A recent study evaluated whether women of reproductive age are being exposed to VOCs in feminine hygiene products.
What are volatile organic compounds?
We are exposed to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every day. They are found in air fresheners, paints, nail polish, deodorants, automotive fuel, mothballs, and other products. VOCs have been associated with both acute and chronic effects. In the short-term, they can cause problems with brain and lung function, while long-term exposure has been associated with cancer and reproductive problems. VOCs can be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or inhaled.
Is the use of feminine hygiene products linked to VOC exposure?
In a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, researches in the United States investigated whether the use of feminine hygiene products in reproductive-aged women is related to exposure of VOCs.
Questionnaires were sent to 2,432 women aged 20-49 years old to determine if they used feminine products, which included tampons, vaginal douches, sanitary wipes, sprays, powders, and others. Whole blood concentrations of VOCs were measured in about one-third of these women.
The researchers found that black women had much higher use of vaginal douching. They also had higher concentrations of 1,4-dichlorobenzene (DCB), a type of VOC, in their blood. They observed that the higher the use of vaginal douching, the higher the whole blood concentrations of 1,4-DCB. The researchers hypothesized that VOCs in feminine hygiene products may be contributing to this increased blood concentration.
The use of douching was the only hygiene product recorded with frequency. It was not observed how often the other products were used, such as powders and sprays. More studies are needed to determine if VOCs in feminine hygiene products are associated with higher exposure when used more frequently. Also, there are many kinds of VOCs that were not looked at.
Why is this important?
Vaginal tissue is much more vulnerable to outside chemicals due to its differences in structure. This allows more chemicals to be absorbed. It is also important to note that pads and tampons used for menstruation are not required to list all ingredients on product labelling.
It is important to identify sources of VOC exposure and reduce exposures when possible. VOC exposure has been associated with spontaneous abortion, congenital malformation, and menstrual issues. It is important to be aware of VOCs in feminine hygiene products and which products are being sold in stores, especially among reproductive-aged women.
Written by Kayla Dillon, B.S.
1. Ding, N., Batterman, S., and Park S.K. Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds and Use of Feminine Hygiene Products Among Reproductive-Aged Women in the United States. Journal of Women’s Health. 18 Sept 2019. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2019.7785
- Do feminine hygiene products expose women to dangerous volatile organic compounds. EurekAlert!. 29 Oct 2019. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-10/mali-dfh102919.php.
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