A friend asked me the other day if it was possible to be allergic to toilet paper. She explained that there had been a sale over the summer on a different toilet paper than her usual, so she tried it. Then, the next time, she again bought the new brand.
She had started to notice some vulvar itching just around the opening to the vagina but thought that it could be anything from yeast to menopause. It wasn’t until her daughter also mentioned being itchy that she began to think it could be something else. So she asked me, “What do you think, could it be the toilet paper?” Well, the answer is yes!
Bleaching and Chemicals in Your Paper
My dad worked in the pulp and paper industry his entire career, so I can tell you that toilet paper doesn’t just magically come out all soft and white. It takes a fair amount of work—and chemicals—to get toilet paper to that point of squeezable softness.
And while many people definitely prefer the feel of soft cushiony TP to the kind that’s like scratchy sandpaper, some sensitive bottoms aren’t so happy with the softer varieties. Women in particular are sensitive to the chemicals in most toilet papers; that’s because any irritants in the tissue can be particularly hard on the delicate mucous membranes of the vagina and vulva. The results can be an itchy, irritated vulva—particularly at the opening to the vagina and around the urethra.
Diagnosing a Toilet-Paper Allergy
It can be difficult to diagnose a TP allergy, since most itchy redness in this area is thought to be attributable to yeast or other irritants. Your healthcare provider can rule out yeast through a look under the microscope, but then many times it will come down to excluding other sources.
What if you think you have sensitivity to toilet paper?
Most contact dermatitis will respond to topical steroid creams, but the symptoms won’t completely resolve unless you remove the cause. The soft, more cushiony toilet papers tend to be the ones that have undergone more bleaching and chemical processing. Unbleached toilet paper is available and is usually pretty cheap—but it might be a bit rough. The good news is that it has significantly less chemical exposure during its production and will help relieve your symptoms if you have a toilet-paper allergy or sensitivity.
If you notice an itchy vaginal opening or urethra, consider the possibility that you have a toilet-paper allergy. See your healthcare provider, verify that you have no other issues, and then try unbleached toilet paper. It may just make you a lot more comfortable!