No doubt you have read articles about the plastic contaminating our oceans and its affect on fauna. You may have even come across a previous post about about the consequences of plastic on childhood health or its connection to cancer.

However, undoubtedly you were still not aware that plastic has been one of the worst threats to women’s health for years now.

This is because, like with other gender related issues, the truth is still being hidden away from most of us.

WHY ARE WOMEN MORE AFFECTED BY PLASTIC?

As you will read in our interview with medical professional, researcher and author of “Libérate de tóxicos – Free yourself from toxins”, plastic is not only harmful for the environment but it is also disastrous for human health.
This is due to some of its components, known as endocrine disruptors, substances that have the potential to alter our hormonal systems and cause diseases such as cancer, hypothyroidism and multiple chemical sensitivity.

But, does this affect all people equally?
The answer is no.

Here Dr Olea explains:

  1. In general, women have more adipose tissue (fat tissue) than men. This is relevant because this is where the body stores the toxic chemicals that come from plastic.
  2. In addition, women’s cyclic nature, from the day of our first period until we reach menopause means that we are more vulnerable to hormonal changes than men. Therefore, we are more affected by the chemical exposure to plastic’s components.
  3. But this is not all, the truth is that we (as women) expose ourselves by coming in contact with these plastic components more often than men.

In fact, when answering our question about whether women are especially vulnerable to this predicament, Olea admitted:

“Yes, When we analysed all the data collected to date about endocrine disruptors, is seems that the biggest loser in this story is women, again. Not only due to their sex, being a women with XX chromosomes, but also due to gender divides. I mean, due to external factors such as jobs and responsibilities allocated to women by society.
Rejected quote:

“ The biggest loser in this story is women, again. Not only due to their sex, being a women with XX chromosomes, but also due to gender divides. I mean, due to factors such as jobs and responsibilities allocated to women by society.

THE DANGERS PLASTIC POSES FOR WOMEN

What are those jobs and responsibilities that Dr Olea is talking about?
In essence there are 3: Housework and caring for others are generally responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of women in most societies around the world. The social obligations related to gender that imply that women should look beautiful and take care of their appearance thereby consuming all the personal care products required. Finally, the socially accepted idea that the women should be “clean” whilst menstruating.

  1. Housework and taking care of others: Globally, 75% of the non-paid work is taken on by women. Women dedicate between 3 to 6 hours of their day towards being carers and doing housework, whilst men only contribute between 30 minutes to 2 hours, according to “La Mujer Invisible – The Invisible Woman” by journalist, activist and writer Caroline Criado Pérez.
    This not only signifies a great social inequality, but also affects the health of women.
    The majority of non-paid work done by women requires being in contact with chemical agents that originate from plastic and are commonly present in detergents, cleaning agents, gels and soaps.
    So, it is not suprising to discover that women suffer the consequences of this exposure more than men. However, this is not the only aspect by which we, as women, are more at risk from the harmful effects of plastic.
  2. “Beauty” and personal care: According to the Environmental Working Group (EWP), US women use an average of 12 cosmetic products a day (European women use 15, according to “Libérate de tóxicos – Free yourself from toxins”) and they are exposed to 168 chemical substances, whilst men are only exposed to half as many. These chemical substances from the plastic packaging or the product itself, such as BPA or phthalates, effect women’s health. The serious part is, that we still don’t understand exactly how, seeing as the effects of these synthetic chemical compounds on our health are studied individually, rather than in combination. What the chemical industry studies is whether the amount of toothpaste, make-up base or moisturiser you use each day is harmful, but not the potential combined effect of all these products on your body. What is known as the “cocktail effect”. Hence, women are taking a risk by exposing themselves to unknown health side-effects using their cosmetics and beauty products on a daily basis. This is even more important for women who work all day whilst in contact with these compounds: beauticians, hairdressers, make-up artists, manicurists, etc. As explained by Criado Pérez, referring to Canadian nail salons: “There are no ventilation or training requirements. There is no legislation regulating the use of gloves and masks”. This on top of the fact that, as you can probably already guess, the majority of the staff in beauty salons are… women.
  3. Menstruation: Half the world’s population menstruates every month for the duration of their reproductive life. This is a business opportunity that has not gone unnoticed by the plastic age. Every woman can end up using between 10,000 and 20,000 tampons and disposable sanitary pads during their lifetime. The results is not only an environmental problem, but a health risk too. Unlike menstrual cups and fabric sanitary pads, tampons and single use sanitary pads are made from cellulose, plastic and synthetic fibres, as we mentioned in this previous post. These materials come in contact with our skin and sometimes even end up adhering to the sides of our vagina (in the case of rayon tampons) posing a serious health hazard.

HERE YOU’LL FIND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM PLASTIC

So you can see, if you take gender into account when considering the problem of random plastic use, the data is clear: plastic is even more dangerous for women.

But, you can do something to avoid it:

  1. Talk about it: don’t keep this information to yourself. Share this article with your friends, your mother, your sisters, your daughters and your granddaughters.
  2. Demand equality and political action, so that the chores of caring for others and of the home are finally shared equally. Look out for a demonstration near you on March 8th and make your voice heard.
  3. Avoid plastic exposure in your home: use zero waste personal hygiene products free from synthetic chemical ingredients, such as deodorants, soaps, and solid shampoo bars. Clean your house with natural products such as Marseille olive soap, sodium bicarbonate and sodium percarbonate (INCLUDE LINKS)
  4. Reduce the toxic chemicals in your cosmetics: change your skincare routine over to an eco-friendly option free of plastic packaging.
  5. Back sustainable period products: try out reusable fabric sanitary pads and liners and/or a menstrual cup.

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We hope that this article has helped you to understand that, even though everyone suffers from plastic contamination, not all of us suffer the consequences equally.

Maybe now is the time to change that.