrangement of the cellulose in cotton gives it a good degree of strength, durability, and absorbency.
Unlike synthetics, it doesn’t emit static electricity, prematurely age, or trap perspiration.
Linen is a material made from the fibers of the flax plant. It is highly absorbent, and tends to quickly lose the water it wicks away, removing perspiration from the skin. It’s also a good conductor of heat. It keeps the heat in, and in hot surroundings it feels cool to the touch.
Linen resists dirt and stains, withstands high temperatures and gets softer the more it is washed. It is the strongest of the vegetable fibers with 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton!
Linen contains natural antibacterial and antiseptic properties that prevents bacterial growth. Even after upwards of 20 years of use, linen fabric helps kill microbes, and prevents fungal diseases, inflammation, and damaged skin infections! (This is why it has been used for bandaging wounds throughout the ages!)
And I’m not entirely convinced on this point, but psychotherapists state that linen fibers create a feeling of calm, concentration and depth of thought and have an ability to protect a person from nervous and psychotic breakdowns. It is often used in therapy sessions and religious retreats for this purpose.
This is my husband’s favorite of all natural materials – well, this and leather. Silk is a natural protein fiber obtained from cocoons made by the larvae of silkworms. The prized iridescent appearance comes from the fibers triangular prism-like structure, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles.
Besides its luxurious softness and beauty, silk is known to be the most hypoallergenic of all fabrics because of its natural protein structure. It is an all-climate fabric – silk is warm and cozy in winter, and comfortably cool in warmer temps.
Silk is also highly absorbent, it can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp, so it absorbs perspiration while letting your skin breathe. It also dries fairly quickly.
Its smooth surface resists odors and it mixes well with other animal and vegetable fibers.
Wool is a broad term for a fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, angora from rabbits, etc. Wool can range from thick and scratchy to fine and soft. Wool from softer sources are deliciously comfortable, soft and itch-free.
The heat retaining properties of wool are prized in cold weather and high performance wear, like hiking and backpacking.
Wool offers superior breathability, temperature regulation, and like linen, wool contains inherent antimicrobial properties.
Studies undertaken by the University of Sydney, Australia, are showing that wool sleeping apparel and bedding increases total sleep time, promotes sleep onset and improves sleep efficiency.
Leather is a durable and flexible material created by the tanning of animal rawhide and skin. When properly made of quality components, leather will outlast plastic, vinyl, and fabric many times over. It can also stand up better to the elements, making it the longest lasting of the fibers.
Leather offers excellent protection against wind, light rain, and cold. It will breathe and ventilate to adjust to the environment.
Leather is also lint and dust-free, making it ideal for sufferers of asthma and other allergies. Dust mites can grow wherever skin flakes can be found and it is for this reason that allergy experts recommend leather furniture for its ability to resist dust collection and can be easily wiped clean.