Blog

BPA in Socks: Are There Harmful Chemicals in Your Socks?

Socks are essential for workouts, breaking in a new pair of shoes, and keeping warm on cold nights. They’re a daily necessity we all use and buy for ourselves and our families. A cozy pair of socks doesn’t really seem like it could be a source of toxic chemical exposure to you and your loved ones. However, recent research done by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found over 100 brands of socks that tested over California’s safe limit for exposure to the reproductive and developmental toxicant known as bisphenol A or BPA. Some of the socks that were in violation of the state limit, without a warning to consumers, included socks made specifically for babies and children. 

What does this mean for your health and your sock drawer? Read on to find out more about BPA, what CEH found, and what you can do to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

BPA in Socks

In CEH’s research, socks from over 100 different brands like Adidas, Nike, Hanes, and many others were found to expose people to BPA at levels as high as 31 times over the limit deemed safe by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment (OEHHA). So why is BPA found in socks in the first place? Often we see BPA in things like plastic water bottles or plastic containers as it can improve the strength of particular kinds of plastic like polycarbonate. Another use of  BPA is as an additive in the manufacturing of synthetic materials like polyester, where BPA has been shown to improve the natural properties and lifespan of the fabric¹. 

BPA and its Harmful Health Effects:

BPA, is an industrially manufactured chemical. Bisphenols, of which there are many, are known to be endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs that interrupt the regular function of our endocrine systems by mimicking natural hormones like estrogen. This can affect things like growth and development, reproduction, and metabolism.

These disruptions can bring on a whole slew of issues related to our developmental health like delayed onset of puberty and increased incidence of anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity in children and young adults. In women, exposure to BPA, particularly during gestation and early childhood development can affect different aspects of reproductive health like ovary and mammary development. Studies have found that exposure to BPA during gestation and early childhood can lead  to an increased risk of developing ovarian cysts or breast cancer². 

BPA often makes its way into the body through ingestion but can also enter the bloodstream through absorption through the skin. Studies on BPA used in receipt paper have shown this to be a common way that we’re exposed to the chemical³. When it comes to socks, the time spent on our feet is often much longer than the time spent holding a receipt, so this route of exposure is also a cause for concern. Fortunately,there are ways to limit our exposure to BPA found in polyester socks 

More Consequences of BPA in Fabric:

Synthetic materials like polyester are derived from petroleum and are therefore plastic which means BPAs production is linked in many ways to the oil and gas industry. The process of refining petroleum into polyester fibers releases toxic byproducts into the atmosphere surrounding the factories⁴ where BPA is produced. 

In the United States, those factories as well as oil drilling sites, fracking sites, refineries, and other intermediary facilities used by the petrochemical industry are disproportionately located in communities of color and low-income communities⁵. As a consequence, these populations bear an outsized burden of toxic chemical exposures and the harmful health effects that come hand-in-hand with that exposure.

To make matters even worse, this “plastic clothing” is used by the fashion industry to make cheap, trendy clothes designed to be worn for one season and then discarded⁶. The result of this “fast fashion” practice is that every single second, one garbage truck of textiles is either landfilled or incinerated. Not only that, but textiles made from synthetics shed microplastics which accumulate in our bodies, wildlife and the environment⁷. 

Synthetic fabric like polyester is not just harmful to our bodies because of exposure to additives and contaminants like BPA, but also has a profound and long lasting effect on our environment and society as a whole.

Sign the Petition to Get BPA Out of Socks:

No one should have to wonder if the socks they buy could potentially expose them to harmful chemicals like BPA. Parents have plenty to worry about already. Checking the labels on their baby socks to make sure their infant won’t be harmed by wearing them should not be one of those things. CEH is working on making all socks safe from harmful chemicals. Add your name to this petition to tell these fashion CEOs to take the BPA out of their products. Together, we can put public pressure on the companies in violation to reformulate their products and remove BPA.

How to Limit Your Exposure to BPA from Socks:

As alarming as this data is, there are ways you can limit your exposure to BPA through socks right now. 

  • When buying socks avoid ones made from polyester and spandex. In CEH’s testing, BPA was found primarily in socks made from these materials. 
  • Look for socks made with mostly cotton, wool, or other natural fibers. 
  • Limit your exposure to BPA by removing your socks after activities. The longer the socks are on your feet, the longer you’re being exposed to any potential BPA so don’t keep socks on longer than you need. Taking sweaty socks off after a run is also a great way to keep them from smelling bad!
  • Here are some other ideas for avoiding BPA in your daily life.

For more information about BPA in socks, read our FAQ here.

 

Sources:

¹Xue, Jingchuan, Wenbin Liu, and Kurunthachalam Kannan. “Bisphenols, benzophenones, and bisphenol A diglycidyl ethers in textiles and infant clothing.” Environmental science & technology 51.9 (2017): 5279-5286.

²Ma, Ya, et al. “The adverse health effects of bisphenol A and related toxicity mechanisms.” Environmental research 176 (2019): 108575.

³Toner, Frank, et al. “In vitro percutaneous absorption and metabolism of Bisphenol A (BPA) through fresh human skin.” Toxicology in Vitro 47 (2018): 147-155.

⁴Rusconi, Franca, et al. “Asthma symptoms, lung function, and markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in children exposed to oil refinery pollution.” Journal of Asthma 48.1 (2011): 84-90.

⁵Ottinger, Gwen. “The winds of change: environmental justice in energy transitions.” Science as Culture 22.2 (2013): 222-229.

⁶Niinimäki, Kirsi, et al. “The environmental price of fast fashion.” Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 1.4 (2020): 189-200.

⁷Hernandez, Edgar, Bernd Nowack, and Denise M. Mitrano. “Polyester textiles as a source of microplastics from households: a mechanistic study to understand microfiber release during washing.” Environmental science & technology 51.12 (2017): 7036-7046.