Feminine Hygiene Products & Your Health
We are all aware of the widespread use of personal care products that many women and some men use daily. These range from shampoo, conditioner and other hair styling products to facial and body washes, moisturisers, makeup and deodorants. In addition, there are, of course, the other much more personal, personal care products that women use. These are things like tampons, pads, vaginal douches and feminine wipes. There has been growing concern in recent years about the chemicals used in these products and their potential negative impact on women’s health.
As a naturopath who specializes in women’s health, I am regularly advising women about the potential for everyday household products to contain hidden chemicals that can negatively affect their reproductive health, hormones and fertility. Many of the feminine hygiene products used by women are also sources of such hidden chemicals. The problem is that many of these products get up close and personal with the highly sensitive and highly absorptive female genitalia. This delicate area is filled with an enormous array of blood and lymphatic vessels, which means chemicals absorbed “down there” go straight into your circulatory system.
In fact, because of this highly absorptive nature of the vaginal wall, researchers are constantly researching new vaginal pessaries and creams as novel modes of drug delivery. Because of the many arteries, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels abundant in the walls of the vagina, drugs absorbed from the vagina do not undergo first-pass metabolism (that occurs with oral tablets in the digestive system) because blood leaving the vagina enters straight into circulatory system via a rich venous route.
So, while these facts make it easy for drug companies to exploit the vagina as a mode of drug delivery for prescribed drugs, women are essentially getting a dose of unwanted and potentially harmful chemicals whenever they use many of the mainstream feminine hygiene products. These products sit against or near to the extremely permeable mucous membranes in the vulvar and vaginal area that readily absorb whatever chemicals are found in the products women use.
There has been a concerted push in recent years amongst women’s health groups for more research into the health effects of these chemical exposures on women’s health, given the widespread use of these products. Many of the products do not list fragrances or the chemicals found in them (as government guidelines do not require it), so women are further left in the dark about potential ill effects.
Here is a list of the common chemicals found in different feminine hygiene products and the potential health impacts related to them:
- Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Dioxins and furans (from the chlorine bleaching process), pesticide residues (non-organic cotton/rayon), and unknown fragrance chemicals.
- Health Concerns: Cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption (can lead to heavier periods and reproductive disorders), and allergic rash
- Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Dioxins and furans, pesticide residues, unknown fragrance chemicals, and adhesive chemicals such as methyldibromo glutaronitrile
- Health Concerns: Cancer, reproductive harm, infertility, endocrine disruption, and allergic rash
- Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, parabens, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and many unknown fragrance chemicals.
- Health Concerns: Cancer, endocrine disruption, skin allergens allergic rash
Many feminine washes contain a host of chemicals including fragrances and toxic preservatives like parabens, that are known to play havoc with your hormones.
- Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Unknown fragrance chemicals, parabens, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, DMDM hydantoin, D&C Red #33, Ext. D&C Violet #2, and FD&C Yellow #5
- Health Concerns: Hormone disruption and reproductive issues, allergic rash, and asthma
It is good news to know that one solution to this complex problem is rather easy, as there are some great environmentally savvy companies creating alternatives to the mainstream products. Organic tampons and pads are now more widely available and offer a healthy alternative for both women and the environment. Moreover, silicon menstrual cups are also becoming more popular and are a safe alternative to tampons. Reusable cloth pads are also available and have been popular with some women for years. The design and function of these have come a long way since the old days of our grandmothers! Even better are the latest in menstrual underwear. Brands such as ModiBodi offer comfortable and absorbent underwear that you can wear like regular underpants and just require a brief soak/rinse and then are washed as usual.
In terms of wipes and washes, there are eco-friendly wipes that can be used (even some for babies are appropriate). However, normal hygiene really should suffice and women should not feel the need to use chemical fragrances in their delicate genital area.
So wise up women folk and start taking care of yourself by making smart and healthy choices in this very important area!
Here are some links to companies providing more information or healthy and eco-friendly alternatives: