Adeela Hameed

Impact of Feminine Hygiene Products on Reproductive Health

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A Detailed Commentary

Feminine hygiene products are used for cleaning, absorbing discharge, moisturising, or otherwise healing the skin and tissues of the female reproductive region. Major categories of feminine hygiene products include tampons, sanitary pads, internal cleansers & sprays, panty liners & shields, and disposable razors & blades. Sanitary pads dominate the market among the mentioned feminine hygiene products. However, continuous use of such products leads to numerous difficulties in women.

Test results have shown furans, dioxins, and pesticide residues in tampons, which have direct links to cancer, reproductive harm and endocrine disruption. Tampons contaminated with these chemicals continue contact with femalereproductive tissue for hours at a time, several days each month, for women who use these thus, causing discomfort. In this article, potential health consequences of chemicals utilized in synthetic menstrual tampons and pads is explained.

Market Research and Demographic Differences

The largest market for feminine hygiene products in 2015 was Asia-Pacific region. It was estimated, and would continue, to be the leading contributor for the next few years. In 2015, this region accounted for about 60% of overall sales of sanitary pads by value. Europe was the second largest market in 2015, followed by North America, owing to increasedusage of high-end products like tampons, panty liners and internal cleansers. A $3 billion market for feminine care merchandises has been created successfully in the United States. In rural areas of developing markets like India and China, convenience stores are the prominent distribution channels. According to companies sponsoring these products, benefits include creating a fresh feeling, removal of odour, and in the process, even boosting confidence.

The Harsh Truth Behind Feminine Hygiene Products

Nowadays, most feminine products are composed of rayon, viscose, and non-organic cotton. Viscose and rayon are potentially harmful as these are made of highly absorbent fibres. These elements have an ability to stick to the female reproductive tissues. Risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is significant when the tampon is removed with the loosened fibres staying behind in the body. Without any filtration, chemicals absorbed inside the system through skin are also poured directly into the bloodstream. All of these would eventually end up in the delicate organs of the body and with time accumulate. Accumulation occurs because these toxins hamper the body from producing enzymes necessary for breaking them down.

Expecting the Unexpected

One category of toxins that an average woman would never expect in her feminine care products is pesticides. Yet independent, third-party-certified testing conducted by Naturally Savvy in 2013 revealed that at least one major tampon brand has up to nine different pesticide varieties. Although the levels shown are below the maximum allowable threshold for pesticides in food, these do not meet the FDA’s guidelines for tampons. The guidelines insist tampons be free of any pesticide residue. Moreover, the Pesticide Action Network lists malaoxon, procymidone, malathion, methidathion, fensulfothion, mecarbam and pyrethrum as possible endocrine disruptors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed piperonyl butoxide as a possible human carcinogen, and malathion suggestive of carcinogenicity.
A commentary published by Organic Slant reads,

“Female reproductive tissues are different structurally than the skin of the rest of the body. This denotes that this area is possibly more vulnerable to exposure to toxic chemicals and irritants”.

Age of a female influences the likelihood of using certain feminine care products. A study found that women above 48 were significantly more likely than younger women to use feminine sprays and wipes.

Secret Toxic Chemicals In Fragrance

Many feminine hygiene products are fragranced heavily, yet companies just disclose the generic term fragrance as an ingredient. The International Fragrance Association’s (IFRA) master list of chemicals used in fragrance unfortunately include:

  • Reproductive toxins like diethyl phthalate (DEP) and di-isononyl phthalate (DINP);
  • Disruptors of the Endocrine system like Galaxolide And Tonalide. These are synthetic musks;
  • Disinfectants like Triclosan and Ammonium Quaternary Compounds;
  • 39 carcinogens like p-dichlorobenzene and Styrene Oxide.

Many studies have found an association between menstrual pad use and rash. In many cases when women switched to unscented pads or changed brands, the symptoms were resolved. Talking about feminine wipes, these can contain formaldehyde which releases preservatives and parabens. Both of these are linked to increased risk of cancer. In 2013, some of these fragrances were named Allergens of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

Personal Alternatives

It is suggested women not only switch to safer, cleaner alternatives such as unscented, chlorine-free, unbleached tampons and pads but possibly reduce overall use of feminine care products.Other important parameters to consider are:

  • Look for brands that disclose all ingredients, including fragrance ingredients
  • Try washable, reusable menstrual pads
  • Put an effort in substituting brands of products that are believedto be associated with allergic symptoms
  • Read labels of products, wherever available, to avoid questionable chemicals
  • Talk to a gynaecologist about use of feminine hygiene products to avoid any reproductive health complication

Screening of Substances Used

Manufacturers need to create as well as implement enhanced ingredient safety screens in order to rule out ingredients that may pose unnecessary health risks. Particularly, feminine hygiene enterprises should introduce polices to remove use of mutagens, reproductive toxins, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors from products. Further screening should be carried out for feminine care products so as to ensure safety of use on mucous membranes.

Increase in Research

To better understand potential effects of chemical exposure on the female reproductive system, extensive research is required from the scientific community. Divergence in health issues for feminine hygiene product users on the basis of age, race, and socio-economic status should be examined too. Moreover, surveys of product use are obligatory to fill data gaps for unstudied demographic groups like Asian-American and aboriginal women.


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