Harmful Chemicals in Sex Products: What You Need to Know

[Label Lesson] Summer's Eve Wash

There is no time like the present to talk about products made for the bedroom.

While things like lube, condoms, feminine wipes and washes are often discussed in hushed tones, if at all, it’s imperative that we talk about what’s actually in these. Why? Because they come into contact with some of the most sensitive skin on our bodies-and in the case of women, some of the most absorptive. And they contain some toxic chemicals that you likely don’t want anywhere near that area.

Unfortunately, many chemicals commonly used in these products are linked to long-term harm like cancer and hormone disruption. Some of them, particularly ingredients in lube, can also disrupt the natural bacterial balance and lead to bacterial vaginosis, which studies show makes women more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections.

At MADE SAFE, America’s first nontoxic certification for consumer products, we believe that all products should be made with safe ingredients, even the ones that don’t get talked about-because the first step to changing the status quo is calling out the problem.

So here’s the low down:

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Personal lubricants can contain petrochemicals like propylene glycol and synthetic glycerin. Not all petrochemicals are linked to human health harm, but these two can contribute to damaging rectal, vaginal and cervical tissue, according to the World Health Organization.


Many condoms contain nitrosamines, which are common ingredients in latex linked to cancer. This does NOT mean that you should stop using condoms. Sustain condoms don’t contain nitrosamines, but if you don’t happen to have those on hand, it’s imperative to use condoms to protect against STIs and pregnancy. See more on nitrosamines.

Fun fact: nitrosamines are also common in bacon (we know, two product categories you would never consider to be related). Nitrites have been used for a long time to preserve meat, and in the 1960s studies began to show carcinogenic nitrosamines in cured meat – particularly in fried bacon samples.

Feminine Wipes & Washes

These two products can contain chemicals linked to cancer like parabens and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients (DMDM Hydantoin and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol); skin allergens like Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone; and “fragrance,” which is in used as an umbrella term for dozens of different ingredients, including some harmful ones like phthalates and synthetic musks.

In addition, washes can contain FDA-restricted dyes like D&C Red No. 33 and Ext Violet #2, which are not authorized for use on mucous membranes like internal vaginal tissue.

See more on chemicals of concern in feminine care products from our partners at Women’s Voices for the Earth.

Here's our post on tips for finding safer products and a list of MADE SAFE certified options.

MADE SAFE TM (Made With Safe Ingredients) certifies that products we use every day are made with ingredients not known to harm human health, animals or ecosystems. Their mission is to change the way that products are made in this country and around the world.

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