In the United States alone, women spend over $2 billion per year on feminine hygiene products but until recently, little research has existed on how chemicals in these products may affect a women’s health. It is refreshing to know that currently there is a lot of great work being done to detox feminine care products but, more work is needed to get safer, all natural products into the hands of every menstruating and/or sexually active woman.
Here is the science. Mucous membranes in the vagina and vulva rapidly absorb chemicals so when feminine products are used internally or externally, the chemicals in them WILL get absorbed. This is exactly why hormone replacements can be inserted vaginally resulting in raised blood hormone levels at a relatively quicker rate than hormones taken orally. But, while rapid absorption may be needed for those that need a quick delivery of a drug, it may expose women to higher levels of chemicals from feminine hygiene products.
You’ve all heard of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), right? The incidence of TSS spiked around the same time manufacturers began using four synthetic products in high-absorbency tampons. Because synthetic fibers are more absorbent than cotton this allowed for more toxicity due to high concentrations of menstrual proteins left for an extended period of time in the body. Three out of the four synthetic fibers have been taken off the market leaving only viscose rayon as the only allowable synthetic material in tampons. However, incidences of TSS still occur which clearly makes the case for switching to using all natural feminine care products.
In 1992, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began researching vaginal health and found that active AND inactive ingredients in feminine care products can be toxic and may increase susceptibility to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) via mucous membranes. In fact, research focusing on personal lubricants demonstrated damage to human vaginal cells. Since many lubricants are hyperosmolar (they pull water out of your cells) they cause cells to shrink. Cells can also be damaged by the numerous chemicals used in lubricants which make vaginal ph levels rise and can make women more prone to bacterial vaginosis and other vaginal infections.
The FDA regulates feminine hygiene products in three different ways:
- Tampons, sanitary pads, and most personal lubricants are considered medical devices. Which means they DO NOT have to disclose ingredients on packaging.
- Medicated douches, anti-itch creams, and certain yeast infection treatments. Regulated as over-the-counter drugs.
- Deodorizing sprays, powders, washes, non-medicated douches, and most wipes are Considered cosmetics and “Must not contain any “poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling."
Since products classified as medical devices do not have to disclose ingredients on packaging, advocacy groups like Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE) have petitioned tampon manufacturers to start labeling product ingredients. A report by WVE points out that feminine hygiene products may use ingredients that are known or suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), carcinogens, or allergens. Among the suspected EDCs found in some feminine hygiene products are parabens, which are used as preservatives, and fragrance ingredients including diethyl phthalate and Galaxolide. The WVE report also cited a third-party test that found detectable residues of 8 pesticides in one brand of tampons. YIKES!
Take Home Lesson for the Day: Natural feminine hygiene products are THE ONLY CHOICE. Stay away from synthetic ingredients and choose all natural products when possible. Consider using the products listed here to get you started. Then you can relax and enjoy your time in the bathroom (yeah right!) and the bedroom.