Toxics Link, a non-profit organization based in New Delhi, has conducted a study that indicates that popular brands of sanitary pads in India contain harmful chemicals that have been found to cause cancer and infertility in women. A number of toxic chemicals, such as Phthalates and volatile organic compounds, were found to be present in the popular sanitary pads sold on the Indian market, including organic and inorganic sanitary pads.
Phthalates are normally added to plastics in order to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. However, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that Phthalates may adversely affect puberty, cause testicular dysgenesis syndrome, cancer, and fertility problems in both males and females.
Phthalates have also been linked to a variety of diseases and disorders, including asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes, low IQ, and many others, according to researchers.
VOCs are another chemical component of sanitary pads. If Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are exposed over a long period of time in sanitary pads, they can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, nausea, fatigue, loss of coordination, dizziness, damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system, as well as cause cancer.
These two toxic chemicals can be found in other products – for instance, nail polish, deodorant, air fresheners, etc. However, exposure via sanitary pads is more dangerous as the vaginal tissue is more porous. A chemical can pass through the vaginal tissue more easily than through other tissues.
“The exposure is possible through various other routes but vaginal tissues have more permeable skin than the rest of the tissues,” said Priti Mahesh, one of the study’s authors.
“It is shocking to find numerous harmful chemicals in commonly available sanitary products, including toxic chemicals like carcinogens, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, and allergens,” said Dr Amit, one of the researchers and Toxic Link’s programme coordinator.
What makes this more concerning is that the chances of harmful chemicals being absorbed by the body are very high through sanitary pads. “As a mucous membrane, the vagina can secrete and absorb chemicals at a higher rate than the skin,” explained Dr Aakanksha Mehrotra, who took part in the study.
In the latest National Family Health Survey, it was revealed that nearly 64 percent of women aged 15-24 years use sanitary pads regularly. Demographics and education play a strong role in determining how often women use pads, so one might conclude that a more prosperous society uses pads more often.