New York Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, champion of menstrual equity policy,
joins Women’s Voices for the Earth to Demand Better for Women
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – On August 7, women’s rights activists are gathering in Tarrytown, New York, to hold a demonstration and press conference outside of Prestige Brands headquarters to protest against manipulative marketing, toxic products, and poor ingredient disclosure that put women’s health at risk. Led by national women’s health non-profit, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), and joined by Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, a leader in menstrual equity policy — the event aims to send the makers of the iconic Summer’s Eve brand a strong message: products the company claims are for “feminine cleansing” are actually harmful and promote body-shaming stigmas.
“Products designed and promoted specifically for vaginal use should not adversely impact a woman’s reproductive health,” said Sarada Tangirala, WVE’s Director of Corporate Accountability. “What’s more, marketing such products to women, especially women of color, exploits decades of stigmas meant to make women feel ashamed of their bodies. Companies like Prestige Brands are profiting from misogynistic and racist notions of what a woman’s body should smell like. This is unacceptable.”
“Summer’s Eve succeeds in promoting a line of products that encourage women to use potentially dangerous chemicals in and on some of their most sensitive body parts by making them feel ashamed about their bodies and the results of its natural functions,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, sponsor of the New York state bill to require menstrual hygiene product ingredient disclosure and labeling. “It is time that Summer’s Eve comes clean to women about its products and its marketing techniques – women have a right to know.”
More than 15,000 women have joined WVE’s campaign to raise awareness about the use of harmful ingredients, lack of full ingredient transparency, and use of body-shaming marketing messages in period and personal care products. Research conducted by WVE found that Summer’s Eve products including douches, feminine wipes, feminine washes, and powders contain ingredients linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and serious allergic reactions. In addition, fragrance and odor-control ingredients are not disclosed, despite the fact that fragrance ingredients can also be harmful to women’s health.
“This isn’t the first time we have asked Prestige Brands to address the lack of transparency and presence of toxic chemicals in Summer’s Eve products,” said Tangirala. “Most recently, WVE sent a letter co-signed by 25 other prominent public health, reproductive justice and environmental organizations to Prestige Brands. And thousands of women have called on the company to ditch toxics and put an end to body-shaming. However, Prestige Brands has refused to meaningfully respond to these concerns or engage in dialogue with us. So we’re joined by women’s rights activists from around the country in bringing our concerns directly to their doorstep.”
Prestige Brands claims that the company complies with all rules and regulations pertaining to Summer’s Eve products, which are classified as “cosmetics”. Yet, under current law, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve cosmetics or require testing to determine their safety. Instead it is the voluntary responsibility of cosmetic manufacturers to ensure, before marketing their products, that the products are safe.
Prestige Brands recently introduced a new line of products called Simply Summer’s Eve, which the company claims was created in response to consumer input. Simply Summer’s Eve products are made with “simple ingredients combined with scents inspired by nature,” according to the brand website. However, WVE contends that this product line does not satisfy their concerns.
“Prestige Brands’ introduction of Simply Summer’s Eve products is an insufficient response to the problem. These products still contain undisclosed fragrance ingredients including allergens, and they continue to promote harmful body-shaming stigmas,” said Tangirala. “Now is the time for Prestige to set an industry precedent that hidden ingredients and toxic chemicals are simply unacceptable.”
“Summer’s Eve products are marketed more aggressively towards women of color,” said Maria Ignacia Miranda Santis, community organizer with Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and scheduled rally speaker. “They would have us use these products when we menstruate, have sex, go to the gym, or are just walking around. It’s ludicrous. Historically, women of color have been harmed by the health care system and exploited by marketing strategies that tell us we have to change, or that we are not powerful and beautiful just as we are. We will not stand by as products are pushed on us that perpetuate this stigma and negatively impact our health and well-being.”
“Undisclosed fragrance chemicals are of serious concern in feminine care products given research findings linking vaginal douching with higher levels of phthalates – a chemical commonly found in fragrance and linked to reproductive harm – in the body,” said Marissa Chan, Environmental Research and Policy Coordinator with Black Women for Wellness and scheduled rally speaker, who referenced a recent study that identified that Black women bear higher rates of phthalate exposure due to higher prevalence of vaginal douching. In fact, Black women had phthalate levels that were 48% higher than white women.
“It is inexcusable that companies like Prestige Brands are allowed to target women’s reproductive organs with harmful chemicals in products that they falsely claim are necessary and safe, especially when studies so clearly show otherwise,” said Chan.
Additional event speakers include representatives from organizations WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Turning Green, Period Equity, and Clean & Healthy NY.
In addition to her work to required menstrual hygiene product disclosure, Assemblymember Rosenthal authored the New York state laws that axed the tax on tampons and related menstrual products, and made them available for free to students in public schools statewide in grades 6 through 12 and in correctional facilities. She is also the sponsor of legislation that would make menstrual hygiene products free to individuals in shelters statewide, to require tampons and related products be made available for free, like toilet paper, in restrooms statewide, and to require students in grades 6 through 12 be taught in school about common menstrual disorders.
In Congress, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) is sponsoring the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, legislation that aims to make menstrual hygiene products safer by requiring manufacturers to disclose the ingredients of menstrual hygiene products.
“It is hard to believe that manufacturers of menstrual hygiene products are not required to disclose the ingredients of these items,” said Congresswoman Meng. “Women deserve to know what they are putting into their bodies, and my legislation, if passed, would finally shed light on what exactly is in these products. I have also called on the FDA to remove harmful colorants from feminine hygiene cosmetics. Women must no longer be denied important ingredient information, and must not be exposed to health risks from colorants. Safety cannot take a back seat for the millions of women who use menstrual hygiene products.”
“Taking care of our bodies – however we choose – should never put our health at risk,” said Tangirala of WVE. “We hope the makers of Summer’s Eve will agree that personal care products should never expose women to harmful chemicals.”
The event marks the latest escalation of Women’s Voices for the Earth’s campaign for safe personal care and period products. Launched in 2013 with the report, Chem Fatale, WVE’s work has helped elevate the topic of period and vaginal health into the public mainstream.
The rally is on August 7, 2018, at Prestige Brands headquarters in Tarrytown, New York. It begins at 9:00 AM; the press conference starts at 10:30 AM.
About Women’s Voices for the Earth
Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth amplifies women’s voices to eliminate the toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. With thousands of members across the United States, WVE changes corporate practices, holds government accountable, and works to ensure a toxic-free future for all. www.womensvoices.org.
Beth Conway, Communications Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth