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How Your Toilet Paper May Be Affecting Your Health

Miniature shopping cart with toilet paper rolls

One would think that toilet paper—something we as women use multiple times a day—would be pretty harmless. The unfortunate truth? Most brands of toilet paper today use some type of harsh chemical to process the paper and give it that soft, white, cloud-like appearance. The chemicals used during this process, from bleach to formaldehyde, can cause everything from mild to chronic vulvar irritation to reproductive issues.

While advancements have been made to remove straight chlorine bleach from many toilet paper varieties, chlorine and other potentially harmful chemicals can still linger on each roll. Read on to learn what might be hiding in your toilet paper—and what you can do about it.

The chemical culprits in toilet paper

Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is often used to help strengthen toilet paper so it doesn't fall apart when it gets wet. Bisphenols like BPA, which add softness to toilet paper and are commonly used in recycled varieties, are unregulated and can disrupt the endocrine and reproductive systems. Petroleum-based mineral oil and paraffin wax are added to lotion-infused toilet paper, which can be contaminated with carcinogens and absorbed into the bloodstream. And then there are those pesky undisclosed fragrances, which can contain synthetic ingredients and phthalates, also potentially leading to endocrine disruption.

But when it comes down to it, bleach is the likely  culprit for many women. Bleach is what gives toilet paper its white shine and soft feel—but it's also a toxic chemical that can easily go from the skin to the bloodstream, wreaking havoc as it travels through the body. Bleach can also interfere with the body's naturally occurring bacteria, disturbing pH levels and leading to infection. The bleaching process also can create dioxins, which can cause developmental, reproductive, immune, and endocrine issues.

A safer toilet paper

The good news? There are plenty of brands that don't use bleach or that use a much less dangerous chlorine derivative. Just look for these labels when considering your options. 

Elemental chlorine free, while not perfect because it uses a bleach derivative called chlorine dioxide, is widely considered a safe substitute to chlorine bleach. Process chlorine free is common with recycled paper products, while totally chlorine free means no bleach whatsoever was used. While that last one sounds great, it's important to note that bleach-free paper is rough to the touch and can cause irritation on its own.

While there's no perfect bleach-free, soft, white toilet paper, some manufacturers are making strides. My household recently switched to Who Gives a Crap? paper, which uses chlorine dioxide and environmentally sustainable bamboo. We were skeptical at first, but it's seriously the best toilet paper we've ever owned. Bonus points for the company, which donates half of its profits to help build toilets to underserved populations across the globe. Good for the environment, for our bodies, and for the soul!

And for a completely chemical-free option, you can always forgo toilet paper with a bidet!


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