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New Testing of Intimate Care Products Sparks Concern Over Links to Adverse Impacts on Vaginal Microbiome Health

Testing Reaffirms the Need for Improved Safety Standards for Vaginal-Use Products

MEDIA CONTACTS
Alexandra Scranton, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)
406-543-3747 | alexs@womensvoices.org
Pam Miles, Founder of Apothercare
781-361-4731 | pmiles@apothercare.com
Dr. Astrid Williams, Black Women for Wellness
323-290-5955 | astrid@bwwla.com

Product testing included CBD, THC infused vaginal suppositories and topical serums marketed to women for increased libido and vaginal dryness

Testing reaffirms the need for more research and improved safety standards for intimate care and vaginal-use products

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Today, national health nonprofits, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) and Black Women for Wellness, advocacy research organization, Apothercare, and testing facility, CLIP Labs, released independent product-testing results that reveal potential harm to vaginal health from intimate care products. Specifically, products including Vagisil, Summer’s Eve, and Vella were found to effectively inhibit the growth of the “good” bacteria, lactobacilli — lactobacilli are necessary for a healthy vaginal microbiome. An upset or imbalance of lactobacilli are linked to increased risks of bacterial vaginosis (or BV). Of particular concern is how these products are disproportionately impacting the vaginal microbiome of Black women, who report more frequent use of intimate care products.

Bacterial vaginosis (a type of vaginitis) is an inflammation of the vulva or vagina. Acute symptoms often include itching, burning, unusual discharge, or irritation.

“So many vaginal products are marketed to us as beneficial to our health – but there is no standard testing required to ensure these products don’t have adverse effects,” said Pam Miles, Founder of Apothercare who led the product-testing. “At a minimum, manufacturers should ensure that vaginal products do not adversely affect lactobacilli, which are vital to a healthy vagina. It was surprising to see that product manufacturers had not even taken this simple step, especially with potentially significant health impacts on the very part of the body these products are designed for.”

The study looked at eleven products marketed for intimate use, including lubricants, vaginal moisturizers, washes, deodorants, and vaginal suppositories. Not all the tested products inhibited lactobacilli, but significant impacts were seen with the Vella, Vagisil and Summer’s Eve products. All three products (Vella, Summer’s Eve and Vagisil) inhibited growth of all four types of lactobacilli tested. Vagisil, particularly, had a greater impact on inhibiting Lactobacillus iners, compared to the other three types of lactobacilli. Lactobacillus iners is a type of lactobacillus more common to be dominant in Black women. This raises considerable concern for Black women as studies show that Black women more frequently report using douche and other intimate care products than white women, putting them at increased risk of exposure.

“People of color are bearing the brunt of this toxic exposure and it is especially egregious that these products, marketed and sold under the guise of vaginal and sexual health, are in fact exposing people to chemicals that can negatively impact their reproductive well-being, and cause undue harm” said Dr. Astrid Williams, Environmental Justice Manager at Black Women for Wellness. “It is unacceptable that in the absence of regulation protections and basic safety-standards, products linked to these health concerns are ending up on our shelves in the first place.”

It is estimated that at least 75% of women in the U.S. will experience episodes of vaginitis at some point during their life.[1] A 2019 snapshot survey of over 1,500 women in Boston found that more than a third reported they were currently experiencing one or more moderate to severe symptoms such as vulvar or vaginal itching, burning, discharge, dryness and/or pain.[2]

“Vaginal burning, itching and irritation are so common we have simply come to accept it, or worse blame ourselves for the problem,” said Alexandra Scranton, WVE’s Director of Science and Research. “WVE has long been alarmed about the ingredients found in intimate care products, how they impact sensitive vulvar and vaginal issues, and if the very creams, washes and wipes people are encouraged to use in hopes of lessening their symptoms might actually be worsening the problem. It’s a vicious cycle. These new testing results reaffirm our concerns and the need for stronger regulations and more research into these products.”

Health concerns about vaginosis aren’t simply limited to discomfort. The potential impacts of disruption to vaginal microbiota are profound. Studies have shown that vaginitis and abnormal vaginal bacteria are associated with a significantly higher risk of pre-term birth and miscarriage [3] and increase risks of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV,[4] chlamydia and Gonorrhea.[5] Preliminary research also indicates that disrupted vaginal bacteria may significantly increase the risk of cervical cancer.[6]

This new testing joins the growing evidence linking the use of intimate care products to vaginal infections. For example, a 2013 study tested a store-bought “feminine” moisturizer, lubricant and spermicide and found that all three products effectively killed lactobacilli [7]— while numerous studies have found higher rates of abnormal vaginal bacteria and higher rates of bacterial vaginosis in people who douche regularly.[8][9][10][11]

Intimate care products are regulated as cosmetics in the United States. Companies can use virtually any raw material in a finished product without FDA pre-market safety testing or review. Companies are also not required to test the impact of an intimate care product on the vaginal microbiome. In addition to bacterial vaginosis, ingredients found in intimate care products have also been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, allergies, hormone disruption and more.

NEW PRODUCT TRENDS, MORE EXPOSURES

Testing also included newer trends in the market, including CBD & THC infused vaginal suppositories and a topical serum marketed to women for increased libido called, Vella, created by the scientists who also worked on Viagra. Vella, the topical serum performed particularly poorly, completely inhibiting growth of all four types of lactobacilli. The other cannabis infused products (vaginal suppositories) including those with THC did not have any adverse effects on lactobacilli.

“With states legalizing cannabis and hemp derived CBD, there has been an explosion of new and unregulated intimate care products. Cannabis based intimate care products are marketed for sleep, libido, menstrual cramp relief. Simply, we wanted to try some of the products, but couldn’t find any information about safety and efficacy,” said Miles of Apothercare. “The marketing has preceded the science. We knew we needed to test.”

“We are overwhelmed with products designed for our vaginas and vulvas. There are sprays, douches, washes, wipes, powders, creams, lubes, moisturizers, gels, dry shampoos and more. There are products specific for teens, for tweens, for moms, for menstruators, for pre-sex, post-sex, post-workout, for wellness, and self-care,” said Amber Garcia, WVE’s Executive Director. “It’s exhausting, unnecessary and potentially dangerous. The message that’s being perpetuated is that our bodies are dirty and unclean, and the lack of safety standards for these products means we can be exposed to ingredients that can harm our health.”

“With endless, unregulated products pushed on us, it’s no wonder vaginitis is so common and widespread,” said Garcia. “And instead of addressing the underlying problem, we’re introduced with a new way to wash it away, which may be causing even more harm.”

“There is a strong need for safety standards to ensure that vaginally applied products are safe and healthy for sensitive vaginal tissue and that they do not adversely affect the vaginal microbiome,” said Dr. Williams. “Companies must and can do better.”

Non-Cannabis Brands tested include: Lume, Good Clean Love, Vagisil, Summer’s Eve, NeuEve, Replens, and Revaree

The following products were tested:
NeuEve Vaginal Moisturizer Suppositories
Lume Deodorant
Good Clean Love Bio-Genesis Fertility Lubricant
Replens Vaginal Moisturizer
Vagisil Scentsitive Scents Daily Intimate Wash (Peach Blossom)
Summer’s Eve Delicate Blossom Cleansing Wash
Revaree vaginal moisturizer suppository

Vella Women’s Pleasure Serum (CBD infused)
Foria intimate suppository (CBD infused)
Hello Again Everyday suppository (CBD/THC infused)
Hello Again Sleep Suppository (CBD/THC infused)

View full testing results.

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ABOUT Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)
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

ABOUT Black Women for Wellness
Black Women for Wellness is committed to the health and well-being of Black women and girls through health education, empowerment and advocacy. https://www.bwwla.org

ABOUT Apothercare
Apothercare partners with scientists on the cutting edge of women’s health research. Our aim is to promote advances in women’s health products and pharmaceuticals. We cut through the hype and bring the science to the consumer. https://apothercare.com

ABOUT CLIP Labs
CLIP Labs is an independent, third-party analytical cannabis and hemp testing lab which focuses on providing accurate and reliable solutions for our clients. Whether our clients are conducting research and development or compliance testing of cannabis and hemp products, our ISO-17025 accredited lab is staffed with highly experienced scientists focused on safety and quality. CLIP Labs is headquartered in San Diego, California. For more information, visit www.cliplabs.net.

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[1] Watson LJ, James KE, Hatoum Moeller IJ, Mitchell CM. Vulvovaginal Discomfort Is Common in Both Premenopausal and Postmenopausal Women. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2019;23(2):164-169. doi:10.1097/LGT.0000000000000460
[2] Lanis A, Talib HJ, Dodson N. Prepubertal and Adolescent Vulvovaginitis: What to Do When a Girl Reports Vaginal Discharge. Pediatr Ann. 2020;49(4):e170-e175. doi:10.3928/19382359-20200317-01
[3] Donders GG, Van Calsteren K, Bellen G, et al. Predictive value for preterm birth of abnormal vaginal flora, bacterial vaginosis and aerobic vaginitis during the first trimester of pregnancy. BJOG. 2009;116(10):1315-1324. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02237.x
[4] Atashili J, Poole C, Ndumbe PM, Adimora AA, Smith JS. Bacterial vaginosis and HIV acquisition: a meta-analysis of published studies. AIDS. 2008;22(12):1493-1501. doi:10.1097/QAD.0b013e3283021a37
[5] Wiesenfeld HC, Hillier SL, Krohn MA, Landers DV, Sweet RL. Bacterial vaginosis is a strong predictor of Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis infection. Clin Infect Dis. 2003;36(5):663-668. doi:10.1086/367658
[6] Mitra A, MacIntyre DA, Marchesi JR, Lee YS, Bennett PR, Kyrgiou M. The vaginal microbiota, human papillomavirus infection and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia: what do we know and where are we going next?. Microbiome. 2016;4(1):58. Published 2016 Nov 1. doi:10.1186/s40168-016-0203-0
[7] Fashemi B, Delaney ML, Onderdonk AB, and Fichorova RN. (2013) Effects of feminine hygiene products on the vaginal mucosal biome. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. Vol. 24. 19703. 2013.
[8] Crann SE, Cunningham S, Albert A, Money DM, O’Doherty KC. Vaginal health and hygiene practices and product use in Canada: a national cross-sectional survey. BMC Womens Health. 2018;18(1):52. Published 2018 Mar 23. doi:10.1186/s12905-018-0543-y
[9] Coudray MS, Sheehan DM, Li T, Cook RL, Schwebke J, Madhivanan P. Factors Associated With the Recurrence, Persistence, and Clearance of Asymptomatic Bacterial Vaginosis Among Young African American Women: A Repeated-Measures Latent Class Analysis. Sex Transm Dis. 2020 Dec;47(12):832-839
[10] Kim KM, Choi JS. Female university students’ menstrual-hygiene management and factors associated with genitourinary-tract infections in Korea. Women Health. 2020 May-Jun;60(5):559-569
[11] Marconi C, El-Zein M, Ravel J, Ma B, Lima MD, Carvalho NS, Alves RRF, Parada CMGL, Leite SHM, Giraldo PC, Gonçalves AK, Franco EL, Silva MG. Characterization of the Vaginal Microbiome in Women of Reproductive Age From 5 Regions in Brazil. Sex Transm Dis. 2020 Aug;47(8):562-569

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