WTF!? is the Deal with Toxic Tampons?
Alright guys, it’s time for the most dreaded of topics: periods! If you’re someone who deals with this often super rough time of the month then you know all about the bad stuff that comes with it: cramps, PMS, mood swings, cravings - the works. Not to mention the much feared Toxic Shock Syndrome. But did you know that TSS isn’t the only way that your menstrual products could be harming your body?
How are Toxic Tampons a Thing?
You may be wondering why you haven’t heard about the dangers of period products (other than TSS). Well, that’s because they are classified as medical devices under the FDA which means that tampon companies are not required to disclose their product ingredients to consumers.
Chemicals and Tampons
It turns out that many popular period products contain a lot of potentially dangerous chemicals. Some studies suggest it’s actually the chemical processing and the toxins left behind in synthetic tampons that make you more likely to get Toxic Shock Syndrome! No one has reported a case of TSS when using 100% organic cotton tampons. Although there’s less risk of TSS than before, there hasn't been much research on the subject, so we’re not totally certain where we stand.
You’ve probably been warned about TSS your whole life, but that’s not the only reason why traditional tampons are scary. Due to the nature of the vaginal walls, basically anything you put up in there gets absorbed directly into your bloodstream. So, you want to be really careful about what you use. Some say that even though there are small amounts of toxins in tampons, that the risks per tampon is no big deal. This is where we disagree. Seeing as the average woman has her period once a month for roughly 40 years of her life, she uses a lot of menstrual products! A lot of products means a lot of exposure. Here at Non Toxic Revolution, the goal is to live the least toxic life possible, obviously! So, we think it’s important to avoid contact with toxins wherever we can.
Rayon is the common traditional tampon material made from wood pulp. Dioxin is a carcinogenic byproduct of the chlorine-bleaching processes in the production of rayon. Yes, bleaching. You didn't think that menstrual products were naturally white, did you? Along with serving an aesthetic purpose, bleaching and other chemical processes are used to make rayon softer and more absorbent. There are other toxic components of tampons like pesticides and GMO’s, but rayon and its byproducts are among the biggest concerns. That being said, not all rayon is terrible. There are trustworthy organic companies, like Seventh Generation, that use it in some of their products. The difference is in the bleaching process, as well as whether or not the company discloses all of their ingredients.
What About Pads?
It makes sense why tampons can be so scary because they go inside of your body, but what about pads? Bad news, traditional pads are aren’t great either. Pads go through much of the same production processes as tampons, and are composed of a lot of the same materials. A study of Always pads found several super toxic chemicals in their products - none of which were listed on the packaging. Plus, traditional pads are loaded with plastic.
Scented Menstrual Products
Don’t even get me started on putting something scented inside of your body. We already know about the dangers of fragrances - how could it be okay to put that inside of such an absorbent part of our body? Not to mention how bad they are for the pH balance of your lady bits! There’s a history behind why there are scented menstrual and other vaginal products and our society’s tendency to want women to feel bad about their bodies and the natural smells they produce. It’s a bummer and a scam - don’t buy into it! Genital odors are completely normal and healthy (of course, if something smells stronger or different than usual, you should definitely get it checked out)!
Sadly, it’s pretty tough to go completely plastic-free if you’re looking to stick with disposable pads and tampons. Because menstrual products are individually wrapped for sanitary purposes, a lot of the organic companies still use plastic in their packaging. This is obviously not ideal, but these companies are still a lot better than traditional ones in terms of chemicals, plastic and waste.
Organic Companies that use some Plastic
Lola, Sustain Natural, and Veeda make 100% organic cotton pads and tampons. Both have tampons with BPA-free plastic applicators, recyclable bio-plastic, or applicator-free tampons (though they are individually wrapped in plastic). O.b. is another company which makes 100% organic cotton tampons. Better yet, they are completely applicator free. However, the tampons are also individually wrapped in plastic.
Organic and Plastic-Free Companies!
Reusable Menstrual Products
If you’re totally over the idea of single-use products, then your body and the environment will totally thank you! There are a lot of reusable menstrual products and that have started to grow in popularity, variety and availability in recent years!
There is a set back with reusable products, and it’s their cost. Menstrual cups tend to go for somewhere around $40 which could feel like a pretty major purchase for your period. However, they last for years, so they’re actually a fraction of the cost of their single-use counterparts. With things like panties or pads, you probably want more than one pair - unless you’re cool washing them everyday - and that could add up a little bit. Again, they still cost a lot less in the long run. You just need to figure out what works best for you.
Reusable pads are a great alternative, especially if you’re someone who is already comfortable with wearing pads on the regular. There are a lot of great brands out there, even Etsy shops which make them. Some of the most popular brands are Luna Pads and Glad Rags.
Menstrual Cups are an awesome tampon alternative. They are comfortable, generally made of medical grade silicone, and last as long as 10 years - meaning you really cut back on waste with just one purchase! Plus, you can leave them in for up to 12 hours without TSS risk. The Diva Cup has recently become available in a lot of your regular menstrual product stops. If you want to do some research on the best cup for you, check out this super descriptive menstrual cup review.
Period panties are a booming trend, and with good reason! The best part? They come in multiple styles to fit both your fashion and period needs. Dear Kate has a variety of panty and other period-friendly products. THINX are the brand you’ve seen all over the internet lately. They also carry 100% organic cotton tampons and it looks like a reusable applicator is in the works.
Bree is a vegan, coffee and beer loving, intersectional feminist who is particularly invested in health. She has a degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from CSULB, where she spent her time turning her passions into academic activism. When she’s not busy spreading awareness on living a non toxic lifestyle, she is most likely taking a long bath, cooking extravagant vegan food, or crying about dogs.