When we think about what we perceive as “clean,” it’s usually associated with a strong, crisp fragrance. Think Fabuloso, Suavitel, Zote, even Clorox. Picking what smells clean seems like an intuitive choice. It also happens to be a tendency that Latinas carry over into their feminine health products. Whether it’s tampons that smell like flowers, douches that smell like fruit, or body wash that smells like candy — we unintentionally expose ourselves to toxic chemicals more often than we realize.
It’s something FemTech founder Rebecca Alvarez is passionate about debunking through her company Bloomi, the first and only online marketplace for clean feminine care products. As a woman with a masters in Human Sexuality from UC Berkeley, Alvarez’s background in research was actually what inspired her to start her own company.
“Growing up Latina, there was a common narrative of very fragrant things equaling clean and I had to unlearn that. I realize that a lot of other people grew up like that and we were picking products that were probably the most toxic from the shelves as we shopped. Because those are the things that should not be coming into contact with the vulva or vagina,” Alvarez tells HipLatina.
Clean Shouldn’t Mean Toxic
The Bloomi marketplace features everything you could possibly need for your vulva: clean lubricant, vibrators, period panties, intimate washes, condoms, menstrual cups, crystal dildos, you name it. Everything featured in the marketplace has been Bloomi approved, meaning the products do not contain toxic ingredients from the banned list.
As it is, Black women and women of color are already the most impacted by dirty products. Things like skin bleaching, chemical hair relaxers, talc powder have all been proven to cause health problems like cancers and uterine fibroids. But there are also other toxic culprits like makeup, shampoo, conditioner, and feminine care products — all of which are not government regulated and allow companies to pour pretty much whatever they want into products that will be absorbed by the body.
“There are a lot of ingredients that go in there to try to make the consumer like what [the product] looks, feels, and smells like. But because it’s an unregulated industry they can basically create the product in a lab and put it on the shelf,” Alvarez says.
The Stigma of Smell
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Bloomi is on the front line of what is also referred to as the “environmental injustice of beauty” or the social reasons behind why we use certain beauty products in the first place. As for douching and talc powder, it comes back to the idea that our odor is not acceptable. Not only as women whose bodies are expected to be prepped and ready for male pleasure (ie “smelling fresh,”). But also as Black women and women of color who have historically had their skin color and/or hair texture associated with uncleanliness.
Alvarez says she wants other Latinas to unlearn the idea that there is something wrong or dirty about their natural scent. “Our bodies naturally smell a certain way, our vulvas naturally smell a certain way. And I think once we enter that world of understanding our pleasure, we become very self-conscious,” she says. Which is why Alvarez’s mission to share products made only with the safest ingredients is something that she holds especially dear. Even more so now that her own 11-year-old daughter just started her menstruating.
Through Bloomi, Alvarez makes a point to stay connected to the special needs of the Latinx community. She especially wants to break the mindset and stigma that menstruation is something dirty and pleasure is sinful. Alvarez also wants to encourage parents to talk to their kids about sexual health and wellness. But another thing she’s noticed is that the younger generation is actually teaching the older generation.
“We teach up, I’m teaching things to my mom. Instead of my tia or Mom teaching us how to use a tampon or feminine wash. This generation is becoming very empowered and educated on holistic wellness and we are teaching our parents. Be open to your kids teaching you things,” she says.
We couldn’t agree more!