Chem Fatale: New Report Finds Chemicals in Feminine Care Products

Casual chit-chat about feminine care products doesn’t really come up a whole lot in polite conversation today. But a new report from Women’s Voices for the Earth that digs into the safety of everything from tampons to sprays is giving us all something to talk about.

The report, Chem Fatale: Potential Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals in Feminine Care Products, examines unregulated toxic chemicals in tampons, pads, wipes, sprays, douches and other feminine care products.

According to the report, ingredients of concern commonly found in these products include cancer-causing chemicals, reproductive toxins, hormone disruptors, and allergens. Not to mention the fact that these chemicals are coming into contact with some of the most absorptive skin on women’s bodies.

Keen to learn more? Here are a few notable highlights from the report:

• Pads and tampons are regulated as medical devices, which means that companies don’t have to disclose any ingredients in these products.

• Other feminine care products are regulated as personal care products, which means that companies are legally allowed to keep fragrance ingredients a secret—even the toxic ones.

• Test results show dioxins, furans and pesticide residues in tampons, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm and endocrine disruption.

• Lots of feminine care products contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and formaldehyde is a carcinogen and a potent allergen.

• Common chemicals in feminine washes are regulated by the FDA as safe “for external use only.” However, it is extremely likely that some internal vaginal exposure will occur from regular use.

• While pads and tampons are used almost universally by all women, Black and Latina women use some feminine products like douches, wipes, and sprays in greater numbers than white women, meaning these women are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals in these products.

How can you choose safer feminine care products? Women’s Voices for the Earth offers a few tips:

What You Can Do to Reduce Your Exposure

  • Look for brands that disclose all ingredients, including what’s in fragrance.
  • Reduce your use of feminine care products.
  • Choose unscented products where available (particularly tampons and pads).
  • Choose chlorine-free bleached or unbleached cotton tampons and pads.
Erinn Morgan


After a 10-year career as an award-winning New York City-based editor launching and redesigning urban, style-driven magazines, Erinn Morgan left downtown Manhattan after September 11th, 2001, in search of a less encumbered, freelance lifestyle. A two-year-long trek around the country eventually landed her in Durango, Colo., which she now calls home.

Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Outside, National Geographic Adventure, Bike, Skiing, Delicious Living, American Cowboy, and on

Erinn is also the author of the eco-focused book, Picture Yourself Going Green, Step-by-Step Instruction for Living a Budget-Conscious, Earth-Friendly Lifestyle in Eight Weeks or Less.

She was previously the editor-in-chief of 20/20 magazine, a special projects editor at Playboy (overseeing the launch of a new, custom magazine), and the founding editor/editor-in-chief of SoHo Style, a much-lauded, avant-garde magazine that covered the culture and style of downtown New York and its reach around the world.

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