The vulva is the external parts of the female genitals. The skin in this area is very delicate, and easily suffers from irritation (itching, burning, or discomfort) on a small part or the entire vulva. Other symptoms are redness, swelling, discharge, skin cracking, painful sex, and feeling of crawling under the skin. The most common causes of irritation are yeast, bacterial, or viral infections. In the absence of infection, the cause may be an adverse reaction to products.
Toilet paper is one of these products that one never suspects. We use toilet paper many times a day to wipe our hands, faces, and private areas with it, exposing ourselves to harmful chemicals that we are unaware of. In the process of cleaning ourselves to prevent diseases, we are creating diseases that could be avoided.
Chemicals in toilet paper
Have you ever wondered how wood is converted to soft white toilet paper? Toilet paper manufacturers use a mixture of 70% hardwoods and 30% softwoods which they break down with chemicals to make paper pulp.
The combination of softwoods and hardwoods brings strength and a soft feeling. Once the paper is made, they bleach it with chlorine or chlorine dioxide for that nice white color, and sometimes they add perfume.
Chlorine, dioxin and furans
The chemicals used during the manufacturing process are toxic, and the most dangerous ones are elemental chlorine and chlorine dioxide used as bleach. Chlorine reacts with organic molecules in the wood and other fibers to make several toxic by-products, including dioxin.
The term dioxin refers to three acutely toxic chemical groups which are true dioxins, furans, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Obviously, these chemicals remain on the paper and make it highly toxic. They enter the body through the skin into the blood. The body cannot excrete dioxin the way it excretes other toxins, so the chemicals accumulate in the body and gradually create health problems. When people finally suffer from strange diseases, it is hard to associate them with toilet paper.
Already, low levels of exposure to furans and dioxin have been associated with health problems such as skin problems, reduced fertility, birth defects, cancer, hormone imbalance, and impairment of the immune system. Just imagine what this can do to the soft skin in the vulva.
A 2010 study researched the possibility that toilet paper is the cause of chronic irritation of the vulva. The scientists found that formaldehyde is sometimes used in the factory to improve the wet strength of facial tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels. This chemical is a skin irritant, a carcinogen, and health authorities consider it to be a sensitizer (it makes a person sensitive to all harmful chemicals). So, that irritation in the vulva is possibly due to exposure to formaldehyde.
It’s not just white paper that irritates the vulva. Colored toilet paper is also a problem. Synthetic colors, which are derived from petroleum or coal tar sources, are suspected to cause cancer in humans, to be skin irritants, and are linked to ADHD in children. If you love colored toilet paper, it just might be irritating your vulva.
If you have vulva irritation, and your toilet paper contains fragrance, it could be due to an allergic reaction to fragrance!
Recycled toilet paper is made from scraps in a paper factory, while post-consumer recycled toilet paper is made from used paper. Both are generally low on chlorine, but they contain one dangerous chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA)! Printed thermal paper is coated in dye and a developer such as BPA. When lottery tickets, shipping labels, store receipts, luggage tags, etc., are recycled, they are mashed up along with other used paper and the BPA ends up in the toilet paper. Researchers have actually found it on toilet paper, including recycled types. Though the concentration is usually very small, research has found high quantities of BPA in some types of toilet paper. Some people are sensitive enough to be irritated in the vulva area.
Yes, wiping too roughly or with a harsh toilet paper can cause tiny cuts in your very soft skin of the vulva. These aren’t deep cuts where you can see them, but they can cause irritation or swelling and become open for bacteria and other microorganisms to create small infections.
Before toilet paper was first used in the 1880s, people wiped themselves with grass, leaves, corn cobs, or whatever they could find in their environment. People in less developed areas of the world still use these items. In the developed world though, you can’t use these in your drainage systems and we’re more accustomed to using toilet paper. The good news is that there are healthier alternatives when choosing what toilet paper.
Chlorine-free toilet paper
You can use totally chlorine free (TCF) toilet paper which is produced without chlorine or chlorine derivatives. One good example is Eco Cheeks which is made 100% from bamboo. One great thing about bamboo is that it is not bothered by pests, so it doesn’t need pesticides. The manufacturer has pesticide-free raw materials to begin with, and does not use chlorine bleach, fragrance, formaldehyde, BPA, and plastic to make toilet paper. The resulting toilet paper is beige in color (believe me the drain or your butt doesn’t care about color), is completely free from harmful chemicals, and the quality is very good. It’s an amazing product that is soft and lowers your risk of exposure to carcinogens, irritants and infection.
Processed chlorine-free toilet paper
You can also use processed chlorine-free (PCF) toilet paper which contains recycled paper and is produced without elemental chlorine or derivatives. However, the original fiber components may have been bleached with chlorine and contain other nasties like BPA.
If you want to stop using toilet paper, install a bidet next to your toilet or a combined bidet toilet seat and “electronic bidet” to your existing toilet. The bidet washes your bottom and private area with or without the use of hands. If your bidet has a drier, you can blow-dry your bottom. Alternatively, you can dry yourself with a towel or preferably toxic free toilet paper. Installing a bidet costs a bit of money upfront, then you save on the cost for many years.
By Tanya Roberts, founder of Eco Cheeks.