Nearly all of us adults are probably quite sure that we know everything there is to know about toilet paper. It’s not really a great mystery, and it’s so mundane that it’s something we don’t think about much. The roll hangs in the bathroom, we grab a few sheets when we need it, we wipe, we flush. End of story… or is it?
What if I told you that there is one thing that you should always do before you use toilet paper? This may seem very strange, but bear with me. Before you use toilet paper, give it a sniff.
Why should you sniff toilet paper?
If this seems gross or insane to you, allow me to explain. The reason you may want to sniff your toilet paper before you use it is to make sure it’s not covered in fragrance chemicals. If it smells flowery, perfumed or has a chemical smell, however faint, you don’t want to be using it. Fragrance chemicals may seem harmless, but they’re not.
The main problem with fragrance chemicals — on toilet paper and in many other personal care products — is that virtually anything can be in them. Companies are allowed to list “fragrance” on a label as a blanket term for a whirlwind of chemicals and compounds. Information on the individual chemicals used does not have to be divulged; it is considered a “trade secret.” Therefore, when you wipe with scented toilet paper, you are exposing your private parts to a host of chemicals, some of which may be toxic.
Synthetic fragrance chemicals are harmful
The overwhelming majority of synthetic fragrance chemicals are manufactured from petrochemicals. This means that they can include toxic substances such as phthalates and derivatives of benzene. Phthalates alone have been linked to hormone disruption, neurological problems, obesity, reproductive difficulties and certain cancers — and they’re just one of the many chemical types that can reside within the “fragrance” category.
If you’re thinking, “Well, at least I’m not eating these chemicals,” you should know that if your toilet paper is scented, the fragrance chemicals can still get into your body even if you don’t ingest them. Many substances can seep through the pores in the skin and enter the bloodstream. Some of these toxins bioaccumulate, meaning that they are not flushed through our systems and are instead stored in our tissues. Eventually, these stored toxins may lead to health issues, such as the ones described above in regards to phthalates.
Risks of using scented toilet paper
Using scented toilet paper, especially on a regular basis, may lead to:
- Skin irritation around your genitals and rectum
- Puffiness and swelling of private areas and surrounding skin
- Urinary tract infections
- Fungal infections (including yeast infections)
So, there you have it. A good reason to sniff your toilet paper before you use it! Obviously, if you’re at a friend’s house or a public place, you may not have another toilet paper option and may be forced to use the scented stuff if that’s all they have. However, it’s one reason to keep a roll of your own unscented stuff on hand. Or, at least a few sheets in a baggie in your pocket. You may feel silly, but at least you won’t be wiping potentially toxic chemicals onto your bum.
While we’re on the subject of toilet paper dangers, the following are a few other tips to make sure your toilet paper isn’t harming you. Be sure to check labels carefully when you buy yours, to avoid these common toilet paper pitfalls.
Say no to the pretty colors
Many scented toilet papers also come in fun colors, from bright hues to pastel purples, pinks, greens and blues. Some unscented varieties may be colorful, as well. While these may seem like a fun way to add some color to your bathroom, they’re not harmless. Many artificial colorings have been linked to ill health effects, and they may also irritate your private areas in the same way as fragrance chemicals.
Because of the potential irritation factor, and because artificial dyes may be able to enter your bloodstream through your skin, it’s best to stick to the boring, dull shades of toilet paper. You’ll have to liven up your bathroom some other way.
Skip the bleached stuff
Along with saying no to scented, colored toilet paper, many of the white varieties are not healthy, either. This is because many white toilet papers are treated with chlorine bleach. Chlorine can irritate your skin and can also be dangerous. This is because bleaching paper with chlorine may result in the formation of carcinogenic furans and dioxins.
These chemicals are linked to disrupting the function of the immune system, the endocrine system and reproductive system. If they enter your skin through your pores, they may bioaccumulate.
Beware of recycled toilet paper
Recycled toilet paper seems like a really great and environmentally friendly idea on the surface. However, it’s highly unfortunate that many of these papers contain bisphenol A, also known as BPA. This chemical compound has been linked to the disruption of hormonal function, obesity, diabetes and even certain cancers. This compound has been banned from many products, including children’s toys. However, it may still be present in recycled toilet paper because of its presence in other papers (such as receipt paper) often used in the manufacturing process.
Your best options for toilet hygiene
When choosing a toilet paper, be sure to read the label carefully to make sure it has no fragrances or dyes, and that it hasn’t been treated with chlorine.
- Your best bet is unscented, non-recycled toilet paper that has been bleached using oxygen or ozone (or hydrogen). It may have a “TCF” designation, meaning that it is Totally Chlorine Free.
- Consider using bagasse to make toilet paper. It is made from sugar cane and is entirely biodegradable.
- Install a bidet on your toilet — it’s how most of the world cleans up after using the toilet.
— Tanya Mead