Real vs. Faux Fur, Part 2: Fur is Toxic

How bad is real fur for your health?

Fur industry experts love to say that fur is “organic” and “biodegradable”. But no matter how green fur processing may be, toxic chemicals like formaldehyde are used. In an extensive report published by EcoAid, 100% of the pelts tested used formaldehyde. You might think buying furs from luxury brands committed to “green” practices would protect you. But these chemicals were found in luxury products from Gucci, Burberry and Moncler.

From the 35 individually tested fur samples, 32 samples exceeded the reference values for infants and toddlers, 15 samples exceeded the maximum values for products with body contact and 13 furs the maximum value for products without body contact for all listed (textile) labels.

-“Poison in Furs, Report II – 2011 Questionable Chemicals in Fur Products,” Manfred Krater, page 146

In other words, there’s a 50% chance it’s unsafe to breathe near the fur on your jacket, let alone allow it to touch your skin.

The US Federal government doesn’t allow any thin MDF plywood to emit more than .11 ppm of formaldehyde. That’s the highest allowable concentration I could find.

Do you remember the scandal uncovered by 60 minutes regarding Lumber Liquidators? The company has had its reputation permanently damaged for selling lumber that emitted 20 times the formaldehyde allowed by law, or around 2.2 parts per million. You can read the findings in full here.

Formaldehyde in Clothing

No, you aren’t going blind. The US allows up to 75ppm on clothing that touches the skin, and 300 ppm for outerwear. And in fact, that’s bit misleading. The US actually has no specific regulations on the amount of formaldehyde allowed in clothing. In a US Government Accountability Office report published in 2010, regulators reported that while retailers often set their own limits, the government has no regulations at all. In other words, even if you have a jacket that was tested for formaldehyde (highly unlikely), it could still be sold with formaldehyde levels 150 times that of the condemned flooring that nearly forced Lumber Liquidators out of business. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to be purchasing an item that was actually tested.

Ecoaid’s examination of luxury companies like Burberry, Gucci and Moncler had excessive levels of chemicals. Even children’s Canada Goose jackets have outrageous levels of toxins! In 2016, Germany’s  Bremer Umwelt Institute performed a series of studies on fur trim on children’s clothing at the request of the Fur Free Alliance. At 240 ppm of formaldehyde, the children’s Canada Goose Jacket had levels of toxins so high it could actually disrupt hormones and represent a serious risk of carcinogenic exposure.

How is this possible?

You might be wondering how you didn’t hear about this before. I’m wondering the same thing. As bad as the numbers are for fur, it seems like the rest of our clothing might be much worse.

Does faux fur harm health?

Most fur is made of nylon, which is a petroleum product. As such, it is the product of fossil fuels, and is not derived from a renewable resource. The most oft repeated statistic is that each faux fur jacket uses 1/3 gallon of petroleum.

Assuming you maintain a carbon footprint of zero, this is an extremely small amount. Also, nylon and polyester require far less water to produce than most other fabrics (particularly cotton), and can be cleaned at much lower temperatures. This counterintuitive fact has led some researchers to argue that nylon is, in fact, greener than cotton. The production of natural fibres varies widely in its impact – some forms of organic cotton might use as little as 80 litres to produce, while many other require as much as 800!

Also, the pesticides used to grow conventional cotton are quite toxic. As this article in the Ecologist noted in 2009:

Cotton is a natural fibre, but one that is grown with a mind-boggling array of toxic chemicals. Endosulfan, a widely-used insecticide has been linked to several thousand deaths of cotton farmers and their families. A single drop of aldicarb, a pesticide used on cotton in 26 countries, absorbed on the skin can kill an adult. Less than a third of the world’s cotton is rain fed and as it is very thirsty, leeching away a vital resource in many drought-prone areas where it is grown.

Whether or not a product is “natural” cannot be our guiding criteria for its safety.

Ethical considerations

Coupled with the environmental impact, it’s worth remembering that the fur industry is also wasteful, horrific and dehumanizing. If this expose (warning: gross pictures) by the Daily Mail doesn’t convince you that the fur industry is wasteful, nothing will. Of course, with supposedly environmentally conscious groups like Greenpeace defending fur as “sustainable,” people can get confused.

If you think that abuse only happens on farms in countries rife with other abuses, think again. My friend Amy from the Vegan Transition just published an excellent four part interview on her YouTube channel, exposing the Canadian mink industry. It will definitely  disabuse you of any delusions you might still cling to regarding fur, particularly those based on country of origin.


Real fur is far more harmful to human health and environmental sustainability than fake fur. Is this counterintuitive? Yes. But it’s the truth.  And it’s high time reputable news outlets investigate the numbers behind this industry and start reporting the truth to consumers.

This is not complicated. The information is out there, but it’s hard to find. I have never put this amount of research into a blog post, but it’s worth it. Because you deserve the truth. 

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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