Some products have a sort of “halo” around them. We just expect they’ll be made in such a way that we can feel comfortable using them on a daily basis.
Most women consider feminine care products to be in this category. They come near some of the most intimate and fragile parts of our bodies, so surely they’re made of safe ingredients, right?
According to a recent report from Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), not necessarily. Here’s more, and why you’ll want to be cautious about which products you choose in the future.
What the Report Says
Called “Chem Fatale,” the report notes that some feminine care products—including tampons, pads, douches, wipes, and sprays—may contain potentially toxic chemicals that have been linked with health problems.
A 2002 study, for example, found small but detectable levels of dioxins (potential carcinogens) in tampons and other sanitary products. Many feminine care products have heavy fragrances, which are made up of unknown chemicals. Feminine wipes can also contain a number of preservatives, including parabens and quaternium-15, that can be irritating to skin and increase risk of contact dermatitis.
Women are often in the dark when it comes to the ingredients in these products, however, because of current regulations. Pads and tampons, for instance, are considered “medical devices,” which means companies don’t have to disclose any of the ingredients they use in them. Other feminine care products, like sprays and wipes, are regulated as personal care products, which means companies can keep fragrance ingredients secret, as well.
Studies included in the report show:
- Dioxins, furans, and pesticide residues—which have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and hormone disruption—were detected in tampons.
- Many feminine care products contained formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Formaldehyde is an expected human carcinogen.
- Though the FDA considers common chemicals in feminine washes to be safe “for external use only,” it is likely some internal vaginal exposure will occur from regular use.
- Anti-itch creams commonly contain chemicals that may cause allergic reactions or skin irritations.
“Feminine care products are not just your average cosmetics,” says Alexandra Scranton, WVE’s director of science and research and author of the report, “because they are used on an exceptionally sensitive and absorbent part of a woman’s body. Greater scrutiny, oversight and research are badly needed to assure the safety of these ingredients for women’s health.”
How to Protect Yourself
The WVE is asking a number of big manufacturers to disclose ingredients used in their feminine care products, and to remove all toxic chemicals linked to women’s health problems.
Meanwhile, you can take steps to protect yourself from exposure:
- Read labels and avoid the chemicals listed here.
- Look for conscientious brands that disclose all ingredients, including those used in fragrances—better yet, choose fragrance-free.
- Eliminate products that may be unnecessary to a healthy vagina.
- Choose chlorine-free bleached or unbleached cotton tampons and pads (read more about toxins in tampons here).
- If you experience a reaction from a feminine care product, call the company and tell them, and report the experience to the FDA at: www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/default.htm.
For more on the WVE Chem Fatale report, see their website at: www.womensvoices.org/issues/chem-fatale.
What do you think of this report? Will you change how you shop for feminine care products?