Some personal care products—your go-to lip color, an awesome antifrizz shampoo, the ideal SPF-15 tinted moisturizer—make for great watercooler conversation. But you probably won’t get a lot of traction talking about very personal care items, products you bury in bathroom drawers or hide under the bananas in your grocery cart.
Still, these everyday items—tampons, sanitary pads, sexual lubricants, vaginal cleansers, condoms—deserve attention, especially because they come in contact with some of the body’s most delicate tissues and conventional versions may harbor health and environmental risks. Here are seven worth-mentioning facts about unmentionables.
1. Labels don’t tell the whole story
Not surprisingly, tampons are the most commonly used intimate care item: The average American woman uses more than 10,000 in her lifetime. But, as with cleaning supplies, tampon and pad companies aren’t required to label all ingredients or materials used in products. Many tampons and pads contain harsh dyes, irritating or estrogenic preservatives, and synthetic fragrances—undisclosed chemicals designed to smell “fresh.”
2. Your feminine hygiene products probably harbor insecticides and GMOs
Cotton, known as the world’s “dirtiest crop”—it accounts for the use of 25 percent of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop—is the main material in most conventional pads and tampons. Plus, approximately 90 percent of cotton is now genetically modified; common Bt cotton actually produces its own insecticide so it doesn’t need to be applied in the field. To avoid GMOs and pesticides, purchase products made with organic cotton.
3. Plastic means BPA
Pads or tampons not made from cotton may be made from superabsorbent synthetic rayon, which can be harsh on the sensitive vaginal area. Plus, plastic applicators can leach BPA,
a chemical linked to reproductive and endocrine issues. Select cardboard tampon applicators (or tampons with no applicator) and tampons or pads made from organic cotton or bamboo fiber. Or replace tampons with reusable vaginal cups made from health care–grade materials such as silicone.
4. Chlorine: not just in pools
Bright-white tampons and pads appear clean, but that look results from chlorine dioxide bleach, which may create residues of dioxin, a known carcinogen. Though the FDA reports that the amounts in feminine products are below levels of concern, to dodge residues entirely, choose products that say “totally chlorine-free bleaching” on the labels.
5. The lowdown on lube
According to research, 40 percent of women who used petroleum jelly as a lubricant (even though, as labels state, it is not intended for internal use) got bacterial vaginosis, an infection caused by off-kilter pH levels. Choose lubricants (that are actually meant to be lubricants!) made from natural ingredients such as vitamin E and aloe vera; some are even certified organic to guarantee extra purity.
6. Condoms count
Guys and gals, you might want to rethink those gas-station options. Look for condoms that are free from glycerin, irritating spermicides (which can increase vaginal irritation), parabens, and petrochemicals, such as Sir Richard’s certified-vegan latex condoms.
7. Purity matters
Just as with many other personal care products, lubricants, hygiene items, genital cleansers, and the like deserve special scrutiny because of their physically intimate purposes. Avoid parabens, phthalates, and petroleum-derived ingredients by reading labels closely, prioritizing gentle, organic, plant-based ingredients, such as vitamin E, aloe, and other plant extracts.
Products we love
The Diva Cup. This reusable menstrual cup protects for up to 12 hours sans BPA, acrylic, or dyes.
Good Clean Love Moisturizing Personal Wash. A genital cleanser that mimics the body’s pH and contains the same type of beneficial lactic acid produced by healthy lactobacilli.
Healthy Hoohoo Natural Feminine Wipes. Fragrance-free, pH-balanced wipes for the sensitive vaginal area.
Sylk Natural Lubricant. A gentle, water-based lubricant made with naturally slippery (but not sticky) kiwi vine extract; also free from parabens and other harsh synthetics.