Diagram showing which yoga mats are safe

How safe is your yoga mat really?

At Second Earth, our ethos is centred around honouring mother nature and our health. So before we launched our very first yoga mat, we invested a lot of time and money researching and testing various materials to ensure our products would be genuinely ‘people and planet’ friendly. And there were a lot of lessons we learnt along the way. This included a growing awareness of just how much misinformation and greenwashing there is out there. Something we’re aware is rife in many industries right now.

 

Lesson 1: Greenwashing

Greenwashing is an attempt to capitalise on the growing demand for products that are environmentally sound. Greenwashing can convey a false impression that a company or its products are environmentally sound.

So many brands have jumped on board ‘greenwashing’ which can make it very hard for the average person to distinguish between a genuinely eco-friendly product and something else. And given there are no regulations around using terms like ‘eco-friendly’, many brands use them freely without consequence. Based on our experience, if a business can’t back up their claims about a product with facts and details then you should definitely be suspicious.

From our point of view, greenwashing is super frustrating because brands that are truly committed to producing genuinely ‘people and planet’ friendly products know that doing so is not cheap. Ensuring eco-friendly production methods from the sourcing of raw materials to the final product comes at a high cost and it can be deflating when some brands advertise their products as ‘eco-friendly’ when its simply not the case. And this leads us nicely into our second lesson.

 

Lesson 2: Yoga mats to be suspicious of

  1. PVC YOGA MATS

Verdict:

Would I use a PVC mat? No. Not Ever.

Are PVC mats biodegradable? No.

This is a no-brainer but its best to stay well clear of PVC in any form. Many yoga mats are still made from PVC because it’s cheap however PVC is arguably the most toxic plastic on the planet and its estimated it can last up to 1,000 years. It’s extremely bad for people and the planet at every stage of its lifecycle. The main ingredient in PVC is a toxic vinyl chloride, which is a known carcinogen and results in toxic dioxin (another carcinogen) being released into the environment during the manufacturing process or when it’s burnt.

PVC mats are also made using toxic additives including lead and phthalates. Phthalates are added to PVC yoga mats to make them soft and flexible however are known for causing developmental issues and cancer and can easily migrate to the surface of PVC products while being used. These toxins not only pose a risk to you while innocently practicing yoga on your PVC mat, but also to those that produce the mats and are in constant contact with these dangerous chemicals.

PVC products with phthalates can interfere with the body and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. Human exposure may result in lowered fertility and an increased incidence of endometriosis. Research shows that phthalates may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming. Phthalates can readily pass from a mother to fetus through the placenta and are also found in breast milk. This is scary stuff.

  1. PER and TPE YOGA MATS

Given how bad PVC is for both people and the planet, manufacturers have developed some cheap alternatives which they market as ‘eco-friendly’. The most common ones being Polymer Environmental Resin (PER) and TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer). We’ve provided some detail on each of these below as they are far from good alternatives.

PER YOGA MATS

Verdict:

  • Would I use a PER mat? No. PER still includes the same key ingredient as PVC which is a known carcinogen. Furthermore, there is not enough data on the safety of Acetyl tributyl citrate so I’m not willing to gamble my health on it.
  • Are PER mats biodegradable? No.

PER is essentially PVC that has been stabilized with acetyl tributyl citrate instead of phthalates and lead (sorry for being technical). So it's not "PVC-free" as its advertised, its actually just PVC, with different plasticizers and stabilizers.

Acetyl tributyl citrate is less toxic than phthalates and lead, so that’s an improvement, but the fundamental ingredient to make PVC - vinyl chloride monomer, is itself a carcinogen. So swapping out the plasticizers and stabilizers doesn’t change that this carcinogen is still present in PER mats.

Similarly to PVC, there are also plenty of inherent hazards in the production, long-term use and disposal of PER products.

TPE YOGA MATS

Verdict:

  • Would I use a TPE mat? No. The ingredients of TPE is very vague and the cheapest type of TPE contains chemicals that are considered human carcinogens.
  • Are TPE mats biodegradable? No.

Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) mats are advertised as being less toxic but this is very questionable given they are a petroleum product. TPE is an ambiguous term that can mean many things and if a manufacturer describes their yoga mat as being made of TPE without specifying the ingredients, you should be very sceptical about their lack of transparency.

TPE is essentially a blend of undisclosed synthetic materials that have not been proven to be safe. The most common and least expensive form of TPE is made with styrene and butadiene chemical polymers both of which are considered human carcinogens.

 

Lesson 3 - What are the better options for a yoga mat?

After all of our research and testing we found a few yoga mat options that are far better for your health and the planet than the rest.

  1. Natural rubber mats

Natural rubber mats are completely biodegradable. They are also grippy, dense and have decent weight meaning they won’t slide around.

To make these mats, natural rubber is extracted from rubber trees through a process known as tapping. Tapping involves making a small cut to remove a slither of the tree’s bark and then using a container to catch the fluid that runs out. This fluid is the trees sap, which is called latex.

Natural Sulphur, which is found naturally in places like hot springs and volcanic regions, is used to vulcanise or harden the natural rubber to make it useable as a yoga mat.

When considering a natural rubber mat be sure to look out for brands that sustainably source their natural rubber from natural rubber tree farms and not from tropical rainforests or Amazon forests.  

A couple of things to be aware of with natural rubber products is that they can have a slight odour, usually when they are brand new. But this odour tends to fade quite quickly once the product is out in the open. Also, natural rubber products contain naturally occurring latex proteins. When natural rubber is vulcanised most of the latex proteins are destroyed however people with highly sensitive latex allergies may still have a reaction to natural rubber products.

  1. Cork mats

Cork comes from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree. It can be harvested sustainably from cork farms by stripping bark off the tree without damaging the tree itself. The bark starts to regenerate straight away and can be harvested every 9 years. Cork trees can live for over 200 years and have an amazing ability to store a huge amount of carbon. Stripping the bark periodically enhances the tree’s ability to absorb carbon and therefore the Cork Oak Tree plays a pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gasses.

Cork has several great features like being extremely durable, buoyant, grippy and has natural antibacterial properties just to name a few.

When looking for a cork mat try to find one with a natural rubber backing. Some brands use cheaper options like PER or TPE as the backing for their cork mats but as noted above these materials are not great.

  1. Jute mats

Jute is extremely strong and biodegradable. But one of the best things about jute is that it has the most eco-friendly production process compared to any other fabric. It doesn’t require any fertilizers or pesticides when processing and uses far less water to produce.

Plain jute mats however don’t offer a huge amount of support and cushioning so it’s often used with other materials to create a softer mat. Its best to look out for mats that combine jute with natural rubber (rather than PER or TPE) to make a sustainable, grippy and biodegradable mat.

Please note the information in this blog is not health advice and we are not health professionals. This is information we found doing our own research and testing over many years. Thanks for reading this far! We hope this information has been helpful when it comes to choosing a yoga mat that is truly good for you and good for the planet.

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