Period underwear without biocides: Natural protection

Biocides dominate the headlines. The chemical substances, which are said to have an anti-bacterial effect, are increasingly used in textiles - including menstrual products such as menstrual underwear.

Biocides are a controversial issue in the period underwear market. What are they? Are they harmful to health? What is the research evidence? Why do some companies use them and others don't? What advantages can they have in period panties? We have summarized the most important facts for you and explain why we at femtis do not use biocides in our panties. Never have and never will in the future.

What are biocides?

Biocides (from Greek bios = life and Latin caedere = to kill) are chemical substances intended to kill harmful organisms such as bacteria. They therefore have nothing to do with bio, even if the term might suggest that. Biocides are used in everyday life in many household products such as insect sprays, ant bait cans, mould removal products, rat poisons or wood preservatives - in other words, not something you necessarily want on your vulva.

Meanwhile, many textiles also contain biocides such as silver chloride or zinc pyrithione. Sportswear or even some period underwear are treated with these chemical substances. The biocides they contain inhibit the ability of harmful organisms to multiply and are thus supposed to counteract odour formation and ensure greater hygiene. But does this not have any health effects?

Are biocides harmful to human health?

Since biocides are chemicals, they are not entirely harmless to us humans.

Silver chloride and zinc pyrithione are considered existing active substances whose approval procedures have not yet been completed and can therefore continue to be used. However, direct skin contact with these substances can have consequences: allergic reactions, impairment of bacterial flora and the development of resistance by pathogens. Some biocides are also suspected of reducing fertility.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has not yet carried out a health assessment of period underwear treated with biocides and therefore takes a critical view of the use of such chemicals: "As long as no assessment - neither for health risks nor for efficacy - has been carried out, we take a critical view of the use of biocidal substances, especially in direct skin contact". Although the use of biocides is permitted, it is not recommended because of the possible health risks.

Why period underwear without biocides is the best choice

femtis period underwear does not contain any biocides. At femtis, we believe in naturalness and do not treat our period underwear with any chemicals, so our panties are biocide-free. Regular changing of our period panties and proper care and washing prevents odours and ensures adequate hygiene - this does not require chemicals that pollute people and the environment! Depending on the absorbency of their absorbent surface and their absorbent core, the panties absorb different amounts of your bleeding in the inner layer. This absorbency also influences the length of time you can wear the panties, depending on how much you bleed. The outer layer of the panties is made of different materials, such as cotton or spandex. Our testers always report a pleasant feeling when wearing them.

The vulva is the most sensitive and absorbent part of your body. We are therefore against the use of biocides, as current research cannot provide clear information about their risks. Our panties can be machine washed in a laundry net at a maximum washing temperature of 60 degrees. For the longevity of the fabrics and function of our period underwear and discharge underwear, we recommend 40 degrees. Our incontinence underwear can only be washed at 40 degrees because of its special side leakage protection.

Experts also advise against menstrual underwear treated with biocides:

"I don't think biocide-treated menstrual underwear is sustainable. Biocides are designed to harm and kill living organisms and can have undesirable side effects on health and the environment," says biologist Susanne Smolka of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN Germany).

Are products containing biocides checked before they are released on the market?

The Federal Environment Agency checks whether these biocidal products and their active substances pose a risk to the environment. Only when this has been ruled out can the biocide be authorised. Before a biocidal active substance or biocidal product can be authorised, an environmental risk assessment must be carried out. This is because biocides are potentially hazardous to the environment and to human and animal health. According to the European Biocide Regulation (528/2012), silver chloride is still in the approval process for different product types under the review programme for existing active substances. Period underwear falls either under product type 2, when silver chloride is used to prevent the proliferation of potentially harmful microorganisms, or under product type 9, when silver chloride is intended to have an odour-inhibiting and/or antibacterial effect in textiles. Both product types are still under evaluation (as of January 2022).

Are biocides bad for the environment?

Environmental experts warn of the potential consequences of the biocides used in the briefs. For example, with every wash, a small amount of the chemical substances can enter water bodies via the sewage treatment plants and harm aquatic organisms and fish there.

A study by the Swedish Water and Wastewater Association concluded that after 10 machine washes, an average of 70% of the added silver ends up in wastewater. Not only nano-silver but also silver salts such as silver chloride wash out of textiles and end up in the environment. The consequences of this are largely unclear. Regardless of whether nano-silver or silver salt: it is always the silver ion that is responsible for the biocidal effect.

Silver chloride, a commonly used biocide, is classified by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in the highest hazard class 1 for acute and long-term aquatic hazards.