Dying for Dye

Dying for Dye
We, at Hellman Health are passionate about helping you live your healthiest life. Beyond nutrition, there are many aspects of life that can impact our health. Here, we explore the impact our clothing choices have on our health, as well as the world around us. 


The consequences of clothing dyes on our health. 

Our initial attraction to clothing stems from their color. Whether it be a favorite color or a color that highlights our features, it is this color that brings the clothing to life. However, this allure dims when the reality behind how it came to be is revealed.


The majority of fabric dyes are chemical based, comprising primarily of azo dyes, heavy metals and chlorobenzenes. Azo dyes are used to achieve vivid hues (translation: neon). They are nitrogen-containing compounds that release amines — known carcinogens — and are water soluble, meaning they can be absorbed by your skin, especially after sweating or wearing them for a long period of time (1).

Heavy metals (such as cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium) are used to “fixate” color in fabric, produce bright colors (lead), and are present in leather goods (chromium is used in leather tanning). They bio-accumulate in the air and water, thereby accumulating in our bodies. Over a long period of time, this buildup can disrupt metabolic functions by impairing vital organ and gland function and displace nutritional minerals needed by the body (2).


Not only do these dyes impact consumers, but they also impact the workers involved in the fabric production process. Textile workers directly handle these chemicals, exposing themselves to the negative effects of these toxins, which are greater when handled raw; reproductive and respiratory problems and cancer being a few of the major hazards (4).

Water Pollution

Garments contain only 5% of the raw materials used to develop them, leaving the other 95% to drift away in waste water. This means the majority of the aforementioned toxic dyes used in fabric production are polluting waters worldwide, impacting all forms of life (5).

In addition, the toxins in the water block sunlight from reaching life in the water and remove oxygen from the water, thereby inhibiting photosynthesis and the re-oxygenation process that life within these waters — both plant and animal — need to survive. Toxins can also be absorbed and ingested by sea life, thereby making their way through the food chain (7).

Safe Alternatives

Luckily, there are natural alternatives to produce the same appealing colors. So, how can we shop safely without sacrificing color? Look for items made of ‘Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Certified Fabric’ as this is the leading standard in sustainable clothing. The GOTS certification ensures that manufacturers follow strict standards regarding the types of dyes that can be used (azo dyes and heavy metals are not allowed) and considers the impact of the dye on workers and the environment.