If you're anything like me, there are certain purchasing decisions that you don't put much thought into. Things like which dish soap you buy, which toilet paper you use and unfortunately, which tampon brand you choose. Many people stick to the brand they were introduced to when they first started menstruating and others like me look for whatever's on sale at the drug store. It wasn't until I began digging deep into the literature about feminine hygiene products that I started to learn the truth about what is in my tampons and the secrecy around the ingredients of these products.
Do you like being lied to? Neither do I. That's why I was very disturbed to find out that the tampon brand I had been using since my first period was not being transparent about the ingredients in their products and that these ingredients were very harmful. Every woman deserves to have the information necessary to make thoughtful decisions about the products she uses in and on her body.
The Vagina is Highly Permeable
Our skin is the bodies largest organ. Unlike chemicals that we may ingest through food which can be filtered through the enzymes in our saliva and our stomachs, chemicals placed on the skin can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream. "As a mucous membrane, the vagina is capable of secreting and absorbing fluids at a higher rate than skin, as are some of the external portions of the vulva, including the clitoris, clitoral hood, labia minora, and urethra."(1,2,3,4)
The vagina is intelligent and self cleaning and can ward of many infections, however, the mucous membranes in the vagina and vulva rapidly absorb chemicals without metabolizing them. (1, 5) This can be very dangerous and even fatal when through their feminine hygiene products women are exposed to toxic chemicals for extended lengths of time.
What is Really in Those Tampons?
Synthetic Fibres: You have probably heard of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), likely as a far off threat of what may happen should you leave your tampon in too long. What you likely haven't heard is that the synthetic fibres like viscose rayon contained in many mainstream brands of tampons creates the perfect breeding ground for toxins within the vagina. (1,6,7,8) Using 100% cotton products greatly reduces the risk of TSS.
Dioxin: This is a chemical bi-product of cotton bleaching that is sometimes found in trace amounts within tampons and pads. Trace amounts may also be found in food, however trace amounts sitting in a permeable part of the body for hours at a time is worrisome. “A woman uses approximately 11,400 tampons in her menstrual life that’s exposure to dioxins 11,400 times." (1) Dioxin is a known cancer causing chemical.
Pesticides: Cotton that comes from fields treated with pesticides often contains residue of these toxic products. Reports have found detectable residues of eight pesticides in one brand of tampons. (1, 9) Pesticides are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
Why don't we know this?
According to regulatory bodies, menstrual hygiene supplies are considered medical devices, which means they don't have to list the ingredients in their products on their packaging. So you know what's in the t-shirt you're wearing but have no idea what is in the product that sits next to your reproductive organs for hours at a time each month.
What can we do?
Education is power, the first step is to do your homework about your body and the products that you are using on it and in it. One of the market drivers in the menstrual hygiene industry right now is the desire on the part of millennial women for safer, more natural and organic products. Industry has to respond to consumers demands, the more that we change our purchasing decisions, the more research will need to be conducted on the safety of our products and the more responsibility brands will have to be transparent.
By choosing 100% organic cotton tampons you ensure your products have: no synthetic fibres, no dioxin, no pesticides, are biodegradable and reduce the chemical exposure on your body. Other options for you to explore are the diva cup, and thinx period panties.
We often get so set in our ways, we buy whatever tampons or pads are on sale at the drug store. It's not until we stop to think that we realize how closely we interact with these products. Everyone who menstruates deserves to know that the products they are using are safe. Armed with this new information we can't continue to unconsciously pass on our buying behaviours to the next generation without stopping to think. We try to buy natural products to feed our families, and to use in our homes and our menstrual hygiene supplies should be no different.
Nicole W. 2014. A question for women’s health: chemicals in feminine hygiene products and personal lubricants. Environ Health Perspect 122:A70–A75; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.122-A70
Kumamoto Y, Iwasaki A. Unique features of antiviral immune system of the vaginal mucosa. Curr Opin Immunol 24(4):411–416 (2012); http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.coi.2012.05. 006.
Keir L, et al. Medical Assisting: Administrative and Clinical Competencies. Clifton Park, NY:Delmar Learning (1998). Available: http://goo.gl/BDGHfg [accessed 24 January 2014].
Farage M, Maibach HI. The vulvar epithelium differs from the skin: implications for cutaneous testing to address topical vulvar exposures. Contact Dermatitis 51(4):201–209 (2004); http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.0105-1873.20 04.00444.x.
Hussain A, Ahsan F. The vagina as a route for systemic drug delivery. J Control Release 103(2):301–313 (2005); http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jconrel.2004 .11.034.
Tierno PM Jr, Hanna BA. Ecology of toxic shock syndrome: amplification of toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 by materials of medical interest. Clin Infect Dis 11(suppl 1):S182–S187 (1989); http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/clinids/11.Sup plement_1.S182.
Tierno PM Jr, Hanna BA. In vitro amplification of toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 by intravaginal devices. Contraception 31(2):185–194 (1985); http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0010-7824(85)9 0033-2.
Tierno PM Jr, et al. Effects of toxic shock syndrome Staphylococcus aureus, endotoxin and tampons in a mouse model. Clin Invest Med 10(2):64–70 (1987); http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3581548.
Scranton A. Chem Fatale: Potential Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals in Feminine Care Products. Missoula, MT:Women’s Voices for the Earth (November 2013). Available: http://goo.gl/BgIwdu [accessed 24 January 2014].