Chemicals in textiles and footwear: a proposal for regulations that offer more protection

Clothing and shoes contain many chemicals. While some of these are already covered by regulations, others still need to be identified or regulated. Based on the results of the study it carried out, the Agency has proposed restrictions for over 1000 chemicals at European level in order to improve consumer safety.

Our clothing and shoes contain dozens, even hundreds of chemicals. Some chemicals, such as dyes, are used intentionally at the time of manufacture. Others are residues or impurities occurring at varying concentrations. The current European regulations cover 12 chemicals and classes of chemicals, such as chromium VI and nickel, that are known to be skin allergens.

From 2016 to 2018, ANSES conducted a biomedical study whose aim was to identify the chemicals that had caused skin allergies in 50 patients, following a suspicion by a dermatologist-allergist. Two laboratories then confirmed the presence of these chemicals by analysing the clothes and shoes that the patients had worn.

Based on this study's results and according to the “REACH” Regulation, the Agency then proposed restrictions for more than 1000 skin sensitising substances, in partnership with Sweden. If adopted, this broader regulatory framework will protect consumers better by:

  • Limiting levels of substances that have known allergenic potential but are not covered by any regulations;
  • Banning the use of all “disperse” dyes intended in particular for synthetic fibres. These dyes are indeed often involved in cases of skin allergies;
  • Lowering the regulatory thresholds for nickel and chromium VI; these do not provide enough protection since they continue to cause allergies.

Lastly, the Agency reminds consumers of the importance of washing any clothing likely to come in contact with the skin before it is worn for the first time, by following the manufacturer's washing recommendations.

Did you know?

Biomedical research involves interventions on human beings who undergo treatments or examinations that are not usually performed. It therefore requires the prior agreement of the health authorities and an ethics committee.