Are you looking for non-toxic activewear like workout leggings & yoga pants? Whether you wear your activewear for leisure or for activity at the gym, we aren’t judging. But what we ARE judging is the 32 workout legging and yoga pant brands that we sent to an EPA-certified laboratory to test for indications of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a toxic class of chemicals linked to a number of serious health conditions.
Mamavation ranked 32 pairs of activewear including workout leggings and yoga pants based on indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” and we are naming names in this report including what we discovered from brands like more casual LulaRoe, Athleta, & Lululemon. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best green beauty makeup brands sans PFAS, best cookware sans PFAS, and best organic mattresses sans PFAS, now join us for our consumer study on women’s activewear including workout leggings and yoga pants. Continue reading below to the very end for the raw data from all the brands we tested.
Disclosure: This content of this post was reviewed by Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future & Scott Belcher, Research Scientist with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University. The content was also medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post also contains affiliate links and was partially funded by donations from the Mamavation community & Environmental Health News.
Toxic PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Inside Activewear Apparel
The athletic apparel industry has been relying on PFAS and other types of toxic chemicals for decades to bring sweat wicking, stain resistance, water resistance, quick-drying fabric, and other types of nonstick qualities to textiles used for high-performance clothing. Whether you purchase high-rise leggings made of polyester, nylon, and spandex or high waist yoga pants made from cotton or water bottles, workout clothes have changed over the years. Today your workout clothes made from your favorite activewear brand can be treated with a concoction of undisclosed chemicals we know very little about from sizes xxs to xxl and beyond.
Your lightweight pair of leggings with a snug waistband & tight seams around your thighs help you get the best workout in cold weather, hiking in the mountains, wearing bike shorts on your favorite route, spinning in spin class, stretching in yoga class, working hard with your personal trainer, or playing tennis. But even if you are just lounging in the comfort of your own home, what you surround your skin with matters. The problem is we do not know how problematic dermal exposure to PFAS is.
“While we know that PFAS can be absorbed through the skin we don’t have much information about how much would be transferred from activewear products. It’s unlikely to be 0, ” says Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future.
The other problem in activewear apparel is we have no idea what activewear brands are exposing us to PFAS “forever chemicals” so this is the challenge Mamavation has decided to take on.
We may not be able to tell you HOW bad this exposure is, but at least we can help you get a better idea of where it’s coming from.
Main Findings of Mamavation’s Consumer Study On Activewear & PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Mamavation sent 32 pairs of activewear, mostly workout leggings and yoga pants, to an EPA-certified lab to test for organic fluorine, which is an indicator of PFAS. These products were purchased between June and November from Amazon.com, Nordstrom, Target.com, and several other websites. Products were photographed and not taken out of their original packaging and then were sent to a third-party EPA-certified laboratory. Each pair of activewear was tested for organic fluorine in the crotch area. The laboratory results are summarized below:
- The crotch area is the most common area to find detectable organic fluorine, which is a marker for PFAS, including inside the crotch of LulaRoe leggings, which we found at 284 parts per million (ppm)!
- 25% of the workout leggings, yoga pants, & leisure leggings we sent to the lab came back with detectable levels of organic fluorine, and here’s the good news– 75% of the pairs we tested did not contain any detectable levels.
- Detectable levels we found ranged from 10 parts per million (ppm) all the way to 284 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine.
- Because most brands are able to produce leggings without the use of PFAS, this tells us it’s not essential as a chemical treatment in women’s leggings and should be immediately phased out.
To see the final results of each brand, scroll down to the very bottom where we share the lab results of each brand tested.
PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Are Linked to Terrible Health Outcomes
PFAS chemicals are linked to several health problems ranging in seriousness. Here is the list of health problems (PFAS) perfluorinated chemicals are linked to from over decades of research:
- reduction in immunity
- metabolic diseases like obesity & diabetes
- reduced vaccination response
- cardiovascular disease
- affect the growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- increased risk of allergies & asthma in young children
- lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- increase the chances of miscarriage
- increase cholesterol levels
- low sperm count
- smaller penis size
- increase the risk of kidney & testicular cancers
If you feel like you’ve been exposed to PFAS, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of Community Health Investigations has created this fact sheet to use when talking to your doctor. While regulating authorities struggle to catch up, it would be wise to limit your daily exposure to PFAS within consumer products.
What to Look for When Purchasing Non-toxic Activewear and Want to Avoid PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Now that we know 25% of the activewear Mamavation tested came back from the lab with indications of PFAS, what do we do when purchasing high-quality activewear & athleisure loungewear? Your activewear is your most important workout gear out of all your accessories. Here’s our best advice for purchasing the best workout leggings and yoga pants in the future.
- Workout Leggings: Most of the workout leggings for high impact were made of synthetic materials like polyester, spandex, and nylon, which are based on petrochemicals. So you’ll have to pay close attention to the report findings here because not all pants made from synthetic materials had an indication of PFAS. However, if you are looking for low impact, sticking to natural materials like cotton greatly improves your chances of avoiding PFAS. The best workout leggings are going to offer you a sense of comfort and ease, versatility & durability when changing from one activity to another while using the least amount of toxic materials and treatments possible. Bonus points if you have some type of hidden pocket where you can stash your mobile phone.
- Yoga Pants & Leisure Leggings: If you are looking for the best yoga pants or leisure leggings, there are more safe options. Whether it’s your best yoga leggings to do your hot yoga or a simple yoga session in your favorite studio or at home, your pair of yoga pants will be hugging your body. The best piece of advice is to scrutinize synthetic materials made from petrochemicals that are “buttery soft.” LulaRoe, which is a brand known for being “buttery soft” had results as high as 284 parts per million (ppm) in the crotch area. Best to stick with natural fabrics like cotton if you are purchasing for low impact.
Regulation & Movements to Protect Your Family from Exposure to PFAS Through Clothing
Are there any laws protecting your family from PFAS in clothing? Not really. Many toxic chemicals can find their way into your clothing without a label. Here is some of the good news and bad news about the movement to ban PFAS in apparel:
- Globalization Safety Nightmares: Even though some chemicals, like formaldehyde which is linked to cancer, are regulated, most brands are manufacturing clothing overseas where those regulations are mostly non-existent or far behind the United States or European Union.
- California’s Prop. 65 List Doesn’t Cover Clothing Treatments: Some states like California go further in restricting chemical usage through Prop. 65, but in that case, they only need to notify you the chemical is there. However, most PFAS chemicals used on clothing are not part of the restricted list yet. Older legacy chemicals like PFOA & PFOS are on the Prop. 65 list. Therefore, other states may need to take the lead here.
- Priorities on PFAS are Elsewhere: Other state governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS, but most of the focus right now is on drinking water, groundwater cleanup in areas by military bases, food packaging, cookware, carpets & rugs, upholstery, and personal care products like makeup. States like California and New York are looking into regulating textiles, but no legislation has been passed yet. Maine signed a law banning all PFAS compounds, but the law doesn’t go into effect until 2030, so it’s not impacting the textile industry yet.
- NGO Movements: There is some movement with organizations like Toxic-Free Future and its Mind the Store Campaign who are pressuring outdoor apparel companies like REI to stop using PFAS in their clothing and gear. (Click here to sign the petition). The Mind the Store Campaign works with major retailers to reduce and eliminate dangerous chemicals while also producing an annual retail report card to help us understand which retailers are working to protect our families. One retailer that has improved a great deal over the years is Target and it’s evident by their non-detect laboratory results in this report.
Sources of PFAS Contamination in Activewear From Experts
There are several ways that PFAS can get into your workout leggings and yoga pants. Here are some potential issues we found from interviews with experts that may cover what we are seeing in the laboratory results.
Treatments for Stain or Water Resistance
The first way that PFAS can find its way onto your activewear is on purpose as treatments by the manufacturer. These treatments are very rarely disclosed on the label, but they serve the following functions:
- stain resistance
- water resistance
Activewear that was tested by our laboratory found detectable levels of organic fluorine mostly around or inside the crotch area making it look like an intentional treatment of some kind on the fabric. This was something we also ran across when we tested the most popular period underwear products for indications of PFAS as well.
Sprays & Lubrication on Equipment
Sometimes manufacturing equipment requires the use of lubrication to keep it running smoothly. Trace amounts of those lubrications can come off the machine and onto the fabric. In addition, sometimes equipment is sprayed with chemicals to keep things from sticking to machinery. This is also another way that trace amounts of PFAS can get on a piece of clothing. It’s also possible that manufacturing equipment could be covered in a PFAS “non-stick” chemical OR utilize fiberglass that has been treated with a PFAS chemical.
The manufacturing equipment and storage equipment must be cleaned out in between uses to prevent the spread of bacteria and cross-contamination. Some cleaners used by manufacturing plants are made with fluorinated ingredients and their trace amounts can get into your product if they are not rinsed off properly.
Mamavation’s Consumer Study on Women’s Activewear & Indications of PFAS Details
Mamavation will first explain how we structured our study then will present the findings. Each pair of activewear was tested for organic fluorine, which is an indicator of PFAS, in the crotch area. Organic fluorine testing is a useful test when looking for PFAS. There is no standardized testing for PFAS in textiles, so there are many ways to do it. Looking for the presence of organic fluoine is more useful in identifing if any PFAS compound is present. When using testing to identify and isolate PFAS compounds, the testing is more restricted. Only 150 of these PFAS compounds can be identified in an University lab leaving over 9,000 unidentifiable. Therefore, looking for organic fluorine allows us to look at the bigger picture and will inform our audience better.
To determine what activewear to test, we used information gathered from the Mamavation community when we asked what brands they were wearing. The products were purchased from Amazon.com, Target, Nordstrom, or directly from their own websites between June and December 2021. They were sent to a third-party laboratory unopened in their original packaging after pictures were taken.
Each pair of activewear was tested at least once for total fluorine. If fluorine was detected, we ran an additional test that determines organic fluorine. The lab method commissioned by Mamavation was ion-selective electrode & oxygen flask combustion. The limit of detection level was 10 parts per million (ppm). In other words, some Activewear products that tested 0 may have had levels beneath 10 parts per million. Our tests weren’t sensitive enough to detect lower than 10 ppm.
Not Our Favorite Activewear — Workout Leggings & Yoga Pants
Our EPA-certified lab detected organic fluorine in the following products, listed below. We recommend you choose other products.
- Athleta Girl Chit Chat Shorts — 17 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Gaiam High Rise Waist Yoga Pants Performance Compression Workout Leggings — 15 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Knix Hightouch High Rise Leggings — 19 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Lululemon Align Highrise Pant — 32 parts per million (ppm) total fluorine. (Lululemon Align High Rise Short with Pockets 8″ was non-detect.) We’ve decided to place this brand here because we detected fluorine in the first pair.
- LulaRoe Leggings — 284 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Old Navy Athletic Pants — 17 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Vuori Elevation Performance Black Camo Athletic Leggings — 23 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Yogalicious “Lux” High Waist Side Pocket Capri — 10 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
Better Activewear — Workout Leggings & Yoga Pants
These are the better activewear brands. Our third-party EPA-certified lab did not detect organic fluorine at or above 10 parts per million (ppm) detection level. We’ve linked up some brands for your convenience. These brands are safer, but they contain some materials that are not considered eco-friendly or sustainable like polyester or nylon, which is made from petrochemicals.
- 90 Degrees by Reflex Wonderlink Legging — non-detect total fluorine
- All In One Motion (Target Brand) Legging — non-detect total fluorine
- Alo High-Waist Alosoft Flow Legging — non-detect total fluorine
- Blanqi Power Sculpt Workout Legging — non-detect total fluorine
- CALIA by Carrie Underwood High Rise 7/8 Ankle Athletic Pants — non-detect total fluorine
- Fabletics High Waisted Power Hold Legging — non-detect total fluorine
- GapFit Teen Recycled Biker Shorts — non-detect total fluorine
- LIVI High Rise Soft ing with Pockets Leggings — non-detect total fluorine
- LL Bean Boundless Performance Capri — non-detect total fluorine
- Lorna Jane Willpower Colour Block Full-Length Leggings — non-detect total fluorine
- Marika Athletic Leggings — non-detect total fluorine
- Mizuno Women’s Printable 3/4 Tights — non-detect total fluorine
- Nike’s Women Luxe Ribbed High Rise 7/8 Yoga Tights — non-detect total fluorine
- No Bull Project W. Crop High Rise Matte Leggings — non-detect total fluorine
- Rebook Retight Running Carrera Tights — non-detect total fluorine
- Spanx Look at Me Now Legging Camo — non-detect total fluorine
- Sweaty Betty Power Sculpt Pocket Workout 7/8 — non-detect total fluorine
- Under Armour Women’s UA HeatGear Leggings — non-detect total fluorine
- Zella HW Live 7/8 Legging — non-detect total fluorine
- Zyia Active Black Light n Tight Hi-Rise Crop 17″ 6-8 — non-detect fluorine
Best Activewear — Workout Leggings & Yoga Pants
These are the best activewear brands. Nor only did these activewear lines have non-detectable levels of fluorine via our third-party EPA-certified laboratory, these brands also used fabric from sustainable farming practices. For example, they used GOTS organic cotton or utilizing alternative fabrics with the aim to cut down fossil fuel emissions. We reached out to some brands after testing to get discounts for your purchases so you can add them to your closet.
- Groceries Apparel B12 Leggings — non-detect total fluorine
- Mate The Label Organic Stretch Legging — non-detect total fluorine
- Pact Organic Go-To Pocket Legging — non-detect total fluorine (DISCOUNT: Take 20% off your first Pact Organic purchase by using “MAMAVATION” at checkout!)
Other Mamavation PFAS Testing Projects
Mamavation has been working hard to discover where to find PFAS “forever chemicals” inside the food & products we purchase and bring inside our homes. This is why we have decided to commission our own consumer studies on indications of PFAS in different consumer categories and share that information with you.
If you are here to find out what workout leggings are free from detectable PFAS, you may also be interested in our other similar studies.
We also have other investigations you may like.
- Best Yoga mats
- Best Organic Mattresses
- Best Air purifiers
- Best Cookware
- Best Plant Milks
- Best Water Filters for PFAS Filtration
- Best Collagen
- Best Electrolyte Replacement Drinks, Sports Drinks, & Coconut Water
- Best Infrared Saunas
Stick around because later this month we will be releasing our sports bra investigation with similar testing! We’ve looked into all the athletic wear, including what you would wear on top!