Health,  Toxic Exposure

The Blue Jean Distressed Look: Sandblasting Versus Eco-Aging

By The Editors

Sandblasting is used to make new blue jeans look distressed.  Unfortunately, sandblasting kills people.

In 2011, a rigorous study published in the journal Chest showed that formerly healthy young people exposed to silica sand, used in the sandblasting of jeans, developed silicosis — a disabling and potentially fatal lung disease for which there is no cure.  The young people either became disabled or died.

According to the American Lung Association, “Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling tiny bits of silica. Silica is a common mineral that is part of sand, rock and mineral ores like quartz. People who work in jobs where they could breathe in these tiny silica bits—like sandblasting, mining, construction and many others—are at risk for silicosis.”

Sandblasting jeans involves forcefully projecting a stream of abrasive particles (silica) onto a surface (jeans) with compressed air.  The force of the abrasion rubs off the indigo-dyed fibers.

When small silica dust particles are inhaled, they can embed themselves deeply into the lungs, causing silicosis, which is characterized by shortness of breath, cough, fever, and cyanosis.

The study was carried out in Turkey.  The investigators concluded “It is important to draw global attention to this occupation to prevent new silicosis cases in other countries.”  That year, Turkish health authorities banned sandblasting jeans.

Many companies, including Levi Strauss & Co, H&M, Benetton, Armani and many others, have banned sandblasting from their supply chains.  Hopefully, a truly global, enforceable ban will soon be up and running.  The Clean Clothes Campaign, an alliance of organizations in 15 European countries, has been working very hard to raise awareness and make this ban possible.  .

Should we give up the distressed look?  Not necessarily.  An Italian company, the Fimatex Group, has developed an eco-friendly process to obtain the distresses look.  The process is called eco-aging and uses a vegetable mix composed of the waste from the food chain.  The vegetable mix is ​​100% biodegradable (environmental impact zero) and allows us to conclude with a good example of corporate social responsibility.


  • bcastro3

    It should honestly not be this hard to ban such technique. Although there was a ban put into place, a new study actually showed that the companies that agreed on banning sandblasting still continue to use sandblasting. I find it hard to believe how greedy these companies are….I mean its expected but they need to put themselves in the shoes of the young workers who make these jeans and end up with life threatning diseases and most of the time with death. The only way to stop this is by not buying jeans from companies that still practice sandblasting. I know its hard to know which companies do or don’t use sandblasting but we should inform ourselves and think about the ones who end up dying because of clothing trends.

  • FurElise

    Sandblasting has become a serious issue overseas. Silicosis is becoming a serious problem and has become a serious health risk among the workers in this environment. The most effective way to help fix this issue would be to stop making jeans with a faded/aged look. This is only an achieved “look” and is not required nor practical in manufacturing jeans. Though I am glad to see that a few companies do not use this process, it needs to be a concern of all clothing companies. If a company insists on continued production of faded jeans, the natural process described above using vegetables should be utilized. If companies continue to use sandblasting, certain regulations need to be enforced throughout the world. Many workers do not use the proper protection while sandblasting. Though some wear face masks and other protective items, many only wear it over their head instead of over their airways, making the protective gear completely useless. Regulations need to specify the placement of face masks and the rules need to be enforced.

  • littlesusie

    Unfortunately, I suspect large factories exporting jeans overseas may continue to use sandblasting for awhile. Although buyers ask to not use it, there is pressure to meet production deadlines. The best way to stop this is perhaps to stop designing faded jeans. Do we really need artificially faded jeans?

    • ErinnGoBragh

      I agree. In order to this earth a safer and healthier place to live in, we need to start making sacrifices. Unfortunately people have a hard time distinguishing the difference between want and need. Its really frustrating when people aren’t willing to give up the most superfluous things just so they can fashionable.

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