FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — In response to public demands, Prestige Brands has removed harmful colorants from their Summer’s Eve vaginal washes. This move follows national environmental health non-profit, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)’s, public campaign highlighting concerns that colorants found in many vaginal washes come in contact with vaginal mucous membranes – violating the FDA’s use restrictions, and may adversely affect the health of people using these products.
“When a popular brand like Summer’s Eve removes toxic chemicals from products, it’s a huge win for public health,” said Sarada Tangirala, Director of Corporate Accountability at Women’s Voices for the Earth. “Prestige Brands made no announcement about this latest development, but our research has confirmed that Summer’s Eve products have been quietly reformulated.”
Under FDA guidelines, colorants FD&C Red 33 and Ext Violet #2 are not authorized for use in products which come into contact with mucous membranes. The use of Yellow #5 requires a specific safety warning regarding allergic reactions when used in drugs that are applied vaginally. Yet WVE’s research shows these colorants are ending up in washes specifically designed for vaginal use.
“Aside from aesthetics the use of colorants in such washes serve no purpose and are instead exposing people to unnecessary, additional health risks,” said Executive Director of Women’s Voices for the Earth, Amber Garcia. “There is no excuse for colorants to be in these products. And it is significant that manufacturers like Summer’s Eve have taken concerns about these chemicals seriously and have removed these dangerous and unnecessary dyes.”
Through their Summer’s Deceive campaign, Women’s Voices for the Earth has been calling on the makers of Summer’s Eve to address colorants and other harmful ingredients in their washes, wipes, douches and sprays. Research conducted by WVE found that Summer’s Eve products contain ingredients linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and serious allergic reactions. In addition, fragrance ingredients are not disclosed, despite the fact that many fragrance ingredients are linked to both acute and chronic diseases.
“Summer’s Eve products are marketed more aggressively towards women of color. When products like these are pushed on us, they not only perpetuate the idea that we should be ashamed of our bodies, but also, egregiously, put our health and well-being at risk,” said Maria Ignacia Miranda Santis, community organizer with Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and member of WVE’s advisory committee. “Removing these dangerous dyes from washes is the right thing for Summer’s Eve to do and we hope this trend continues across the entire menstrual and personal care market. But the personal care industry still has leaps and bounds to go when it comes to addressing the safety of these products and the damaging misogynistic and racist notions of what a person’s body should look and smell like.”
In 2018, environmental, health, and justice organizations from across the nation joined WVE in an open letter urging Prestige Brands to eliminate toxic chemicals and disclose all ingredients in the iconic personal care brand.
Last August, WVE hosted an event outside of Prestige Brands headquarters to protest against toxic products, manipulative marketing, and poor ingredient disclosure that puts public health at risk. The event included a petition delivery of more than 15,000 signatures.
“The message to Summer’s Eve is clear; products designed and promoted specifically for vaginal use should not adversely impact reproductive health,” said Tangirala. “Removing these colorants is an important and positive step for Summer’s Eve, but there are still critical and considerable issues that Prestige Brands needs to address including fragrance disclosure, ingredient safety, and harmful marketing that exploits decades of stigmas meant to make people feel ashamed of their bodies.”
“Taking care of our bodies – however we choose – should never put our health at risk and we hope the makers of Summer’s Eve will continue to make the right changes to ensure their products never expose people to harmful chemicals,” said Garcia.
Companies Move While the FDA Stalls
Under current federal regulation, there are few ingredients in personal care products for which the FDA has specifically identified use restrictions. Colorants and dyes, however, are the few exceptions.
“Typically, these rules regarding dyes affect products like lipstick and mouthwash, which have contact with the mucous membranes in your mouth,” said Alexandra Scranton, WVE’s Director of Science and Research. “Unfortunately, in regards to vaginal anatomy, the FDA and many manufacturers seemed to have both overlooked exposures, and overreached permissions, with the labeling loophole, ‘For external use only’.”
To address this problem, in 2015, WVE filed a citizen’s petition to the FDA requesting clear safety guidelines on the use of colorants in products that come in contact with the vulva and vagina. The petition also called attentions to the language-loophole which allows companies to by-pass the FDA use restrictions.
“It’s undeniable that manufacturers are aware of and expect both the internal and external use of these products,” said Scranton. “For example, many companies claim their washes are ‘balanced for a woman’s natural pH’ in their advertising. A product could only affect vaginal pH if it is applied to internal vaginal tissue.”
WVE was joined by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, who worked to include a specific request to the FDA to respond to WVE’s petition in an amendment to key appropriations legislation.
“As a Member of Congress who has championed efforts to remove colorants from these products, I am pleased to learn that Prestige Brands has removed dyes from its Summer’s Eve vaginal washes,” said Congresswoman Meng. “This is a positive development that will protect the health of people who use these items. But more work remains in eliminating colorants from ALL menstrual products, and I will continue to do everything I can to stop manufacturers from using these chemicals. People should not be putting harmful colorants into their bodies. It’s time to rid colorants from these types of products once and for all. I thank Women’s Voices for the Earth for their work in this area, and I look forward to continuing to partner with them to improve the safety of menstrual hygiene products.”
In 2018, the FDA dismissed the petition without addressing the concerns that colorants in vaginal washes are violating FDA’s own use restrictions. The agency also claimed they had bigger priorities, stating: “[the] FDA does not believe the prioritization of the development of agency guidance with respect to cosmetic feminine wash products is an appropriate use of our resources.”
“While the FDA chooses to de-prioritize the issue, we are glad to see manufacturers see otherwise and are moving to ensure safer products,” said Scranton.
In addition to Summer’s Eve, Target brand Up & Up has also removed dyes from their vaginal washes. Washes still on the market that contain colorants FD&C Red 33, Ext Violet #2 and Yellow #5 include well-known brands including Vagisil, CVS Health, and Walmart’s Equate. Click here, for a complete list of these products.
About Women’s Voices for the Earth
Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national environmental health organization that works to amplify women’s voices to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. www.womensvoices.org
Beth Conway, Communications Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth