Warning: Your new bikini could be cancerous

Niki Bruce
(PHOTO: Getty Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

So, last year a bunch of fast-fashion brands were trolled on the internet for selling bikinis and swimsuits that were “for poolside posing only” ie. not to be worn in actual water, and one that was actually described as being ‘dry clean only’. One YouTuber did a review video on the swimsuit in question and discovered that as soon as it hit the water, all the colour washed out, dying everything around it aqua blue.

And it is the azo dyes used in some mass market swimsuits that are at the centre of another bikini drama. This time the possibility that some swimwear is being made with fabrics dyed with chemicals that are known carcinogens. On top of that, these products are actually being warned against in the fine print of the Ts & Cs of some popular fast fashion online stores based in the US.

Because this warning is based on California’s Proposition 65, however, it means that these brands don’t have to warn shoppers from outside the US about possible carcinogens in the products they’re selling. So in Singapore and the rest of the world, you could be buying swimwear with carcinogens embedded in the fabric they’re made from.

"California’s Proposition 65 entitles California consumers to special warnings for products that contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm if those products expose consumers to such chemicals above certain threshold levels.”


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The dyes that are being used in these cheap bikinis are called azo dyes, and they are being found in products from brands like Pretty Little Thing and Fashion Nova; ASOS and Topshop have added the warning about these products to their Ts & Cs as well.

So, outside of California some brands are adding the information to their websites to cover themselves, even though the American Cancer Society, states that if the product has “no significant risk”, they don’t have to. So, does this mean there is a significant risk to people wearing clothes made with azo dyes?

In Australia the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has found that “the 'aromatic amines' found in azo dyes can migrate from fabrics and be absorbed through the skin where there is direct and prolonged contact … [and] the risk can then be increased ‘with body heat, sweat and saliva’.” Sounds like a long summer in a bunch of cheap swimsuits could be a problem.

Admittedly the ACCC also said that carcinogen exposure doesn’t always lead to cancer, but it also suggests we refrain from ‘avoidable’ contact. Like not wearing bikinis dyed with azo dyes for example.

Where to buy non-cancerous swimwear

The best thing to do? Shop your swimwear from brands that are open about their production, where their fabrics come from, and that don’t have any just-in-case warnings about cancerous bikinis on their websites. Some great options include some cool Singapore swimwear brands, so shop local to ensure you know you are not at risk at all.

This brand is all about sustainable production, modern and more modest swimwear. Pinksalt uses the sublimation printing process, which is more eco-friendly and unlike chemical dyes which are most commonly used, is considered a ‘zero waste’ process, for all their original printed fabrics.

Location: Design Orchard, 250 Orchard Road, #01-01, Singapore 238905

Opening Hours: 10.30am - 9.30pm daily

(PHOTO: Pinksalt)
(PHOTO: Pinksalt)


Technically not a swimwear company, MBF is an emerging Singapore menswear brand that produces one item, a pair of high tech Tencel men’s shorts that include nanotechnology to produce and item that is antibacterial, odor resistant, and waterproof. So technically you could wear them in the pool or sea, then rinse out, dry off, and wear them for the rest of your day!

Currently the shorts are only available on the MBF website: https://www.mbf.sg/

August Society

Swimwear and resort wear for the whole family, the August Society products are made from recycled polyester and produced in ethically managed factories. The designer is also interested in not producing throw away items so the collections are designed to last and be multifunctional as well - think swimwear you can use for yoga as well.

Location: Design Orchard, 250 Orchard Road, Singapore 238905

Opening Hours: 10.30am - 9.30pm daily


K.Blu is one of Singapore’s longest running swimwear and resort wear brands. The brand uses sublimation printing and sustainable fabrics; it is also known for being super size inclusive and using regular people as fit models.

Location: Paragon Mall , 290 Orchard Road, #03-48, Singapore 238859

Watch what happens when a YouTuber tries to wet a ‘poolside posing only’ swimsuit: