Popular Indian sanitary pads contain toxic chemicals and may cause cancer, other chronic reproductive ailments and most of the chemicals were used for fragrance and elasticity, a new report finds.
The report titled “Wrapped in Secrecy: Toxic Chemicals in Menstrual Products” — and conducted by Toxics Link, an environmental NGO, suggests that some of the most popular brands of sanitary napkins sold in India contain two harmful chemicals: phthalates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) after researchers tested 10 brands, including Whisper, Stayfree, and Sofy, among the inorganic lot, and PeeSafe, Nua, and Plush, among organic pads.
“Both variants, unfortunately, tested positive for harmful chemicals,” the study said.
“We found phthalates and VOCs to be present in all the pads that we tested,” noted Dr. Aakanksha Mehrotra, program coordinator at Toxics Link, who was involved in the study.
“Most of these chemicals are added to make the pad more elastic. But, they are dangerous because they can cause problems like PCOS, endometriosis, hypothyroidism… They can change the hormonal functioning of the body. Phthalates leak out; they are not bound to the product they are added to,” it said.
“Besides, long-term exposure to the chemicals can also lead to cancer. The chemicals are also used to add fragrance to the products — guaranteeing freshness to consumers,” it added.
The presence of harmful chemicals in sanitary pads is especially alarming since the vagina — being a mucous membrane — is highly permeable, and can absorb the toxins at a much higher rate than, say, merely the skin.
“[The vagina] tends to absorb these chemicals very fast. As doctors, we use the vagina as a delivery route for hormones. So, imagine that if sanitary napkins have these chemicals, how fast they will get absorbed into the body. The phthalates and VOCs mentioned in the study can cause severe reproductive toxicity and behavioral disorders,” cautioned Dr. Uma Vaidyanathan, a gynecologist at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
The skin in the vaginal area is very thin and sensitive. What’s also jarring is how long it has taken us to discover that even organic pads — which have long been promoted as the “safer,” “more responsible” choices — are equally unsafe, she said.
However, given that periods are largely considered a “women’s problem,” and medical science, too, has routinely ignored women’s health, it’s hardly surprising that research on the subject has only emerged now. After all, it took thousands of women to experience disruptions in their periods, and experts to question data gaps and advocate for deeper investigations, before scientists studied the impact of Covid19 vaccines — and the infection itself — on people’s mental health, she added.