WASHINGTON — QUESTION:
Can you develop hypothermia faster wearing cotton clothing in the cold weather?
Yes. Experts say cotton is a poor insulator and locks in moisture like sweat, leaving you cold and damp.
Annette Blanton- Running Specialist at Rock City Running in Arkansas
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Words of caution about wearing cotton are being tossed around social media: "#CottonKills."
It's a long-running debate where people are claiming that wearing layers made of cotton when you're shoveling, skiing, or just playing outside, can increase your chances of hypothermia.
So is this accurate?
To get our answers we spoke with a textile expert with 25 years' experience teaching, and a running specialist.
"Cotton is a thermal conductor that means it releases your body heat," Deborah Young, a professor at Fashion Institute Design & Merchandising said. " In the winter time you need a thermal retainer, holding onto your body heat....polyester or wool or nylon will hang onto that heat, which is essential when were in really cold temperatures."
It's not just an insulation issue: cotton can get really wet.
"If you wear cotton, then that's just going to stick to you, and then the cold air is just going to make you cold, so you're going to stay cold," Annette Blanton, a running specialist at Rock City Running in Arkansas said. "Where moisture-wicking is going to pull the sweat away and keep you drier and warmer."
That is because cotton comes from the ground and has a cellulose fiber which makes it super absorbent.
Polyester is synthetic made from fossil fuels, like coal or plastic, and is great at wicking beads of moisture.
"For outdoor activities, there is an old axiom: wicking, warming, weather," Young said.
"The base layer (next to your skin) should wick away perspiration, and quickly," she said. "The next layer is warming - this is an insulating layer, often accomplished with warmer fibers, flannels, or thicker fabrics that trap air and insulate. The outer layer should be weather - which means it is to repel weather. It should keep the wet and wind out."
Hypothermia can happen when your clothes are not warm enough or when they are wet, according to the Mayo Clinic.
So we can Verify, it's true, wearing cotton can increase your chances of developing hypothermia.