High Levels of BPA in Sports Bras: Here's What You Need to Know

Tips for minimizing BPA exposure in your sports bras and activewear

Alarming revelations have emerged regarding elevated BPA levels in numerous athletic garments, such as sports bras, potentially posing serious health risks. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a nonprofit organization that safeguards the public from harmful chemicals, issued an expanded update in late May following its previous October report. The update highlighted another eight athletic apparel brands that may be subjecting consumers to excessive BPA exposure.

Kaya Allan Sugerman, who serves as the director of the illegal toxic threats program at CEH, expressed her concern over this discovery. In a written statement delivered to Shape, she explained, "Evidence indicates that BPA can enter the bloodstream via skin absorption after handling BPA-coated receipt paper for brief durations. Considering that items like sports bras and other athletic wear are designed to absorb sweat and are worn for extended periods, the detection of high BPA levels is deeply troubling."

The presence of BPA is worrisome due to its ability to mimic estrogen, thereby disrupting normal body functions ranging from metabolism and reproductive processes to growth and development, as per the information provided by CEH. Here's what's covered in the latest report, along with tips on how to ensure your safety.

Athleta, Nike, Adidas, Fabletics identified for clothing items with high levels of BPA

CEH has recently pointed out that leggings offered by Kohl's, Champion, Athleta, Nike, and Patagonia; sports bras from Sweaty Betty; shirts from Fabletics; and shorts from Champion, Nike, and Adidas may expose wearers to bisphenol A (BPA) levels up to 40 times higher than the safety limit established by California. The safety limit is set at 3 micrograms per day. In a previous report from Shape in October, it was noted that CEH had named 14 brands, including Nike, Brooks, Mizuno, PINK, Asics, and Athleta among others, accusing them of exposing consumers to BPA levels that could reach up to 22 times over the limit. Polyester-based clothing with spandex was reportedly found to contain high levels of BPA by CEH. Therefore, being aware of the fabric composition of your activewear is essential. The issue is exacerbated by the nature of athletic wear. According to Jimena Díaz Leiva, Ph.D., Science Director at CEH, "Sweat serves as a solvent that can extract contaminants from clothing." These pollutants can then be transferred into the body through the skin via sweat absorbed from the activewear.

A Note Regarding Brooks Products

Please note: Some of the brands listed above may be recommended in commerce articles published on Shape.

Why should you avoid BPA?

Bisphenol A, or BPA as it's more commonly referred to, is a chemical compound found in the production of polycarbonate plastics. These types of plastics are often utilized for various everyday items such as bottles, glasses, and shatterproof windows, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. The pervasive nature of BPA exposure is cause for worry, given that BPA functions as a hormone disrupter, with potential long-term health implications, especially for infants and unborn children. Research suggests a link between BPA exposure and an increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes, as described by Mayo Clinic. The health repercussions of BPA exposure can be severe, states Dr. Hugh Taylor, Chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University, and Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The physician, who has conducted extensive research on BPA, expressed concerns about the apparent release of BPA from clothing. This is deeply disconcerting and unanticipated, and manufacturers should make a conscious effort to avoid such occurrences, he informed Shape magazine. Potential health hazards associated with BPA exposure include fertility issues, behavioral modifications, and estrogen-sensitive illnesses, including breast cancer, Taylor elaborates. Particularly concerning is the heightened vulnerability of fetuses and unborn children to chemicals like BPA. He further advises individuals planning on starting a family or those already pregnant to take additional precautions against BPA exposure. The recent revelation of elevated BPA levels in clothing raises questions about its presence in other materials, like bedsheets. As per Dr. Taylor, there is a pressing need for greater transparency regarding clothing material composition and improved labeling standards.

What can you do if you're worried about BPA levels in your clothing?

Most guidance that can be found online for limiting BPA exposure has to do with consumption — which is how many people become exposed to BPA. But there are things you can do to avoid the chemical in clothing items, too.

How to Minimize BPA Exposure in Activewear

In order to limit your BPA intake, it's recommended to avoid purchasing activewear known to have high BPA contents, such as those identified by CEH. If unsure about the material of an item, it's always sensible to contact the manufacturer before making the purchase. Moreover, there are several steps you can follow to reduce exposure to BPA with items you already possess. Changing out of your workout clothes immediately after exercising is one such step. According to Dr. Taylor, BPA clears from the body quickly and doesn't accumulate over time. Thus, limiting the duration of exposure can lead to less absorption of BPA. Dr. Taylor also mentioned that older clothing items with high levels of BPA could result in increased exposure. Therefore, considering getting rid of such worn-out pieces might be beneficial. "BPA exposure is a constant occurrence in our daily lives coming from multiple sources," stated Dr. Taylor. The goal is to minimize this exposure as much as possible. This includes being vigilant about clothing and other materials known to contain higher quantities of BPA.

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