Library Dissertation Showcase

Feminine hygiene products as sources of exposure to volatile organic compounds and phthalates

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

Feminine hygiene products are used by females to collect their regular menses or daily discharge. Through these products females can be exposed to a variety of chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and phthalates, some of which are potentially hazardous. The only requirement to disclose ingredients in any of these products is with the absorbent materials used in tampons, but even this is voluntary. Consequently, there is limited information as to product composition with scented products often providing no details as to the chemicals comprising the scent, merely listing them as ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’. The limited information available has been a cause of concern for female health with explorative studies identifying chemicals that are carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, and allergens. This study investigated the VOCs and phthalates present in fragranced and nonfragranced single use tampons, sanitary pads and panty liners. Results identified 36 different compounds, 6 of which were not associated with any health risks, but the others had a range of potential toxicity with eye irritation, skin irritation and skin sensitisation being most prevalent. Three had serious endpoints; butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) a suspected mutagen, carcinogen, and endocrine disruptor; benzyl salicylate a possible endocrine disruptor, and hexyl salicylate a possible teratogen. None of the chemicals identified were listed on the product packaging. Feminine hygiene products are intended to be in contact with those areas of the vulvar and vagina where the outermost epidermal layer of the skin is thinner leading to increased permeability and sensitivity. Chemicals absorbed here bypass the firstpass effect potentially containing significantly more active compounds; thereby greatly increasing the dose and increasing the risk of health effects. Knowledge of the chemicals in a product allows the potential risk to be identified and where possible reduced or removed.

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