That’s a lot of chemical-soaked steps, which begs the important question: is it safe to wear neoprene? Is neoprene safe for skin contact? And if not, why is neoprene bad?
Neoprene itself is not inherently toxic, and it has been deemed “safe” for use in various consumer products—but then again, so have things like formaldehyde and synthetic fragrances.
As with anything that purports to be safe, neoprene deserves to be treated skeptically to avoid greenwashing.
Neoprene toxicity is still very much up in the air (or rather, submerged beneath the waves), which is concerning in its own right. The fact is, we just don’t know exactly how it affects human or environmental health.
Does Neoprene Contain Latex?
While neoprene does not contain latex, it may cause a similar allergic reaction for people with a sensitivity to latex due to similar chemical structure.
Since contact dermatitis (a type of skin irritation accompanied by redness, itching, swelling, and sometimes blisters) is often reported as a post-neoprene allergic reaction, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) named neoprene the 2009 allergen of the year.
Whether neoprene is safe on skin somewhat depends on how sensitive your skin is.
Does Neoprene Contain Lead?
Lead is not a component of its neoprene’s chemical structure.
However, the production process and potential additives used during the manufacturing of neoprene products could introduce the possibility of trace amounts of contaminants, including lead and carbon black, a harmful chemical used to give neoprene its black color.
If you are concerned about the presence of lead in neoprene fabric, it’s a good idea to look for products that comply with relevant safety standards and regulations (like OEKO-TEX certification).
Is Neoprene Carcinogenic?
Now for the big question: does neoprene cause cancer?
It’s a valid question, considering chloroprene (the base of neoprene) is classified as a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)—a chemical class commonly associated with cancer.
As of now, the EPA has not dubbed neoprene or chloroprene as carcinogenic, but concerns about the potential for carcinogenic compounds, dyes, or coatings to be present in neoprene fabric may arise due to the manufacturing process or additives used.
California Proposition 65, however, has dubbed chloroprene a carcinogen, though it admits that wearing neoprene material is unlikely to be enough to cause enough exposure to chloroprene to be of any danger.
The greatest danger of neoprene is that which it poses for regularly exposed to chloroprene, like factory workers and those near manufacturing locations.
Acute exposure to high concentrations of neoprene may lead to dizziness, fatigue, headache and respiratory irritation (at best) and damage the lungs, kidney, liver, and nervous systems (at worst).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) correlates skin and lung cancer with the chloroprene, particularly for those who work directly with the substance.
In fact, those near DuPont manufacturing sites in Louisville, Kentucky and Reserve, Louisiana have complained about chemical odors and, says one resident, “almost every household has someone that has died from cancer”.
While DuPont no longer manufactures in Kentucky, the Louisiana factory continues, leading to a locational cancer risk 50 times the national average.
All in all, while neoprene may be safe to wear, it’s certainly not safe to manufacture—which leads us to ask what other negative impacts it’s having on the world.