As fresh as a...toxic chemical waste dump? The ugly truth about some feminine care products

New research from George Washington University and University of California, San Francisco finds that women who use certain feminine care products have higher levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies, and that African American women are particularly at risk.

The researchers looked at women's exposure to toxic chemicals called phthalates, many of which are known endocrine disruptors. They found evidence of phthalate exposure at much higher levels in women who use vaginal douches. In particular, they found higher levels of a chemical associated with the phthalate DEP (diethyl phthalate), which is often used as part of the fragrance in personal care products, including feminine care products. This is quite concerning because studies in animals show that DEP harms female reproductive health, likely by disrupting the body's natural female hormones. Studies in women link higher levels of the DEP-associated chemical to increased breast density, a factor that increases risk for breast cancer.

Compared to women who never douched, women who used these products had on average 52% higher levels of the DEP-associated chemical in their bodies. And the more often a woman douched, the higher her level was--if a woman douched 2 or more times a month, her levels were a whopping 152% higher than the women who never douched. There were also stark racial/ ethnic differences, with 40% of African American women studied reporting using douches, compared to 14% of Mexican-American and 10% of white women. The higher exposure to toxic phthalates from vaginal douches could be increasing health risks for African American women.

It's important to note that health experts recommend against douching because the practice increases a woman's risk of adverse health effects like pelvic inflammatory disease. The pressure on women to douche is another example of an unhealthy societal beauty norm for women, with these products appearing to be targeted in particular to African American women. So women may be able to avoid this specific toxic exposure by avoiding douching, but sadly, because phthalates are in many products, evidence of exposure to phthalates is still found in 99% of American women of reproductive age tested.

The presence of toxic chemicals in our everyday products, and in women's bodies, is unacceptable--women shouldn't be exposed to chemicals that may harm their health from the products they use.

That's why we need real change so that toxic products aren't allowed on store shelves in the first place.

Learn more about our Take out Toxics campaign and the California Safer Consumer Products program.

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