In our lifetime, we put between 10,000 and 11,000 tampons into our bodies. With that amount of exposure, we should feel assured tampons are safe for our bodies. Sadly, there’s much more we need to uncover about what tampons are made of and what kinds of chemical exposure they may lead to. Because manufacturers of period products are not currently required by law to disclose ingredients, some pretty nasty, harmful chemicals make their way into our vaginas.
In April 2018, Women’s Voices For The Earth tested six popular tampon brands for volatile organic compounds—a suite of over 100 toxic air pollutants that can be tested for simultaneously. They found there may be ingredients (or contaminants associated with ingredients) in tampons leading to exposure to chemicals of concern. Because vaginas are very, very absorbent, this is a major cause for worry.
Read more: What’s Up With Period Poop? Why It Happens and What To Do About It
Let’s put a stop to this knowledge gap. You should be informed about these harmful chemicals and what they are doing to your body. Below, we rounded up six of the most common harmful chemicals found in tampons.
Harmful Ingredients Found in Common Tampon Brands
Rayon.Also known as artificial silk, rayon is made from purified cellulose and then converted into a soluble compound. Highly absorbent and viscous, it’s one of the four synthetic ingredients commonly associated with the increased likelihood of toxic shock syndrome (TSS.) Commonly thought to be from leaving your tampon in for too long, TSS is caused by toxins produced by bacteria. Studies have concluded using high-absorbency tampons increases the risk of TSS. That’s because synthetic additives make tampons more absorbent. Additionally, while the other three synthetic ingredients (polyester, carboxymethylcellulose, and polyacrylate rayon) have been taken off the market, you’ll still find rayon in tampons today.
Dioxin.Dioxin is a chemical that results from chlorine processing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there’s no safe level of exposure to dioxin, yet it’s found in tampons everywhere. Unbelievable! Additionally, in 1994, the EPA reported dioxin can cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in people as well. The chemical is also linked to hormone disruption and can affect your immune system. While the FDA states dioxin exposure from tampons today is less than compared to other environments, Dr. Philip Tierno, a leading expert on health risks of tampons, explains dioxin in tampons is still cause for concern since tampons make direct contact with vaginal tissue which leads to reproductive organs.
Non-organic cotton.If cotton isn’t organic, that means it’s been genetically engineered. Genetically engineered cotton is made to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides that would affect the cotton’s growth. This is problematic because it allows substantially more pesticides and herbicides to be sprayed on the cotton, which increases the risk of its residues being present in the cotton in our tampons. These pesticide residues contain Procymidon (a ‘probable’ human carcinogen) and piperonyl butoxide (a ‘possible’ human carcinogen.) This can result in an increased risk of cancer, endocrine disruption, and acute toxicity.
Fragrance.What makes scented tampons smell good? Chemical soap. Similar to beauty products, brands aren’t required to list what chemicals they put under the umbrella term “fragrance,” so it can easily contain harmful ingredients. One scented tampon could contain approximately 3,000 fragrance chemicals. Up to 75% of the time, when there is a “fragrance” in an ingredient, there are legally hidden phthalates, which is not a good thing. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that have been linked to birth defects, breast cancer, infertility, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and more. This is just one of the many hidden harmful ingredients nestled under the label “fragrance.”
Chlorine.Yes, the chemical you use to clean your pool also has a place in your tampon. It’s used in the bleaching process to turn your tampon white, during which it produces trace amounts of dioxins. While the FDA holds strong there are only trace amounts of dioxins when you look at this from a cumulative angle, there’s cause for concern. Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be 7 to 11 years. That’s a long time to have one of the “dirty dozen” sitting in your system.
Bisphenol-A (BPA).Better known as a hormone-disrupting chemical that comes from producing plastic, Bisphenol-A (BPA) interferes with how hormones send important messages about development throughout the body. Even tiny amounts of BPA can trigger changes in the body leading to breast cancer, early puberty, diabetes, obesity, and more.
Clean, Safe Menstrual Products
We know what you’re thinking: what am I going to use during my next period? Not to worry, there are some great options for clean, safe menstrual products. We’ve listed some of our favorites below:
Pads & Tampons
- LOLA: Their slogan says it all: “Tampons, pads, and more for women, by women.” LOLA makes pads and tampons with organic cotton as well as BPA-free tampon applicators.
- CORA: Committed to health and transparency, all products are made with pure, ethically sourced ingredients, including 100% organic cotton. We also love them because of their efforts to empower women and provide menstrual health products to those in need.
- Seventh Generation: Seventh Generation provides the leak protection you need with no added fragrances or deodorants. You’ll love their organic cotton tampons and chlorine-free pads and pantiliners.
- The Honest Company: Made with love from Jessica Alba, The Honest Company can cover all your period needs with organic cotton tampons, pads, liners, and tampon applicators.
- Brandless: 100% cotton, non-irritant, free from fragrance/dye/chlorine/rayon, GOTS certified... and only $3 for 10!
- DivaCup: The DivaCup is the original sustainable, easy-to-use, cost effective, and eco-friendly menstrual cup. It’s worn internally and sits low in the vaginal canal, collecting rather than absorbing your menstrual flow for 12-hour leak-free protection. Learn more about how it works here.
- Lena: Voted the #1 best beginner menstrual cup, Lena is made of 100% premium medical-grade silicone and dyes. Feel free to dance, run, swim, and sleep safely in your Lena Cup.
- Lunette: Lunette menstrual cups are made of soft medical-grade silicone and are BPA-free. This means no yeast, bacteria, or odor. Just cleanliness and comfort.
- THINX: Think washable and reusable period-proof underwear. Each pair has 4 layers of absorbent material for ultimate protection against leaks.
- Flex: Not a cup or a tampon, Flex is a disposable menstrual disc that comfortably forms to the shape of your body to prevent leaks for up to 12 hours. It sits just past the vaginal canal in the same place as a diaphragm.
- Lunapads: These modern cloth pads outperform disposables.They absorb 4x as much as the average disposable pad and are made of cotton and other clothing materials.
No matter which option you choose, we hope you feel empowered and in control of your flow. And when it comes to handling the menstrual cramps, hormonal acne, and more to come, Elix has you covered. Take a minute to learn how a tailored herbal tincture can change the way you experience your whole cycle.
Try your own personalized herbal formula -take the free health assessment today.
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