12/12/2013 04:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chem Fatale: Toxic Chemicals in WHAT?!

by guest blogger Cassidy Randall, director of outreach for Women's Voices for the Earth

WARNING: We are about to delve into an intimate and maybe uncomfortable topic: toxic chemicals in feminine care products.

You're probably thinking, "Seriously? Now I have to worry about toxic chemicals in THOSE, too?" The answer, unfortunately, is yes. (For now, anyway, before we convince the entire industry to clean up its act! And trust us, we will.)

Women's Voices for the Earth's (WVE's) new report, "Chem Fatale: Potential Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals in Feminine Care Products," examines unregulated toxic chemicals in feminine care products like pads, tampons, wipes, sprays, douche, and anti-itch creams. These chemicals are linked to some serious serious health problems, such as increased risk of breast cancer, reproductive problems, hormone disruption, and allergic reactions.

Women's Health and Feminine Care Products

The majority of women in the U.S. use feminine care products in one form or another. Up to 86 percent use tampons, for example. Approximately 10 to 40 percent of women use douches, sprays, washes, and wipes. Black and Latina women use certain feminine products like douches, wipes, and sprays in greater numbers than white women, meaning these women are disproportionately impacted by the use of toxic chemicals in these products.

And the doozy: Doctors are increasingly administering hormone drugs vaginally because vaginal skin is some of the most absorptive tissue in women's bodies, and because it goes into our bloodstream without having to metabolized first. And companies are using hormone-disrupting chemicals in products that come into contact with vaginal skin? Unacceptable.

Obviously, this is not an issue that comes up in everyday conversation. And because no one's really talking about it, it means that no one's minding the store to make sure that these products are getting the oversight they deserve to assure their safety for women's health. At present:
  • Pads and tampons are regulated as medical devices, which means that companies don't have to disclose any ingredients in these products.
  • Laws don't require companies to disclosed fragrance ingredients. Unfortunately, a "fragrance" is a mixture of ingredients that can include any of more than 3,000 different chemicals, including carcinogens, irritants, allergens, and potential endocrine disruptors.
  • Because of weak regulation, companies don't have to prove the chemicals they're using in these products are safe. So companies are legally allowed to use ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, and other chronic diseases.
What's Lurking in Feminine Care Products?

Here are just a few shocking facts from WVE's report: Test results show dioxins, furans, and pesticide residues in tampons, chemicals that have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption. Lots of feminine care products contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and formaldehyde is a carcinogen and a potent allergen. The Food and Drug Administration considers common chemicals in feminine washes to be safe "for external use only." However, it's extremely likely that in using a feminine wash regularly, some internal exposure will occur. Anti-itch creams commonly contain chemicals that are either allergens or irritants, and can actually exacerbate the very symptoms that women are attempting to treat.

Tips for Reducing Your Exposure
  • Avoid products included on our Hall of Shame list
  • Print out WVE's Chemicals of Concern list and take it with you when shopping
  • Look for brands that list all ingredients, including what's in a product's fragrance
  • Reduce your use of feminine care products
  • Choose fragrance-free products where available (particularly tampons and pads)
  • Choose chlorine-free bleached or unbleached cotton tampons and pads
  • Eliminate use of products that may be unnecessary to a healthy vagina.
Click here for tips on finding safer alternatives and more ways to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals in feminine care products.

Women have a massive amount of economic power to convince companies to make nontoxic feminine care products that list all ingredients--after all, we're 100 percent of their market, right? Tampax and Always are two of the biggest sellers when it comes to pads and tampons. But Procter & Gamble keeps the ingredients in these products a secret, which is a serious problem when it comes to our most intimate parts. Join WVE in telling Procter & Gamble to list all ingredients and take toxic chemicals out of Tampax and Always. We deserve to know what's in the products we choose.

Toxic chemicals have no place in pads and tampons. Period.

Cassidy Randall is the director of outreach and engagement for Women's Voices for the Earth. She oversees WVE's corporate campaigns and coordinates efforts to mobilize and engage women in WVE's work. In addition, she develops the organization's engagement tools and social media and leads WVE's Actionista team.


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