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Last updated on December 3rd, 2016
Practicing yoga is a crucial component of my healthy routine. After having experienced the benefits of yoga, I do not know how I had survived without it before. I believe YogaWorks (a free week with mention of my name) studio was very instrumental in helping me get addicted to the practice of yoga. Unfortunately, like with pretty much everything, if you are not careful you may expose yourself to toxic chemicals – in your yoga mat. You may end up inhaling potentially harmful chemicals and absorb them through skin contact. In this post, we are going to talk about PVC yoga mats and why it is important to avoid them.
The most common material for yoga mats
Most yoga mats are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), also knows as vinyl, the most toxic plastic (recycle code #3). PVC is toxic during every stage of its life cycle. It is toxic during its manufacture; it is toxic to the end consumers; and it is toxic during its disposal. As consumers, we are exposed to PVC, through inhalation and skin contact.
What is wrong with PVC yoga mats?
The main ingredient in PVC is vinyl chloride, which is a known human carcinogen. We are exposed to the gas that PVC yoga mats emit.
Also, dioxins are byproducts of PVC yoga mats’ manufacturing and disposal. Dioxins are a group of toxic chemicals that share a similar chemical structure and induce harm through a similar mechanism. They have been classified as a human carcinogen. They are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of priority pollutants. They are persistent (they do not break down easily in the environment) and bioaccumulative (they build up in our bodies).
Moreover, PVC in its natural form is not suitable to make products. Plasticizers are then added to make it soft and flexible. There are a variety of phthalates used as plasticizers and some of them are so toxic that in 2012 the US government enacted a law to restrict the use of them in children’s toys and some other children’s items (for more info visit here). Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in newborns, fertility issues, obesity, and cancer.
And lastly, heavy metals (such as lead) are added to make it more durable.
I think those are good reasons to avoid PVC yoga mats. Even if you are knowledgeable about PVC and have made the decision to avoid it, sometimes it is not easy.
Is your yoga mat free of PVC?
Manufacturers caught on to the idea that consumers are concerned about exposure to toxic chemicals. So they get very crafty with their product descriptions. With PVC yoga mats, you might read that they are free of toxic phthalates, lead, BPA, etc., which does not mean that that the yoga mat is free of PVC. Always ask the manufacturer by email whether the yoga mat you are looking to buy is free of PVC.
Is there such a thing as non-toxic PVC?
When a manufacturer tells you that their PVC yoga mats are free of phthalates, heavy metals, and chlorine, the question I am always dying to ask is what is used instead Of these toxins. Remember my post about the Sealy Soybean mattress? As I never received satisfying answers, I did not add the Sealy mattress to the database of baby products I recommend in my private non-toxic baby registry consultations.
What about OEKO-Tex-certified PVC yoga mats?
I recently learned the OEKO-Tex, a European agency that tests products for harmful substances, both legal and illegal to use, certifies PVC. Does it mean that it is okay to use? It means that apparently there is a new technology to make PVC yoga mats in such a way that it satisfies OEKO-Tex standard limits, which is a step in the right direction.
However, the standard does not look into whether the production and disposal of PVC are toxic to the environment. We know that PVC is not biodegradable so the only way to get rid of it is to burn it. When PVC is burned, the chlorine produces extremely toxic and persistent dioxins that end up in soil, fish, animals, water, air, and ultimately in our bodies.
What is next?
Thus, I do not recommend PVC yoga mats even if they are certified by OEKO-Tex.
Update as of 10/06/2016: To see a list of yoga mats that I believe are safer than PVC, TPE, or PER yoga mats, head over here.