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What's in your clothing | Metals

We tend to think of textiles as made up of fibers we are familiar with such as cotton, silk, wool, polyester, and nylon, but did you realize that there can be metals found in our textiles? Metals can find their way into our clothing from both the process of manufacturing as well as with storage of our clothing or textiles. Sometimes metals are used to serve specific purposes during the production process. Read more...


metal in clothing

Consider that upwards of 80% of leather is tanned with chromium. Chromium is a metal used during the process of tanning leather by binding chromium salts to the leather to preserve it. The leather turns a pale blue color and then colored or finished into different colors and products. However, studies have shown that chromium salts can be released from chromium-tanned leather while using leather goods and trigger skin reactions. The alternative to this process is vegetable-tanned leather.

Different metals can be used during textile dying to produce different colors. Metals such as chromium, nickel, cobalt, copper, lead, and barium to color textiles, and iron and manganese to bleach textiles. Antimony is used in the manufacture of fibers used to make polyester called PET fibers (polyethylene terephthalate) and has been shown to be released from polyester textiles with sweat solutions. Antimony and titanium have been used for flame retardant and flame resistant properties of textiles as well



Video: Techei

Another category of metals added to textiles has become more prevalent in recent years and this is referred to as nanofinishing textiles. Titanium and zinc nanoparticles are for UV protection and easy cleaning, and silicone and zinc nanoparticles are added to make textiles resistant to water. Silver, copper, zinc, and titanium nanoparticles for antibacterial finishes. Cerium and aluminum nanoparticles along with zinc and titanium for UV blocking. And even nanometals added to shield electron waves such as copper, nickel, iron, and cobalt.

Even though the metals are used during the manufacturing process of these textiles, they can be released from the clothing and both interact with our skin and be absorbed by our skin. A study demonstrated that nickel, cobalt, and to a lesser extent chromium are absorbed through the skin. And, yes they can be released into the environment during production and the laundering process.

A study performed in 2022 that took fabrics and analyzed them for their metal content also found metals that do not appear to serve a function but may enter the fabrics during production, storage, or distribution. These metals included beryllium, mercury, and cadmium as well as lithium. This study found that vanadium enters textiles during the dyeing of some black textiles and was found in black-dyed textiles. Chromium dyes can be used to create yellow and orange colors when complexed with salicylic acid. Chromium with azo compounds can create reds, blacks, and blues. Chromium was found in most textiles analyzed. Barium is used to color textiles white barium pigments can be used in the textile industry. Lead white and lead chromate pigments are also used in the textile industry. Copper, cobalt, and nickel are also used during the dyeing process. Iron and manganese can be used to form some dyes as well as in the bleaching process Titanium dioxide is used for multiple reasons in textiles. It can be added to reduce the shine or sheen of a textile and reduce the transparency as well as add UV protection and flame retardancy. It is also used as an antimicrobial agent as well as a whitening or bleaching agent. Zinc was found in textiles marketed for UV protection. Silver nanoparticles were found in textiles marketed for antimicrobial properties. Textiles marketed for flame retardants revealed evidence of molybdenum and antimony. High antimony concentrations were found in polyester textiles with higher antimony found in higher percentages of polyester in a textile. Arsenic was found in cotton-based textiles as well as one non-cotton-based cotton-based textile. This was likely the result of its use as an insecticide during the production of the cotton fiber. Higher arsenic was found with higher percentages of cotton in the garment.




​Metal

​Source / Product Claim

​Impact on health and/or skin

​Notes

Vanadium

​Some black dyed textiles

Case report of a patient developing a reaction to her total knee arthroplasty with a rash at the site of incision and on her trunk. Tested positive to Vanadium reaction


Case report of skin reaction and orthopaedic implant failure to vanadium

​Vanadium is not always found on standardized patch test panels and may need to be tested for prior to orthopaedic implants if there is a worry or concern that the potential for allergy exists.

I did come across an at home test option called Sensiband.

Chromium

​Most dyed textiles:

Yellows, oranges, reds, blacks, and blues


Leather goods

​Chromium is released after prolonged contact with chromium tanned leather resulting in skin sensitization and contact dermatitis.


Chromium is released from orthopaedic implants as well.


Chromium found in some tattoo pigments as well.

​Patch Testing can be performed using TrueTest.com. It is tested as potassium dichromate #4 on the test.



Interesting note: study found an association between chromium in hair and skin aging from exposure through food items

Barium

​White textiles

Skin reactions not found documented in medical literature.


Overall used in diagnostic medical studies with few reactions noted.


Although there is a case series of patients developing a reaction after a barium enema, the cause was found to likely be a preservative methylparaben, not the barium itself.

​Not routinely tested. Large panels have not found barium to be a common contact sensitizer.

Lead

White textiles

Lead in cosmetics had a higher incidence of skin rashes.



Not a common skin sensitizer but has its own set of health challenges if absorbed.

Copper

​Textile dyeing

​An article from 1988 stated copper as a low risk contact sensitizer


Could not located any reports of contact dermatitis to clothing or textiles

Common false positive results noted

Cobalt

​Textile dyeing process

​After nickel, cobalt is the second most common cause of metal allergy.


Amongst clothing employees in a survey, sensitivity to cobalt was found to be common but unclear if this was the trigger for contact dermatitis in these specific cases.

​Patch Testing can be performed using TrueTest.com. It is tested as cobalt - #12 on the test.

Nickel

​Textile dyeing process

​The most common cause of contact dermatitis to metals. However I did not come across any cases of textile dermatitis specifically attributable to nickel.

​Patch Testing can be performed using TrueTest.com. It is tested as Nickel - #1 on the test.

Iron

Bleaching textiles

​Thought to be underestimated with a recent report suggesting a 5.5% prevalence of iron related reactions.

​Not routinely tested.

Manganese

Bleaching textiles

​Not a common cause of contact dermatitis. Has been reported.


No reports noted specifically in textiles however the reports for cutaneous reactions were noted in enamellers which suggests that clothing with appliques may be a possible trigger

​Not routinely tested but is found in extended series for metal contact testing

Titanium

​Reduce the sheen or shine of textiles (make them more matte)


Reduce transparency of textile


Impart flame retardancy


UV protection


Antimicrobial


Bleaching agent

Reduce the sheen or shine of textiles (make them more matte)


Reduce transparency of textile


Impart flame retardancy


UV protection


Antimicrobial


Bleaching agent


​Traditionally thought to be an infrequent cause of contact dermatitis however it is increasingly noted as a trigger.


A model proposed based on in vitro studies.


A study reviewing use in textiles found it to be a low risk for sensitizing skin however mild cases were noted.


The patch testing available is not thought to be adequate.

​Not routinely tested but is found in extended series for metal contact testing

Zinc

​UV protection

​Zinc oxide textiles were shown in a small study to potentially benefit atopic dermatitis.


Zinc may have a protective effect to contact dermatitis as a barrier.


Cases of zinc contact dermatitis have been seen, primarily in dental literature.

​Not routinely tested but is found in extended series for metal contact testing

Silver

​Antimicrobial

Thought to be rare cause of contact dermatitis but is not routinely suspected or tested for.


I did not find cases of contact dermatitis to silver in textiles.

​Not routinely tested but is found in extended series for metal contact testing

Molybdenum

​Flame retardancy

Reports in patients with coronary stents.


I did not find cases of contact dermatitis to molybdenum in textiles.


​Not routinely tested but is found in extended series for metal contact testing

Antimony

​Flame retardancy


Polyester fabrics

​No reports noted specifically in textiles however the reports for cutaneous reactions were noted in enamellers which suggests that clothing with appliques may be a possible trigger

​Not routinely tested but is found in extended series for metal contact testing

Arsenic

​Cotton fabrics based on production

​Arsenic is not routinely thought of or considered for contact reactions with the skin however it has its own set of associated toxicities with regards to human health.

​Not routinely tested but is found in extended series for metal contact testing


metal in clothing




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