What's Really In Your Tampon?
The Debrief: It's not...great, tbh
Isn’t it weird that we use tampons without really giving them any thought? If we ate a Greggs sausage roll everyday for five to seven days each month, the chances are that at least once we’d wonder: ‘Is this actually any good for me?’
With tampons and other sanitary products, it’s a different story because needs must and unless you’re partial to free bleeding or a moon cup, you probably use them at least once during your period. But what’s actually in them?
Well, it’s pretty difficult to say, which in turn makes establishing whether they could be harmful to us, even more problematic.
Some sources believe them to be full of potentially harmful chemicals which, with the vaginal walls being extremely permeable, is a big concern. Other agencies, like the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and maker sanitary products, deny or don’t address the dangers of these chemicals.
The biggest shock surrounding this discussion is not what’s in a tampon, but the fact that there’s little to no research that has tested the safety of sanitary products on a wide scale. Considering, that the average woman will use over 11,000 tampons in her life time (assuming she’s a monthly user of them), this beggars belief.
What’s more, companies producing these products aren’t obliged to disclose their full ingredients because they’re classified as ‘medical devices’ – something this petition is trying to campaign against.
So here’s what could be in your tampons, but bare in mind that this is an on-going discussion and it’s by no means a definitive or comprehensive list. I’ve tried to present a balanced argument where possible, and a lot of this is based on US sources because information is much more easily available there.
This is a cellulose fiber that comes from wood pulp. The process of creating rayon involves bleaching it. According to the FDA, the old method that was employed was a ‘potential source of trace amounts of dioxin’ but this is no longer used.
Instead, US tampons are produced using elemental chlorine-free or totally chorine-free bleaching. The elemental version, they say, ‘can theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels’. Tampax maintains that rayon is safe to use, and it has done for over 25 years.
Some people argue that dioxin can build up in your body over time and collect in fatty tissues. It has been associated with abnormal tissue growth, abnormal cell growth, hormonal and endocrine system disruption. On top of that, Naturally Savvy reference a 2005 study by the FDA which found ‘detectable levels of dioxin in seven brands of tampons’.
This is because cotton crops (from which your tampons are made) are heavily sprayed with them. Naturally Savvy tested a tampon to find out what pesticide residue was on it and you can read about its findings here, along with the potential side effects.
You know those fragranced pads and tampons? I hadn’t realised how weird that concept was until just now... Unsurprisingly, they’re said to be full of artificial colours, polyester, adhesives, polyethylene (PET), polypropylene, and propylene glycol (PEG), contaminants linked to hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, dryness, and infertility. Apparently, they could contain up to nearly 3,000 different chemicals.
It’s said that 90% of commercial sanitary pads are made from crude oil plastic. The rest is made from chlorine-bleached wood pulp. By using plastic laden feminine hygiene products, we add the equivalent to 180 billion plastic bags to our waste stream.
What’s clear is that we need further research into the effects of these products on women’s health, and it’s unbelievable this is still yet to happen. Sadly, cases like that of 13-year-old Jemma-Louise Roberts who died from toxic shock syndrome in 2014, highlight the desperate need of such research.
Earlier in the year, congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, proposed the Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2015, which directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research whether feminine hygiene products pose health risks.
It would also encourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to broaden its monitoring efforts and publicly disclose a list of contaminants that are in feminine hygiene products.
In the meantime, if you’re concerned, there are natural sanitary items available to buy like Natracare.
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