Wondering if your menstrual products are toxic?

The vulva and vagina are highly permeable and ultra-sensitive. Unlike the skin on the rest of your body, any products used in these areas have a direct route into your bloodstream. Thanks to the rise of new health-conscious brands in the last couple of years like Tampon Tribe, Rael and Lunapads, women are starting to take a closer look at their menstrual products to avoid potential exposure to toxic ingredients.

Here is a summary of what you should know about cotton menstrual products.

Problems with most tampons & pads

Tampons and pads (i.e. menstrual pads, panty liners, feminine napkins, sanitary napkins) are predominately made out of GMO, or genetically modified organism, which is cotton that is often heavily sprayed with chemical herbicides. Some products then go on to be bleached and can be combined with varying plastics and synthetic materials.

In the United States, more than 90% of the cotton crop is GMO [1]. The science is inconclusive whether or not GMOs are a health concern, but still problems arise with all the herbicides – yes, those chemicals that kill weeds, that are used on GMO crops. One common herbicide, glyphosate, is not only an Endocrine Disrupting Chemical (EDC) but also a probable human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization (WHO) [2]. Carcinogens are substances capable of causing cancer.

Up until the 1990’s, most companies would bleach tampons and pads, which would create dioxin residues. Dioxin is also recognized as a known human carcinogen by WHO. And although you can find menstrual products that are developed with chlorine-free bleaching methods, those may still contain traces of dioxin.

In order to create high absorbency and meet manufacturing demands, most conventional menstrual tampons and pads are made up of cotton, rayon and plastics. These plastics can not only irritate your skin and vagina, but may cause moderate organ system toxicity. Health conscious consumers are also turning to plastic-free options to reduce unnecessary waste.

Phthalates are another toxicological concern as they are found in most plastics, such as tampon applicators. More awareness has grown around phthalates as a known hormone-disrupting chemical and is yet another ingredient to avoid in all of your products. Further research is being performed to fully assess the impacts of phthalates on human health given a rise in concerns of negative reproductive effects [3].

Lastly, we still have more progress to make in the United States in terms of overall sex positivity among women. In Europe, the majority of tampon users prefer the kind without a plastic applicator and without a string. These European users are comfortable inserting and removing tampons from their vaginas. In the US, however, women tend to have a less positive association with their genitals and prefer products with applicators and strings to avoid direct contact with their vagina and menstrual blood. Yes, a smooth plastic applicator may be more convenient, but keep in mind that plastic applicators create more waste and also expose you to more chemicals.

The solution

Find and support companies that use 100% organic and chlorine-free cotton in their tampons and pads. By doing so, you know there will no traces of chemical herbicides, toxins, plastics or other harmful materials your vagina does not need.

Alternatively, consider new healthy period product options including reusable cotton pads or period underwear. Menstrual cups, made with medical grade silicone are another great option for periods.  To learn more about your options, check out The Bloomi, the only intimate care marketplace focused on clean products for period, hygiene and sex. All menstrual products are hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and free of chlorine, dioxin, herbicide and pesticide residues.

Shopping Guide Recap
  • Use 100% organic cotton certified products to avoid all potential herbicides.
  • Look for brands that avoid bleaching. The label will say ‘chlorine-free’.
  • Shop ‘dioxin-free’ products.
  • Look for the ‘FDA’ registered label to ensure they follow US manufacturing standards.
  • Try tampons without applicators to reduce the risks associated with plastics.
  • Consider using tampons without strings and embrace a sex-positive relationship with touching your genitals.
  • Consider eco-friendly, reusable options like washable pads, period underwear, and menstrual cups.

[1] United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. (2017). Recent trends in GE adoption. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us/recent-trends-in-ge-adoption.aspx

[2] International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2015). IARC monograph on glyphosate. Retrieved from http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol112/

[3] Tox Town: Phthalates. (2017) NLM and NIH Environmental health concerns and toxic chemicals where you live, work and play. Retrieved from http://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/chemicals.php?id=24

About the author

Jennifer Olsen, MA

Jen is a sexologist based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her research examines how young women learn about masturbation and specializes in topics related to women’s sexual wellness including agency, pleasure and the menstrual cycle.

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