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Between the lines: Cancer surge linked to mass marketing aimed at women

By Sari Huhtala

For over 40 years women used caustic Lysol and Dettol as a vaginal douche, even recommended by doctors, or so the media touted, and until the late 60s Lysol was considered the number one birth control agent for irrigating the uterus.

The consequence? A surge in cancer cases in women.

See what great marketing does? People believe anything if it’s well-packaged. I came across a douche-with-Dettol marketing piece in an October 1957 issue of Reader’s Digest, and decided to dig deeper.

Another ad from the same era, depicting a woman pleading to be allowed into the bedroom, suggests “intimate neglect” can lead to marital breakdown, and the headline shouts “Please Dave…please don’t let me be locked out from you!” The ad promotes the use of “gentle, non-caustic Lysol,” and states “Many doctors advise their patients to douche regularly with Lysol brand disinfectant.”

Shaming women into practicing “complete feminine hygiene” with Lysol ran as a 40 plus-year marketing blitz, convincing millions of women, mothers and daughters to “protect their feminine daintiness” through the use of an antiseptic.

Wondering how many cervical cancers Lysol douches caused? Lots. One of the earliest studies in 1931 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found a significant increase in cancer cases in women who used Lysol for feminine hygiene. The same findings were published in other studies on cervical cancer, including one in 1950, published in the journal Cancer.

Wonder how many women had to die before the government stepped in? The government didn’t step in – makers of Lysol eventually changed their marketing voluntarily. If you read the back label, they still continue marketing it as a product that kills herpes viruses.

Sari Huhtala is the publisher and editor of Alive and Fit Magazine. She has over 25 years experience in journalism, and is a mother of 3 adult children. She has spent over 20 years navigating a healthy path for her family, one health hack at a time, as a single mom feeding her kids healthy on a shoestring budget. She has over 15 years experience as a certified fitness specialist and personal trainer and 10 years experience as a reiki practitioner.

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