Are There Toxins In Your Tampons?

If we ate the same thing for five to seven days every month we might start to question what was in it - and if it was good for us. Yet when it comes to tampons, most of us happily use them without even thinking twice about what they're made of.

As discussions about this subject have recently emerged in the media, we decided to tackle it down and bring you an unbiased view of the current situation.

Much of the information you'll read below is from a thorough study that was conducted in 2019 by the ANSES (available here). The ANSES is the French National Health Security Agency. We have chosen this report from many others as we believe it's one of the most complete and independent studies on the subject.

First of all, you need to know that no specific regulations are governing the composition, manufacturing or the use of menstrual products in Europe. According to each country, they fall into regular consumption legislation (nothing specific...). In the United States, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified these products as medical devices and "supervised" their manufacturing since the end of the 1970s.

Experts at the ANSES conducted rigorous testing of a wide range of tampons available on European markets looking for any chemicals that can harm the customer.

Here are their major findings on two risk identification areas:

Microbiological Risk:

The main microbiological risk is Toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare and potentially life-threatening illness that is caused by vaginal infection with certain types of bacteria (mainly Staphylococcus Aureus).

There are two main points you need to know about TSS:

  • The risk of developing TSS increases with the "wear time" of your menstrual product (usually a recommended maximum of 4 to 8 hours for tampons and 12 hours for menstrual cups). Therefore, it is crucial that you respect these limits to not expose yourself to a bigger TSS risk. (Yep girls, sleeping the whole night with your tampon in is a bad idea!)
  • It is NOT proven that TSS has a direct link with these products' composition. However, ultra-absorbent tampons should be avoided.

As far as TSS is concerned, it is better to use (reusable!) menstrual pads especially at night, or a menstrual cup as long as it's worn less than 12 hours.

Main TSS symptoms are: fever, fatigue, vomiting, low blood pressure and diarrhea. Do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor!

Chemical Risk:

These are risks linked to the materials making up different products. It is important to note that there is a huge lack of information on raw materials and manufacturing processes of tampons. Major manufacturers don't disclose exact raw-materials and use buzzwords to sell their products "natural", "hypoallergenic" that have no legal agreed-upon definition.

Let's break down what's in a tampon:

  • Chlorine: Natural cotton isn't perfectly white, so some tampons are bleached with chlorine to achieve that pearly white look. But chlorine can break down to dioxin – one of the most persistent and toxic chemicals, according to a 2018 report by the Environment Committee and to 2019 ANSES report.
  • Rayon: Man-made fabric blended from cotton, wood pulp, and other synthetic fibers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control have conducted extensive testing confirming that the exclusive use of cotton is safer than synthetic fibers.
  • Pesticides (non-organic tampons): ANSES found traces of banned pesticides, including lindane and quintozene, in regular tampons!
  • Fragrance: Artificial scents are sometimes introduced to make the product smell nice or as an odor neutralizer. But a mix of chemicals are needed to make the fragrance. Some of the chemicals ANSES found in tampons' fragrances are toxic (Lilial®...).
  • Glues: The string, used to remove the tampon, is sometimes attached to the tampon using adhesives. In some braided designs, a polyester or polypropylene braid may be used.

Although these results may seem terrifying, ANSES concluded their report with no significant & immediate risk on tampon users as quantities observed of harmful chemicals are very low...

Due to the risks involved and lack of transparency around materials and manufacturing processes, it seems hard for a customer to make the right choice as far as tampons are concerned.

Key takeaways:

There are three key takeaways to keep in mind from this article:

  • Whatever menstrual product you're using, follow the manufacturer's guidelines carefully as far as wearing time goes (expect no more than 8 hours for tampons and 12 hours for menstrual pads)
  • Whatever menstrual product you're using, wash your hands carefully before and after "applying" your product
  • If you really want to use tampons, choose your brand meticulously. Things you must look for are certified organic (no synthetic fibers or pesticides), dye-free, chlorine-free bleaching, no fragrances and ideally low absorbency (less than 12g)

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