Are Tampons Toxic? What’s In Tampons?

Whats in your tampon

Unplug for your health and the environment, at least from conventional tampons. Majority of American women, up to 70% use tampons [22]. The average period is 5 days long, this is 120 hours a month, 1440 hours per year, or 64,000 hours in a lifetime that a woman will wear a tampon. This equals a whole lot of exposure, and a lot of tampons. So, what you use matters.

Are tampons cancer sticks?

There are articles mocking the notion that tampons are cancer sticks, and that the chemical residues are so low we need not be concerned. However more independent research is becoming available. I think the information presented below, at the very least demonstrates a call for great concern.

The Vagina

First, the vaginal tract tissue in contact with a tampon is not like skin. It is a mucosal lining that is highly vascular and permeable. It is being studied as way to deliver medications, because its more permeable than intestinal lining [1]. This highly vascular tissue allows absorption almost directly into the bloodstream. Since vaginas are not like skin or the intestinal tract, even small traces of chemicals could have a significant impact on a woman’s long-term health [2]. This is why we women need to be concerned of what’s in those little white tailed plugs.

In fairness, studies have found the vagina can be selectively permeable to different medications. Meaning it can be highly absorbent to somethings, but not others. So basically, we don’t know which chemicals will be absorbed by the vaginal tract.

Safety

The FDA classifies pads and tampons as medical devices. Therefore, manufactures don’t have to disclose the ingredients [2]. So are tampons safe, is not an easy question to answer. There has been a lot of studies done on toxic shock syndrome, but not on low level chronic exposure of chemical residues and fragrances in tampons.

Toxic Shock

Pre-90s there were several reported deaths of young women dying from toxic shock from super absorbent tampons. Toxic shock is a bacterial infection in the blood that leads to organ failure. It can happen to anyone, but when this rare condition occurs it is typically in young menstruating women [3]. It’s not well understood, but it’s commonly staph growing quickly out of control, producing bacterial toxins that enter the blood stream. Tampons increase incidence because they are a blood soaked medium that can house bacteria, and the highly absorbent mucosal lining of the vagina leaves easy access to the bloodstream for the bacterial toxins. There’s little difference between cotton and rayon in its ability to grow bacteria, but polyester foam grew bacteria quickly [4]. Changes were made in manufacturing to address toxic shock, as it was linked with super-absorbent tampons [3]. Toxic shock still occurs but is less frequent since these changes.

 

Why be concerned?

The FDA has guidance for manufactures of these feminine products. They recommend chlorine free bleach be used to reduce the known carcinogen dioxin, the fabric be free of pesticides, and testing to ensure no adverse reactions [5]. However, these are only guidelines. They are not mandatory or enforceable.

 

What’s in a tampon

A French magazine, 60 Million, hounded manufactures to share the ingredients of their feminine hygiene products. Tampax shared their tampons contained: rayon, polyethylene, polypropylene or cotton, polyester, and fragrance. O.B. contained viscose from cellulose fibers, polyethylene and polyester [6].

Very little information exists on the safety of the long term exposure of plastics, fragrance, and chemical residues in this intimate area. However, common senses says it’s probably not a good idea. Lets take a closer look at each of the ingredients listed by Tampax and O.B.

Cotton:

The world’s dirtiest crop. It is the most heavily pesticide crop than any other crop on earth. The deadliest pesticides are applied to cotton. Organic Authority says, “Aldicarb, cotton’s second best-selling insecticide, can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin. Yet it is still used in 25 countries and the U.S., where 16 states have reported it in their groundwater” [7]. Per the USDA 93% of cotton grown is the U.S. is GMO [8] . GMO cotton can handle heavy doses of Round-Up, so the weeds die but the cotton survives. For this reason alone, conventional tampons are probably not a good idea to be plugging up with.

There is no consensus of the safety of GMOs [9]. There’s growing evidence of the disastrous effects GMOs are having on our health, though such studies are fiercely fought by Montsanto. For more information on GMOs I recommend starting here or, watch this sarcastic sadly accurate cartoon. In an ideal world GMOs, glyophosphate, or any other pesticide would not enter any hole of our body, and yes this has been detected in tampons [23].

Rayon:

A highly processed cellulose fabric. Made by a chemical process of dissolving wood pulp, such as sawdust. Ingredients like copper, ammonia, and caustic soda are used to create this highly absorbent fabric [10]. Manufacturing rayon creates the cancerous chemical byproduct dioxin [11]. Dioxin has been detected in tampons  [2]. More about tampons and dioxin here.

Polyethylene (PE):

A plastic made from crude oil, considered safe. Different additives are used to make it hard, soft, or a foam [12] . Even if PE is safe, we don’t know if the additives are. Per OSHA, the additives can influence the physical and toxicological properties of this substance [13]. The chemical manufacturer NOVA states its safe, but it does not break down in landfills or water [14]. In other word, a burden to our environment. It’s wise to be skeptical of all plastics, a study has found most all plastics mimic estrogen [15].

Polypropylene:

Another plastic generally regarded as safe. Again a study found “almost all” plastics even BPA free, caused estrogenic activity. Meaning it mimics the hormone estrogen in the body. This has been linked to early puberty, cancer, altering sexual organs and function [15]. Additionally, additives are used to give these plastic different characteristics and these additives can be toxic.

Polyester:

Simply it is plastic fabric. It is most commonly made from poly (ethylene terephthalate), or PET. The same plastic used in most soda and water bottles. Polyester is increasingly becoming made from melting down recycled plastic PET bottles [16]. 

Studies on PET plastics…

PET water bottles leach more chemicals in warm environments, and may disrupt endocrine function [17]. 

Cancer cells grew 78% faster in PET bottled water than the control water [18]. 

PET water bottles storing mineral water, leached formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, among other chemicals. This leaching was attributed to the acidity of mineral water [19]. 

Consequently, a healthy vaginal tract is also an acidic warm environment [20].

Fragrance:

An ominous word, again manufactures don’t have to disclose their recipe. A fragrance can include any combination of over 3000 chemicals that are known carcinogens, irritants, allergens, and endocrine disruptors [2].

Dyes:

O.B. string contains blue dye [21]. Type of dye used is unknown. Dyes can be very toxic. A list of cancer causing and allergenic dyes can be found here.

In addition to these substances, toxic chemical residues and pesticides have been found in tampons. Read the next article about pesticides in tampons.

Options?

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Go organic cotton, such as Natracare tampons or try a cup. I personally use the Luna cup made from medical grade silicone. I’m not completely confident in the safety of silicone, but I do believe its a better alternative. There is also the Keeper , made from natural rubber (latex).

I prefer the cup. Since having a child, tampons are no longer comfortable. The cup doesn’t leak, it’s not wasteful, and saves money since its reusable.

There’s even monthly subscription service for organic tampons, like Kali, kinda cool right?
Organic Tampons
If toxic tampons disturbs you, tell manufactures we have the right to know what we are putting in our vaginas.

Currently 267,000 people have signed the petition requesting Proctor & Gamble to release what’s in their tampons, you can sign petition here.

Read more about nasty pesticides in tampons in this two part article here.

 

sources:

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378517303002989?via%3Dihub
  2. http://www.womensvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Chem-Fatale-Report.pdf
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/toxic-shock-syndrome/home/ovc-20317877
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8537689
  5. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/MedicalDevices/DeviceRegulationandGuidance/GuidanceDocuments/ucm071799.pdf
  6. http://www.60millions-mag.com/2016/02/23/protections-feminines-de-quoi-sont-elles-constituees-10148
  7. http://www.organicauthority.com/blog/organic/cotton-the-worlds-dirtiest-crop/
  8. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us/recent-trends-in-ge-adoption.aspx#.UYcVJYKSN0o
  9. https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/science/
  10. http://www.fibersource.com/fiber-products/rayon-fiber/
  11. http://www.center4research.org/tampon-safety/
  12. http://www.plasticseurope.org/information-centre/education-portal/resources-room/abc-of-plastics/the-abc-of-polyethylene.aspx
  13. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ipcsneng/neng1488.html
  14. http://www.novachem.com/Product%20Documents/SCLAIRNotColoured_RP_AMER_EN.pdf
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/
  16. http://fibersource.wpengine.com/fiber-products/polyester-fiber/
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854718/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854718/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14726281
  20. http://www.rephresh.com/The-Rephreshing-Truth-Blog/20140502/7/What-is-a-Healthy-Vaginal-pH.aspx
  21. http://naturallysavvy.com/blog/a-tampon-experiment-a-picture-tells-the-tale
  22. http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/13/health/whats-in-your-pad-or-tampon/index.html

 

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