By Shannon Rivera
This article started out as a focus on toxins in general and how our health is influenced by them. However, after much eye-opening research, I came to realize that women have exposures to toxins specific to us and deserved it’s own time in the spotlight.
*To the men in our lives; some parts may be a little TMI for you but may be a good read if you want to be more empathetic toward the ladies in your life.
Toxins are unfortunately an everyday part of our existence. We encounter toxic exposures through the air (indoor and outdoor), our foods, off-gasses from carpeting, flooring and furniture, our water, and let’s not forget personal care products. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), women use about 12 personal care products a day and our teenage girls, about 17 products per day. Personal care products include shampoo, conditioner, skin cream, face cream, face wash, deodorant, foundation, mascara, lipstick/gloss, toothpaste, soaps, antibacterial hand sanitizer and sanitary pads & tampons. Men are not excluded from this toxic exposure in their shampoo, hair gels, shaving creams and colognes. Using these products daily exposes women to about 168 chemicals per day and men about 85 chemicals per day and most of these ingredients have not needed approval from the FDA (1). The fact is, cosmetics and their ingredients do not need FDA approval to be marketed and sold; in other words any of these products can be sold to us without having been tested for their safety (2)
Read Your Labels
Take a look at the ingredients label on any of the products that you currently use; how many are recognizable to you? My guess is probably not many, if any at all. The problem with using these products is that many of them are persistent; meaning they are difficult for the body to break down and get rid of and linger in our body for just about all of eternity. Therefore they continue to accumulate in the body exponentially especially with daily or frequent use. Many of us don’t even realize how these harmful chemicals can impact our health and symptoms can range from subtle to blatant; you may not even connect them to potential toxicity.
Symptoms of toxicity may include but not limited to
- brain fog, fatigue, headaches, depression, poor memory, allergies, trouble losing weight
Health problems may include but not limited to
- Asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disease (RA, Lupus), diabetes, fibromyalgia, obesity
According to the EWG’s assessment of some of the chemicals found in our care products, 34% of these chemicals were associated with some form of cancer, 45% associated with developmental problems in children as well as reproductive problems and 60% of the chemicals analyzed acted as synthetic estrogens.
Aside from the obvious negative life impacts of cancers and reproductive problems, excess estrogen or estrogen dominance poses life-altering problems of their own and make life unhappy, uncomfortable and a threat to our health. Doctor Christiane Northrup, an OB/GYN and leading authority and advocate in women’s health states “…Estrogen dominance has also been linked to allergies, autoimmune disorders, breast cancer, uterine cancer, infertility, ovarian cysts, and increased blood clotting, and is also associated with acceleration of the aging process.”
Speaking of aging, as women, in general, our Western culture has such a focus on anti-aging. Truth be told, there is no stopping the aging process, but we can slow it down and age more gracefully by paying attention to the life we live, the foods we eat and the products we expose ourselves to.
Tampons and Sanitary Pads (this is the part that may be TMI for the boys)
The skin is highly absorbent and capable of letting into your body, any substance that is applied to it. The same is true for the vaginal canal and vaginal opening, but even more so. The vaginal canal is highly vascular (lots of blood vessels) which allows more absorbency of chemicals. So this is where the chemicals of the conventional pads and tampons comes in, making them more easily absorbed into the bloodstream and also the tissues of the body. Tampax, for example, has a complete disclosure of ingredients that make up their tampons and reports that they are completely safe for women and have been used by women since the 1930’s. The list of components in their tampons includes (but not limited to) cotton/rayon for the absorbency, and rayon, polyester or polyethylene or polypropylene (plastic). Many tampon manufacturers do not offer full disclosure of ingredients in their tampons, but in a general search it seems that most tampons are made of bleached cotton and rayon both which pose potential problems for our health.
Currently, about 85% of the cotton grown in the US is genetically modified and grown with herbicides and pesticides (5). That alone should warrant some concerns of having these products intimately close to your lady parts. The cotton used in tampons is also bleached, although some companies have switched to a non-chlorine method of bleaching the cotton. Does that make it better for our health? I’m not sure. Rayon, although made from plant sources of wood pulp, undergoes chemical processing to transform the wood pulp into the soft silky material of rayon. The chemical processing of rayon produces dioxins which is considered a persistent organic pollutant (there’s that term again).
The FDA considers tampons a medical device and therefore does not regulate or monitor the production of tampons and its ingredients. So the manufacturer is responsible for monitoring dioxin levels in their tampons…really? And since the dioxin produced by the manufacture of tampons is considered “small” as compared to the exposure to dioxin in our air and other environmental sources, the FDA states “the risk of adverse health effects is considered negligible (6). So the real question is, would you consider “negligible risk” enough of a threat to your health?
The other problem with tampons is that the vaginal canal is warm, dark and moist, the perfect breeding ground for bacteria especially with the use of tampons. The ideal vaginal pH is between 3.8 and 4.5. Anything outside of that range creates an environment which promotes the growth of unhealthy bacteria and yeast and an imbalance in the microflora. Maintaining the proper pH is essential to maintaining the mucosal immunity of the vaginal canal (VC) and having the proper balance of bacteria living in the VC. A higher pH can lead to infections such as bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis. A pH outside of the acidic range of the VC has even been linked to fertility problems. Menstruation, tampons, douching, sperm, antibiotic use and a diet high in processed carbohydrates and sugar and not enough fiber are some situations that can cause imbalances in the pH and the microflora of the VC (3).
As for the tampon/sanitary pad issue, there are some alternatives to managing our monthly cycle in a non-toxic and dignified way. In this article by Stacy Toth, she conducts a personal product review of alternative ways to manage the woman’s monthly cycle. She provides an honest (and graphic) opinion of her experience with each product.
The Nspire Network offers their line of Cherish Sanitary pads and liners which they attest to be a safer alternative to conventional pads and liners. They’ve started the Now We No campaign to educate women and girls on the importance of choosing the right sanitary pad for their health. For more information on how to purchase Cherish, just click here.
As women, we have to be proactive in decreasing our toxic exposure since, for the most part, we are exposed to toxins daily through situations that are out of our control. It does take some effort but knowledge is the first step to putting into action those practices that are going to make for better health in the long run. And for those who have daughters or granddaughters, what better time to teach them how to take care of their health and their bodies.
- Read the labels on your personal care products and make informed decisions about what you are putting on and into your body. Visit EWG skin deep database
- Consider natural and alternative feminine products. This is an entire article that discusses such products.
- Drink plenty of water. Water helps to dilute toxins and helps the body eliminate many toxins from the body.
- Eat more fiber. In general , the American Culture does not eat nearly enough fiber of the recommended 25-30 grams per for women and men 38 grams. Fiber has multiple roles in good health among them providing food for healthy gut bugs, and assists with the elimination of toxins and estrogen through the stool.
- Detox diets, detox smoothies and rituals are all the rage these days. But forget about those if you insist on continuing to pollute your body with chemicals.
- Make your own personal products. Yes! you can make your own with a few inexpensive staples. You may even already have a few of these items in your kitchen. Invest a little time and save some money. You may even find that some homemade products work better that your favorite store bought one. This DIY deodorant is one such product and one of my favorites.
Our toxic life can be an overwhelming journey especially when it can be the cause of such precarious health problems. We are all the product of convenience and victims of the media and it’s enticing commercials. Take control of your body and your health by resisting pretty packaging and promises to make you more beautiful (and toxic).
Stay tuned for Part II of this toxic subject.
Shannon Rivera is a registered nurse, ACE certified health coach and Functional nutrition educator. She is a health coach at URENÜ LLC, helping people to restore balance and health to their life (www.YouRenewYou.com)
More Food For Your Brain
- Environmental Working Group. https://www.ewg.org/
- US Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm136560.htm
- Is a Vaginal pH Problem Affecting Your Fertility? http://natural-fertility-info.com/vaginal-ph-and-fertility.html
- Recent Trends in GE Adoption. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us/recent-trends-in-ge-adoption.aspx
- Are all tampons toxic? No one seems to have the answer. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/21/tampon-health-concerns-toxic-shock-syndrome-menstruation-women
Dr. Walter Crinnion. Clean, Green and Lean; Drop The Weight in 30 Days.
Revitalize | Why Beauty Products Are Toxic (And What You Can Do About It). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeB_4wRAA9Y&t=265s
- Christiane Northrup, MD. https://www.drnorthrup.com/estrogen-dominance/
- Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep#.WocZiajwbIU
- AUNT FLOW’S GONE AU NATURALE: PRODUCT REVIEWS. http://realeverything.com/aunt-flows-gone-au-naturale-product-reviews/
- Make your own beauty products. https://wellnessmama.com/category/beauty/
- Make your own deodorant. https://wellnessmama.com/1523/natural-deodorant/