In the next few years, we predict the world will see a revolution in the Intimate Care category. Women will not only be educated on the ingredients in their hygiene, menstrual and sexual wellness products, but they will not compromise on those that contain toxic ingredients and make the switch to using only healthy products.
Up to 98% of Current Intimate Care Products are Unhealthy
There is a lot of work to do in the category, especially in the United States. In a search conducted across feminine washes, tampons, pads, sex toys, lubricants and other intimate care products, we found that up to 98% of these items contained at least one toxic ingredient, vulvar allergen or irritant.
The vulva and vagina skin are extremely permeable because the cells in these areas are more loosely arranged to allow substances to penetrate the skin. Thus, any product (and the ingredients it contains) used in this sensitive area can enter the bloodstream in a matter of seconds. Now consider that the average woman uses a wash on her vulva over 16,000 times and goes through about 15,000 pads and tampons in her lifetime. Over the years, the cumulative exposure to unhealthy products adds up and can put you at increased risk of bacterial and yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer, increased transmission of STIs, and other adverse health outcomes.
Intimate Care Products are Highly Unregulated
So why are there so many harmful products on the market? Most American women assume their intimate care products have been tested for safety. Sadly, cosmetic products (wipes, washes and moisturizers) have been highly unregulated since 1938 and do not require safety testing. Companies can include harmful ingredients, additives and are not required to report any health complaints from their customers.
Second, tampons, condoms, menstrual cups lubricants (items that are inserted into the vagina) are considered medical devices. Although you would think they would contain strict manufacturing and label requirements, products classified as medical devices do not need to disclose ingredients on their packaging. This could mean harmful additives may be included in your products without being listed and in turn can pose serious health risks for women.
Black and Latina Women Are More Prone to Vaginal Infection from Toxic Ingredients
Another important consideration is your ethnic background. Studies have shown that Latina and Black women are more prone to vaginal infections than Caucasian women. Black and Latina women are genetically more susceptible to bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections and other women’s health infections because they have a different vaginal microbiome makeup that creates a naturally higher pH level. It is thus easier to create pH imbalance among these women, so when they are exposed to products with toxic and irritating ingredients, it increases the risk of infections.
Why Are These Harmful Ingredients Used?
In order to meet consumer demands, major manufacturers elect to use ingredients to make their products smell good and last longer on the shelves. However, women should avoid fragrances altogether, as ‘fragrance’ can often have carcinogens and other toxic, unreported ingredients created in a lab. Sometimes you’ll see ‘unscented’, which means the product does not have a noticeable scent but in many cases can contain ‘masking’ fragrances to hide unpleasant smells from the other ingredients. Unscented is different than fragrance-free.
Some examples of harmful preservatives used to increase product shelf life (e.g. up to 2 years) include butylparaben, phenoxyethanol and octoxynol 9.
There are also some ingredients that irritate the vulva skin, known as vulvar allergens, but are included in products and toys to make them appear more desirable (e.g. creamy consistency, different colors, etc.). Some common vulvar allergens include dyes, fragrances, glycerin and propylene glycol. Avoid products with any of these ingredients.
What You Can Do
If you check your intimate care products at home today, and feel confused, you are not alone; 75% of women say they feel confused about ingredients on the labels of their intimate care products. Use the tips provided in this article to help educate yourself and begin to detox your current products and introduce healthier options. At The Bloomi we've also put together a cheat sheet with some of the most common ingredients you should avoid.
If your products do not list ingredients, we recommend going onto the manufacturer’s website and if still unable to verify, discontinue use. Although some of these products may be harder to find, or even a bit pricier, your health is definitely worth it.
 Scranton A. Chem Fatale: Potential Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals in Feminine Care Products. Missoula, MT:Women’s Voices for the Earth (November 2013).
 FDA.gov. https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ucm071781.htm#11.
 Ravel J, et al. Vaginal microbiome of reproductive-age women. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108 (1):4680–4687 (2011); http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002611107.