Keeping your skin safer – Textile Certification Programs

Keeping your skin safer – Textile Certification Programs

Contact us to discuss your requirements

The skin is the largest organ in the body and is the one that most exposed to external factors. Your skin is designed to keep out things that are harmful to the body. This includes micro-organisms, chemical compounds, radiation and mechanical impacts. In order to maintain the defensive function of your skin, it also needs to be protected properly. The skin is susceptible to diseases which can result in dry cracked skin and can lead to external factors gaining access to the body and causing irritation or reactions. It has been reported that up to 70% of people have skin sensitivities to chemicals and allergenic particles1,2.

Chemicals of concern for skin contact can include:

  • Formaldehye3
  • Azo Dyes4
  • Heavy metals5
  • Organotin6
  • Chlorobenzenes7

Allergens of concern that may cause skin reactions include:

  • Pollen8
  • Dust mite
  • Animal dander10

Health Impacts

Exposure to these compounds can cause reactions which can range from skin inflammation to contact dermatitis; as the skin becomes compromised, chemicals such as heavy metals and organotins can enter the body affecting immune and reproductive systems as well as the central nervous system.

Textiles and skin allergensThe skin comes into contact with a huge range of surfaces and contacts over the course of a day, the next time you are in work, or in the kitchen, concentrate on how many surfaces come in contact with your skin. It is very important that those who may have chemical or allergenic sensitivities take whatever precautions they can to reduce exposure to trigger chemicals or compounds.

Clothing and textiles that the body comes into contact with (such as towels), can be a significant source of trigger compounds. Some textiles may be more sustainable than others, and they may cause less irritation but in general any negative response to textiles is as a result of the chemical treatment of that textile, rather than the textile itself11. Types of treatments that textiles can undergo include12:

  • Crease resistant finish (formaldehyde, citric acid)
  • Anti-microbial finish (phenols, quaternary ammonium compounds, organo silver)
  • Hydrophilic finishes (oxy-ethylated polyamides)
  • Anti-static finishes (eg silicone, poly ammonium quaternary salts)
  • Non-slip finishes (silica gel)
  • Fire resistant finishes (eg Brominated flame retardants, Chlorinated flame retardants, Phosphorous-containing flame retardants)
  • Easy care finish (formaldehyde)
  • Dyeing (azo dyes, disperse dyes)

As a consumer it can be very difficult to know whether a textile has had a particular finish, and even more so to know what chemicals were used to deliver this finish. In order to provide consumers with a signpost for textiles that may be more suitable for them and the environment, a number of certification programs have been established. These include:

  1. Oeko Tex
  2. Nordic Swan Ecolabel
  3. Global Organic Textile Standard
  4. EcoCert
  5. asthma & allergy friendly®
  6. EU Ecologo
  7. Blue Angel

 

1.    Oeko Tex

Oeko tex textileOeko Tex13 are a group of 18 independent research and test institutes across Europe and Japan. They were established in 1992 and have developed a range of testing standards against which textiles can be measured to determine their impact on health, the environment and responsible manufacturing.

The testing standards that Oeko Tex award are specialised for textiles and include:

Made in Green: this is a traceable product label for a range of textiles including leather, garments and accessories that verifies that an article has been tested for harmful substances. The certification is awarded in accordance with testing to Oeko Tex Standard 100 or the Leather Standard. Sustainable manufacturing is addressed via the STeP standard (outlined below).

Standard 100: this is a platform certification standard established by Oeko Tex. It tests all aspects of an article for the presence of harmful compounds. There are four product classes within Standard 100 which address decorative material (product class IV), textiles that don’t come into contact with the skin (product class III), textiles that come into contact with the skin (product class II) and textiles suitable for babies (product class I). The tests included measure:

 

pH

Other chemical residues

Per/polyfluorinated compounds

Formaldehyde

Colorants

UV stabilizers

Extractable heavy metals

Chlorinated benzenes

Chlorinated paraffins

Total heavy metals

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Siloxanes

Pesticides

Biological active products

N-nitrosamines

Chlorinated phenols

Flame retardents

N-nitrosable substances

Phthalates

Solvent residues

Color fastness

Organotins

Surfactants

Emission of volatiles

Banned fibres

GMOs for organic cotton

Determination of odors

Glyphosphate and salt for organic cotton

 

Product Class I has the lowest limit levels and is therefore the most stringent within this standard.

Leather Standard: This standard is designed specifically for this material class, and certifies that leather products have successfully passed testing for chemicals that are harmful to health. The testing is based on the Standard 100 methodologies and limit levels and can be applied to semi-finished and finished articles.

STeP: The STeP standard addresses production of sustainable textiles and leather. The goal of this standard is to support the development of environmentally friendly production processes, to improve health and safety and to promote socially responsible working conditions at production sites. The STeP standard takes a top level view of the entire production process to include chemical management, environmental performance, environmental management, social responsibility, quality management and health protection and safety at work.

Detox to zero: the Detox to Zero campaign was launched by Greenpeace in 2011, with the aim to exclude hazardous chemicals from textile production. The Detox to Zero verification system operated by Oeko Tex is based on an analysis tool for the optimisation and monitoring of chemicals management and wastewater quality. The focus for this system is wastewater and sludge conformity, conformity of chemical used in the company and general management with a focus on chemicals and environmental performance.

Eco Passport: the Eco Passport standard certifies that specific chemicals used in textile and leather manufacturing are safe for human health. A ‘passport’ is provided for the chemical such that it can used in subsequent manufacturing for Oeko Tex approved final products.   

2.    Nordic Swan Ecolabel

nordic eco label skin textilesThe Nordic Swan Ecolabel14 was established in 1989 to reduce the environmental impact from the production and consumption of goods. The certification mark is intended to act as an enabler for consumers to make more environmentally friendly choices. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is targeted at both the product life cycle and at the chemicals used in their manufacture. There are over 60 product groups that this program certifies, including decorative coatings, toys, electrical goods, personal care products; and textiles.

Textile certification is based on specific chemical content requirements, as well as process requirements. With the expansion of more certification standards, a positive development has been the cross recognition of testing performed for other certification standards. Where textiles and component parts are already certified as Oeko Tex 100 (Class 1) or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) compliant, there is no further product testing required for Nordic Swan certification. Process and production requirements for Nordic Swan certification are an area that Oeko Tex does not address. Some examples include:

  • Energy and water consumption during production
  • Treatment processes during production such as use of chlorine gas (not allowed)
  • Monitoring of emissions during processing (polyamides, VOCs)
  • Monitoring effluent outputs for indicators that may contribute to pollution
  • Where animal based textiles or materials are relevant, animal husbandry standards must be followed (eg down and feather cannot be plucked from live birds)
  • Biodegradeability must be proven for a range of compounds such as
    • Detergents
    • Fabric softeners
    • Complexing agents
    • Sizeing agents
  • Packaging, storage and transportation
  • Organic labelling specifications

3.    Global Organic Textile Standard

organic textiles standards skinThe founding organisations of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)15 are the International Association Natural Textile Industry (IVN), Germany; Soil Association (SA), England; Organic Trade Association (OTA), USA and Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA), Japan. In 2008 these organisations established GOTS to certify organic products from a supply chain, labour and chemical perspective. Textile products must contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres in order to become certified. Similarly to the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, the GOTS takes an overarching approach to the textile supply chain and production processes. In addition to limit levels for specific chemicals in the textiles, GOTS also addresses textile treatment processes, treatment of workers and expands even further to include supply chain companies in audits of applicant companies.

Chemical testing requirements are very similar to Oeko Tex 100, and this is reflected by Nordic Swan accepting either Oeko Tex or GOTS for certification of textiles. While the chemical content of textiles is of fundamental importance, GOTS also require applicants to adhere to a range of additional criteria to provide reliability and transparency to the certification standard. These additional criteria include:

  • Textile finishes – synthetic biocides are prohibited as are ones that are harmful to operator, eg sand blasting denim
  • Monitoring of Environmental management – companies must align and adhere to national and local guidelines for processing and manufacture; emissions to air, water and disposal of wastewater (BOD/COD) and sludge must be measured and adhere to specifications.
  • Monitoring transport conditions
  • Retail trade of GOTS products – eg virgin single use plastics and PVC packaging are prohibited
  • Technical qualities must be achieved
  • Social criteria must be addressed
    • No forced labour
    • Collective bargaining
    • Child labour
    • Discrimination
    • Occupational health and safety
    • Harassment and violence
    • Remuneration and living wage gap
    • Working time
    • Precarious employment
    • Migrant workers
    • Social compliance management
  • Ethical Business Behaviour

 

4.    Ecocert

Eco Cert textile skinEcocert16 was established in 1991 to support businesses that have a positive social and environmental  impact. Ecocert provide certification, consulting and training services and address a range of sectors including agri-food, homecare, textiles, forestry and cosmetics. Ecocert recommend the integration of environmental protection at each stage of production. Areas that should be considered include:

  • Use of organic, ecological or recycled fibres
  • Reducing water usage
  • Limiting polluting and chemical inputs
  • Promotion of the recycling of materials
  • Respecting animal welfare

Similarly to GOTS and Nordic Swan, Ecocert addresses additional aspects to chemical content of the textile, and these include the development of socially responsible sectors and safeguarding the sector to comply with complexities of supply chains. The GOTS certification can be administered by Ecocert to comply with section of Ecocert requirements, in terms of organic status.

5.    asthma & allergy friendly®

The asthma & allergy friendly®  Certification Program17 is operated by Allergy Standards Ltd in collaboration with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Asthma Society of Canada (ASC) and is also operated internationally through a global certification mark. The program certifies a range of consumer products that they are more suitable for those suffering from asthma and allergies, based on their impact on indoor air quality. Product categories that they certify include cleaning products, flooring, decorative coatings and bedding. The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is focussed on end product certification, rather than component certification of textiles. These textile-based end products include toys and all aspects of bedding. Certification is based on very low thresholds for chemicals that may impact negatively on health, in addition to determining any biological impact the products may have. In contrast to many textile related certification program, this program is not focussed primarily on environmental impact, but rather on the health impact of textile products. The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program recognises Oeko Tex testing and the majority of their chemical testing requirements are in line with Oeko Tex test menus. A significant difference for the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is its additional focus on potential biological compounds that may have impacts on health. This includes testing of the finished product to ensure that it can’t act as a significant reservoir for allergens (pollen, dust mites, etc). Products are also tested to ensure that washing can remove these allergens sufficiently, that the product can withstand repeated washings, that it can act as a barrier to the passage of allergens and that its design does not allow for harbouring of allergen.

6.    EU Ecologo

The EU EcoLogo certification program18 was established in 1992 and is focussed on the environmental impact of consumer products. The program takes a life cycle based approach to determination of sustainability of a variety of products including cleaning products, electronic equipment, furniture and textile based products. This program also includes a fitness-for-use criteria to ensure that product performance. One of the biggest challenges for products that are more environmentally friendly is product performance and so criteria addressing this is an excellent way to ensure consumer confidence in these types of products. The Program is operated by the European Commission through competent bodies in each participating EU country. For a company to gain certification, they must provide evidence of testing of the product, in an accredited laboratory, according to the standard. This dossier is then submitted to the competent body for approval, certification can then be awarded.    

The EU Ecologo requires a comprehensive set of chemical testing, which is aligned with the majority of other green certification programs. Similarly to EcoCert, GOTS and Nordic Swan, the EU Ecologo also requires that products meet criteria related to the life cycle of the product:

  • Workplace emissions to air
  • Chemicals used in production processes
    • Spinning
    • Fabric formation
    • Pre-treatment
    • Dyeing
    • Printing
    • Finishing
    • Cut/make/trim
  • Wastewater discharges from wet processing
  • Corporate social responsibility
    • Fundamental principles and rights at work
    • Restriction of sand blasting of denim  

 

7.    Blue Angel

Blue Angel19 was established in 1978 and is the ecolabel of the German Government. It tests products for environmental, health and performance characteristics, across their entire life cycle. Similarly to a range of eco certifications, Blue Angel test a variety of product classes including electrical devices, building products, cleaning products and textiles. Certification addresses production across a range of relevant areas:

  • Environmental standards in manufacturing
  • Occupational health and safety in the workplace
  • Avoiding harmful chemicals in the end product
  • Ensuring good usability

Within these sections the types of criteria include:

  • Use of 100 % organic cotton
  • Use of tested chemical fibres
  • Avoidance of substances harmful to health, e.g. no use of:
    • flame retardants
    • perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFC)
    • biocides in the equipment
    • strict regulation of phthalates
    • limit values for heavy metals
  • Reduction of wastewater emissions
  • Reductions in emissions to air
  • High usability
  • Audited social standard

 

Environmentally friendly and Health friendly

Certification is an essential and useful way for consumers to determine which products are more suitable for them. For those that are concerned about the health impact that textiles may have, it is important to note that the majority of certification standards address consumer products from primarily an environmental perspective. While there can be reasonable cross over between products that are environmentally friendly and health friendly, it is not always the case. Consumers should take as much responsibility as possible and select certification programs that incorporate chemical and biological compounds that are of relevance to them. Alternatively look for certification programs that specifically identify health as a primary certification criteria (such as Oeko Tex or asthma & allergy friendly® ).

 

 

Oeko Tex

 

Nordic Swan Ecolabel

 

Global Organic Textile Standard

 

EcoCert

 

asthma & allergy friendly®  

EU Ecologo

 

Blue Angel

 

Stated Environmental or Health Focus

Both

Environmental

Environmental

Environmental

Health

Environmental

Both

Chemical content of textile

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Process monitoring

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

End of life monitoring

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Packaging, Storage, Transportation

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

CSR

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Fit for purpose

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

 

Table 1. Comparison of textile certification standards.

 


Contact us to discuss your requirements

Dr. Tim Yeomans photo

Dr. Tim Yeomans

About the author 

Thanks to Dr. Tim Yeomans for this insightful article.

Dr. Tim Yeomans is the Centre Manager for Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, a collaboration between two third level colleges in Ireland. Tim holds a PhD in Microbiology and postgraduate qualifications in Technology Commercialisation and Innovation Management. Tim has worked in research and development for 20 years, both in industry and academia. In his role in Shannon ABC, Tim is responsible for the scientific direction of the Centre, intellectual property management and business and technology development.

 

Keywords 

asthma & allergy friendly®, Allergy Standards, allergies, asthma, skin, textiles, certification program,, allergen, dust, sensitivity, chemicals, finish, fabric, environment, irritation, standards, eco

References

  1. Farage, MA (2019). The Prevalence of Sensitive Skin. Frontiers in Medicine, 6 (98)
  2. Willis, CM, Shaw, S, De Lacharriere, O, Baverel, M, Reiche, L, Jourdain, R, Bastien, P, Wilkinson, JD (2001). Sensitive skin: an epidemiological study. Br J Dermatol, 145 (2): 258-63
  3. Lyapina, M, Kisselova-Yaneva, A, Krasteva, A, Tzekova –Yaneva, M, Dencheva-Garova, M (2012). Allergic contact dermatitis from formaldehyde exposure. Journal of IMAB 1 (18) Book 4
  4. Su, JC and Horton, JJ (2007). Allergic contact dermatitis from azo dyes. Australasian J Dematol 39 (1): 48-9
  5. Kotryna, L, Marlene, I and Laura, M (2020). Heavy metals and the skin: Sensitization patterns in Lithuanian metalworkers. Contact Derm https://doi.org/10.1111/cod.13681
  6. Fromme, H, Mattulat, A, Lahrz, T and Ruden H (2005). Occurrence of organotin compounds in house dust in Berlin (Germany). Chemosphere 58 (10): 1377-83.
  7. Kollea, SN, Basketter, DA, Casatic, S, Stokes, WS, Strickland, J, van Ravenzwaay, B, Vohr, HW and Landsiedela, R (2013). Performance standards and alternative assays: Practical insights from skin sensitization. Reg Toxicol and Pharmacol 65 (2): 278-85
  8. Gioulekas, D, Papakosta, D, Damialis, A, Spieksma, F, Giouleka, P and Patakas, D (2004). Allergenic pollen records (15 years) and sensitization in patients with respiratory allergy in Thessaloniki, Greece. Allergy 59 (2): 174-84
  9. Teplitsky, V, Mumcuoglu, KY, Babai, I, Dalal, I, Cohen, R, Tanay, A (2008). House dust mites on skin, clothes, and bedding of atopic dermatitis patients. Int J Derm 47 (8): 790-5
  10. Bakken, HN, Nafstad, P, Bolle, R and Nystad, W (2009). Skin Sensitization in School Children in Northern and Southern Norway. J Asthma 44 (1).
  11. Weckmann, R (2011), Ch 11 – Allergies caused by textiles in Handbook of Medical Textiles. Woodhead Publishing Series in Textiles pp 267-279.
  12. Schindler, WD and Hauser, PJ. (2004). Chemical Finishing of Textiles. Woodhead Publishing Series in Textiles.
  13. Oeko Tex [online] https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/ [accessed Oct 2020]
  14. Nordic Swan Ecolabel [online] http://www.nordic-ecolabel.org/ [accessed Oct 2020]
  15. Global Organic Textile Standard [online] https://www.global-standard.org/ [accessed Sept 2020]
  16. EcoCert [online] https://www.ecocert.com/en/home [accessed Sept 2020]
  17. asthma & allergy friendly [online] https://www.asthmaandallergyfriendly.com/ [accessed Oct 2020]
  18. European Union [online] https://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/ [accessed Sept 2020]
  19. Blue Angel [online] https://www.blauer-engel.de/en [accessed Sept 2020]

Related Internal Links

By |2020-12-08T10:20:12+00:004 December 2020|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on Keeping your skin safer – Textile Certification Programs