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Natural Awakenings Boston

Toxic Feminine Products

Apr 29, 2014 12:40AM ● By Laura Kiesel

A report released at the end of last year by Women’s Voices for the Earth finds that many types of personal feminine care products, such as maxi pads, tampons and washes, contain potentially harmful ingredients like pesticides, dyes and other toxic chemicals.

The report, Chem Fatale, highlights tampons as particularly problematic, as they are used by 85 percent of women and often contain chemicals linked to cancer, including dioxin, which has been identified by the World Health Organization as a Persistent Organic Pollutant. Namely, a report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 concluded that dioxins might have adverse health impacts at very low levels of exposure.

“Almost all women use feminine care products at some point in their life. Given that these products are used on one of the most sensitive and absorptive parts of our bodies, we think it is vitally important that we know more about what chemicals we are being exposed to through these products,” says Alexandra Scranton, the director of science and research at WVE.

Since tampons and sanitary pads are regulated as “medical devices,” the $3-billion-a-year feminine care industry is not required to disclose any of the ingredients they contain. As for feminine washes and deodorants, though they are subject to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), which mandates that manufacturers disclose their ingredient list on the product, the FPLA contains a legal loophole that exempts “individual fragrance ingredients.” This means manufacturers can choose any chemical they do not wish to disclose to the public and simply list it as a “fragrance.”

Scranton advises women interested in avoiding toxins in feminine care products to abstain from using feminine cleansers altogether, as well as any scented products. This recommendation is in line with American Public Health Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which warns against the use of feminine care products that contain fragrance as they are known to cause allergic reactions and bacterial infections.

In addition to forgoing fragranced products, Scranton also suggests opting for organic pads and tampons that have not been chemically bleached with chlorine and therefore are much less likely to have traces of dioxin. Organic pads and tampons also use cotton that has been grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides.

The WVE website contains a “non-toxic” shopping guide for those consumers looking for more guidance on healthier alternatives, as well as a “Hall of Shame” appendix in the Chem Fatale report that features examples of feminine care brands that are suspected to contain high amounts of toxic chemicals, such as the Always and Tampax brands that are manufactured by Procter & Gamble.

“There simply hasn’t been enough attention and scrutiny to the ingredients in these products to assure their safety for women’s health,” says Scranton.

Laura Kiesel is a Boston area freelance writer and sustainable living consultant. You can reach her at [email protected].

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