Women of Color Urge No More Secrets, Shaming or Toxic Exploitation

By: Maria Ignacia Miranda Santis, Community Organizer

As a young Latinx immigrant, I am told left and right that I need to change myself to fit into society to have a relationship, to live here safely, and to be able to pursue my dreams. Companies like Prestige, the makers of Summer’s Eve, further exploit the narrative that immigrants and people of color don’t meet the ‘requirements’ to be accepted into this society, and that we have to change ourselves in order to be accepted.

Women of color and immigrant women are often targeted by rhetoric that tells us we are not good enough. We see it in policies that try to control how we build our families or that tear them apart. We see it in who gets to plan and build our families as we see fit — who can seek safe abortion care or have a healthy pregnancy. We see it in the way people talk about our bodies and our sexuality. We see it in marketing where we are made into a joke or told that we need to buy a bunch of products so our hair is right and our skin is light and we smell better and look better.

Historically, women of color have been harmed by health and legal systems that try to change or control us 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.

Use of feminine wipes is on the rise largely due to stepped up marketing that tells women that they need these products to feel fresh, clean and confident. They promote them as a must have for self-image and for health even though they contain many ingredients that put our health at risk, including:

· Octoxynol-9 is a potent contraceptive drug that effectively kills sperm. However, wipes containing octoxynol-9 are not considered contraceptives, nor are they required to have any caution labeling to their potential effect on a woman’s fertility. We already face numerous barriers to having children and having healthy pregnancies. Women of color in this country right now have a higher rate of pregnancy complications and maternal mortality.

· 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol and Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate (IPBC) are preservatives used in several Summer’s Eve wipes, including one product labeled ‘Simply Sensitive.’ 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol releases formaldehyde, a human carcinogen. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause allergic reactions for those who are sensitized to it. IPBC is also a well-known skin allergen, making the use of feminine wipes containing these chemicals a painful experience for many women. There is nothing sexy about allergies and cancer.

· Fragrance is used in all Summer’s Eve feminine wipes, but labels offer no fragrance ingredient information. Instead their website only lists ‘Clinically Tested Safe Scents’ as one of the benefits to using their wipes products. This is vague marketing language that fails to provide women the ingredient information they need to make their own purchasing choices. Fragrance can be made up of potentially hundreds of different ingredients, many of which are linked to serious health problems from skin irritation to hormone disruption and breast cancer.

· Neutresse, a trademarked odor-control technology used in many Summer’s Eve wipes. It is the only feminine wipes brand that has such technology, and like fragrance, the ingredients in Neutresse are also withheld from consumers. We deserve to know what is in the products that we use.

Black women and Latinas tend to be greater users of these products. Companies continue to market feminine products more aggressively to women of color, so we are disproportionately impacted by the harmful and unwanted chemicals in these wipes. This is not new — from nail salons to hair straighteners to workplace hazards, women of color are disproportionately exposed to and harmed by toxic chemicals.

We are not having it! We are getting wise to marketing messages that try to convince us that we need to be fixed. We are pushing back on efforts to shame us for having sex or tell us that our vaginas are dirty. We will not be told to hate our bodies so companies can sell products that are actually harming us!

We reject toxic marketing messages and toxic chemicals and we demand safer products. We hope that you will join us in taking action to tell the makers of Summer’s Eve to remove toxic chemicals from their products and disclose all ingredients!

Women of color deserve better than to have dangerous products pushed on us that negatively impact our health, especially when too many of us continue to struggle to be able to afford quality care to prevent or treat issues stemming from these products.

That is why COLOR is proud to join Women’s Voices for the Earth and women from around the country in front of the Prestige headquarters on August 7th to demand that they tell us what they put in their products and make sure that ingredients known to cause cancer are not marketed as something that will make us look or smell or be better.

Prestige recently released a line called Simply Summer’s Eve made with “simple ingredients” with “scents inspired by nature,” but we already know that these products still contain octoxynol-9, and the fragrance ingredients are still secret. They think calling something simple is an answer to our concerns, but we know that it is still simply toxic and unacceptable!

For now, we will push companies to do the right thing, but we need a complete overhaul of the consumer safety laws and regulations. From cosmetics to cleaning products to workplace hazards, people of color should be able to live and work safely. That is such a simple and important thing to ask for — so join us in taking this first step. Get poisonous products out of our chones — that seems like a good place to start.

Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity & Reproductive Rights-Organizing Latinas for reproductive justice.

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