Women Beware of Chemicals in Feminine Care Products!

By Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Co-Director Healthy Legacy

Many of the feminine hygiene products women use on a regular basis are little regulated and contain an array of problem chemicals. A new report by Women’s Voices for the Earth, Chem Fatale, Potential Health Effects of Chemicals in Feminine Care Products, notes that tampons, pads, wipes, washes, deodorants, creams and douches contain potentially toxic ingredients.

For example:

  • Tampons and pads may include dioxans and furans, due to the chlorine bleaching of the fiber used in the product, as well as fragrance chemicals and pesticide residues.
  • Feminine wipes, washes and creams may contain chemicals linked to cancer and hormone disruption, including DMDM hydantoin, parabens, methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone, artificial colors and fragrances.

A few chemicals won’t hurt us- why worry ? The report points out that we should be especially concerned about exposure to chemicals in feminine care products because the membranes in the vaginal area are extremely permeable and chemicals can be rapidly absorbed and circulated throughout the body. This is of great concern with chemicals linked to hormone disruption and cancer and most research does not consider the increased absorption factor, when assessing the safety of an ingredient.

“There is relatively no research on the direct impact of exposure of carcinogens on the vagina.” Chem Fatale, p.5

Another reason to worry – neither the EPA nor the FDA has authority to require testing of feminine care products. The FDA regulates most feminine products, including washes, wipes, and sprays, as “cosmetics,” so ingredient disclosure is required, but the FDA doesn’t assess safety before the product goes on the market. Instead the FDA allows companies to self-regulate through the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel. The FDA regulates tampons and pads as medical devices and ingredient disclosure is not required. So consumers are unaware of potential chemicals of concern in these very personal products.

If you use these products, there are a few things you can do to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals. See the full list in Chem Fatale.

  • Reduce your use of feminine care products
  • Chose unscented products
  • Chose chlorine-free products
  • Try reusable, washable menstrual products
  • Read labels and avoid problem chemicals

While consumer awareness is great, we also need stronger regulatory oversight to protect women from toxic chemicals in feminine care products, including greater oversight by the FDA, complete ingredient disclosure, thorough manufacturer testing of chemical ingredients and more research on vaginal absorption. We also need comprehensive policies like the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act to require safety testing before chemicals are used in cosmetic products, as well as reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act to assure that chemicals are tested for safety before they are allowed on the market. www.saferchemicals.org

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