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Don't Believe the Hype. You Don't Need a Wipe!

brands of feminine wipes

Don’t Believe the Hype. You Don’t Need a Wipe!

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Alex Scranton

Director of Science & Research

Hey there ladies, want to feel fresh, clean and confident? Sure! Who wouldn’t?  Well, companies are telling us we can accomplish all that simply by using their feminine wipes! Wait, really?  Feminine wipes? Are they joking?

In recent years, wipes have become exceptionally popular in personal care product manufacturing. The current array of feminine wipes in your average drugstore is vast.  Companies are marketing them to women as a “must-have” for both our health and our self-image.  But of course, the unspoken message of this marketing, echoed by many in the industry – is that your privates are dirty and you ought to clean them up.

We say nonsense! Your body is okay and always has been, just the way it is.

Unfortunately, in addition to the absurd notion that our vaginas need freshening up several times a day, there are also some major problems with the new trend in feminine wipes.

Problem #1:
Feminine wipes can contain chemicals of concern that can actually harm your health.

Wipes are a pretty simple product – made of a disposable non-woven cloth that is pre-moistened.  However, in reality there’s a whole lot more than water moistening that cloth.  In order to prevent the growth of bacteria in the package, there have to be preservatives added.  And preservatives, like parabens, methylisothiazolinone, and formaldehyde releasers can be downright harmful.  Feminine wipes are also commonly scented, meaning there are added unknown fragrance chemicals on your wipes that could cause allergic reactions or be linked to cancer or hormone disruption.  And numerous studies have shown that these same ingredients are some of the top irritants and allergens responsible for genital rashes.

But no need to read all the technical scientific literature [1], just listen to a few of these choice product reviews of feminine wipes that we found online:

“I found them to be very irritating in that sensitive area. I had an itchy and burning sensation within minutes of using them. I would not recommend.” (Amazon.com review, Playtex Fresh + Sexy Intimate Wipes)

“Bad reaction. During my period I get redness sometimes on the skin (or lips) of my vagina. After reading much online I thought to use these wipes to help. The next day I found the skin tough and it started peeling off like a sunburn (but much, much worse). I’m petrified and in so much pain. I would not recommend this to anyone! (Summerseve.com review, Summer’s Eve Cleansing Cloths)

“No, I’m not kidding. There is a preservative in these things that is akin to dumping battery acid on your nether regions and then setting loose a maddening squadron of imaginary mites to futilely claw at throughout the night. In a word: Misery.” (Amazon.com review Cottonelle Fresh Flushable Moist Wipes)

“I bought the tub and the 3-pack refill of Equate wipes. I used them and they burn like HOT FIRE! I had to rinse my private area off the few times I used these. They didn’t burn as much when I used them on my rear, but they did after I made more than a couple gentle swipes. They say alcohol-free but it sure feels like the sizzling fire sensation that alcohol gives. I went and purchased the Equate feminine wipes, hoping that they would be more gentle, but they have EXACTLY. THE SAME INGREDIENTS. in the same order, and everything! I’m steering clear of Equate wipes from now on.” (Walmart.com review, Equate Flushable Wipes)

OUCH!

To be clear – these reactions don’t happen to every woman who uses wipes, but skin reactions to wipes are more common than you might think.  In a brief research project WVE conducted this year we found over 150 similar negative online reviews complaining of skin reactions to the top brands of feminine wipes.  We believe this is something women need to know and manufacturers should be paying a lot more attention to.

And not only that, but the long term impacts on your health of wipes use is virtually unknown. There is almost no research on the effects of cancer-causing or hormone-disrupting chemicals on vulvar and vaginal tissue from daily use of feminine wipes. We certainly don’t believe it is worth the potential risk.

Problem #2:
Wipes are bad for the environment.

Wipes are also causing havoc by clogging septic and sewer systems across the nation.  Wipes that do make it through the system are washing up on beaches in ever larger numbers.  And with their disposable nature and often excessive packaging wipes are simply adding to the our ever increasing landfills.

Problem #3:
Wipes are expensive.

Costs vary from six cents per wipe to as much as forty cents per wipe (especially for individually wrapped “on-the-go” packages).  This compares to mere fractions of a cent for toilet paper use.

So don’t believe the hype. Download our FEMININE WIPES FACTSHEET and share our INFOGRAPHIC with the women in your life.

Note: There may be certain situations, and/or medical conditions where wet wiping can be advantageous or preferred.   For those times, check out our the healthier alternatives to wet wipes on our factsheet.  If you are in need of wipes for greater convenience, there are also safer options on the market from companies conscious of keeping chemicals of concern out of their products. Read labels and look for wipes free of fragrance, parabens and other problematic preservatives.

To a healthier you!

————-

[1] Who am I kidding?  I’m the science geek on our staff – if you’re like me and you want to dive into the literature – I’m here to help.  Here are some good places to start:

Bauer, A, Geier, J and Elsner, P. (2000) Allergic Contact Dermatitis in Patients with Anogenital Complaints.  The Journal of Reproductive Medicine. Vol. 45, No.8, pp:649-654.  August 2000.

Garcia-Gavin, J, Goossens, A. (2010) Moist toilet paper: Allergy to the nonhalogenated derivative methylisothiazolinone preservative alone. Archives of Dermatology.  Vol. 146, No. 10, pp: 1186. October 2010.

Celeiro M, Pablo Lamas J, Garcia-Jares C, and Llompart M.  (2015) Pressurized liquid extraction-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of fragrance allergens, musks, phthalates and preservatives in baby wipes. Journal of Chromatography A. Vol. 1384, pp: 9-21.

4 Responses

  1. Anna

    “But of course, the unspoken message of this marketing, echoed by many in the industry – is that your privates are dirty and you ought to clean them up.
    We say nonsense! Your body is okay and always has been, just the way it is.”

    I’m not sure that they’re implying that privates are “dirty”. I think they’re just acknowledging the fact that they can become less than fresh over the course of the day. The same is true for armpits and feet.

  2. Janet

    Sometimes they are dirty, that’s why many countries use a bidet but at this time not readily available in the U.S.
    Isn’t it great that we can decide for ourselves if they are dirty or not? Someone may need them for IBS diarrhea that causes a higher rate of bladder infections, a tampon leak, needs to use pads and be able to clean up before changing, an infection or sensitivity and chafing from sweat, etc.
    I’m also glad we are smart enough to realize that something anyone tells us may not be true.

  3. Elizabeth

    Hi Janet – thank you for your comments and really good points. We do include a note about finding safer options in this blog for certain situations, and/or medical conditions where wet wiping can be advantageous or preferred specifically for many of the reasons you mentioned. I totally agree that it is up to each of us to decide how best to take care of our bodies — and we believe strongly that taking care of our bodies shouldn’t put our health at risk, which is why we are especially concerned when we see products marketed and sold under the guise of vaginal and sexual health are in fact exposing women to chemicals that can negatively impact their reproductive well-being. Companies can and should do better — because you deserve better. If you have more questions, concerns please feel free to email me! Beth — bethc@womensvoices.org. Thanks again Janet.

  4. Anne

    Using these wipes (without drying the area afterward) can cause a yeast infection. The directions on the container should include a warning about this.

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