A woman uses more than 12,000 tampons in her lifetime and each and every one of them come into contact with the most sensitive and most absorbent part of her body. As such, it makes complete sense to me as to why we need to keep chemicals and synthetics away from this area. This is why I was so shocked to discover that conventional tampons and pads may contain a long list of toxic ingredients. What are these ingredients? How might these ingredients affect your health? Let’s take a look.
WHAT’S IN YOUR TAMPON?
NOTE: INGREDIENTS MAY VARY FROM COMPANY TO COMPANY
Most tampons contain a material known as Viscose Rayon. Viscose Rayon is used to increase the absorbency of tampons, which has been linked toTSS or Toxic Shock Syndrome (4,5). Rayon itself is not a natural or synthetic fibre, it is derived from bleached wood pulp and is manufactured using a 14-step process that uses many chemicals (1,2,3).
Many consider non-organic cotton to be the WORLD’S DIRTIEST CROP, accounting for more than 16% of the world’s total insecticides use – far more than is applied to any other single crop (6). The US Environmental Protection Agency considers 7 of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton in the year 2000, as “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known” human carcinogens (EPA). Diuron, one of the herbicides used on cotton, has been labelled as a “likely” human carcinogen by the EPA and it has also been linked to birth defects (7, 8, 9). Non-organic cotton is one of the most common ingredients found in conventional tampon brands.
CHLORINE / CHLORINE-FREE BLEACH:
Are your tampons white? Rayon and rayon-cotton blends used in tampons are commonly bleached using either chlorine, elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine-free bleaching methods (10). Dioxin, a by-product of chlorine bleaching, is listed as a toxic carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. Published scientific reports have shown that there is evidence to suggest that even low levels of dioxins may be linked to cancer, endometriosis, low sperm counts, abnormal tissue growth in the abdomen and reproductive organs, abnormal cell growth throughout the body and immune system suppression (4, 5, 11,12,13). Nice eh?
According to the findings of the “Robin Danielson Act”, most wood pulp manufacturers, currently use the elemental-chlorine free bleaching processes. This process uses chlorine dioxide as a bleaching agent that still produces dioxins however, the FDA says that these dioxins exist at extremely low levels and as such, are considered “safe”. Whether or not these levels are in fact “safe” is an ongoing debate and given that dioxin bioaccumulates and can remain in the body 20 or 30 years after exposure, many believe the real danger comes from repeated contact – 12,000 tampons considered repeated contact? (4,10,14)
POLYPROPYLENE AND POLYETHYLENE:
Propylene glycol is used as a plasticiser solvent (in lacquers and varnishes), and as a component in antifreeze products, lubricants, cutting-fluids, and inks. These ingredients are used in the pad liners, outside lining of tampons and packaging of feminine products. Both are potential skin irritants and can cause an inflammatory reaction for some women. (15)
This is a synthetic fibre, which is made from petroleum, coal, water and air. When these substances are combined with alcohol and acid a chemical reaction takes place, and you have polyester. Polyester absorbs oils, rather than moisture and it is used in the lining of maxi pads, their wrappers, coatings, and the tampon applicators.
But wait, there is more.
To simulate what happens when a tampon is inserted inside our “lady parts”, I placed both a popular conventional tampon (left) and organic TOM tampon (right) into a glass of water. As you can see, the results are very different.
I turned to Aimee Marks, founder of TOM Organic – a chemical free range of feminine hygiene products, to explain (you can read more about Aimee here). According to Aimee, cotton fibres contained in the TOM organic range, naturally intertwine and create a strong bond that holds the tampon intact. This is reflected in the image to the right. Given that conventional tampons contain a heavily processed combination of chemically processed rayon and cotton, they no longer possess naturally interwoven fibres. To overcome this problem, these tampons are encased in polypropylene (plastic) to keep them intact. Logistically this sounds viable however, the polypropylene casing only surrounds the tampon length ways. What about the end of the tampon that is situated closest to the cervix? As you can see in the image above, chemically treated fibres break away from the tampon and are left in the glass. This simulates fibres left in the female body. That’s right, chemically treated fibres are left inside the female body! These remaining fibres have been linked to damage caused in a woman’s vagina by ulcerations, drying and peeling of the mucus membrane. These remaining fibres have also been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome. (5, 14, 17)
As always, I recommend going organic and chemical free wherever possible. For the products I use, click here (THIS IS NOT SPONSORED).
If you want to know what is used to produce your tampons, these can often be found on the plastic wrapping of tampon boxes or by calling your producers customer care line.
- Kaufmann (1993) Rayon: The first semi-synthetic fiber product: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ed070p887
- Smith (ND) Rayon – The Multi-Faceted Fiber: http://web.archive.org/web/20100331124255/
- (ND) Rayon Fiber: http://www.fibersource.com/f-tutor/rayon.htm
- HR 5181 (2007) Robin Danielson Act, Research Regarding Risks posed by Dioxin, Synthetic fibres and other additives in feminine hygiene products: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.5181:
- Tierno & Hanna (1994) Propensity of Tampons and Barrier Contraceptives to Amplify Staphylococcus aureus Toxic Shock Syndrome Toxin-I: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2364374/
- EJF (2007) The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton: http://ejfoundation.org/sites/default/files/public/the_deadly_chemicals_in_cotton.pdf
- Ferrucio, Franchi, Boldrin, Oliveira (2010) Evaluation of diuron (3-[3,4-dichlorophenyl]-1,1-dimethyl urea) in a two-stage mouse skin carcinogenesis assay: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20574074
- Washington State Dept of Transportation (2006) Diuron Herbicide Fact Sheet http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/A8A7E00F-B0FC-440B-AF2A-7FC201DFB549/0/diuron.pdf
- Cotton Australia (2012), Diuron Permit for Cotton: http://cottonaustralia.com.au/news/article/diuron-permit-for-cotton
- FDA (2013) Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin, & Toxic Shock Syndrome: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/PatientAlerts/ucm070003.htm
- World Health Organisation (2010) Dioxins and their effects on human health: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/
- Rier, Martin, Bowman, Dmowski & Becker (1993), Endometriosis in Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) Following Chronic Exposure to 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin: http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/4/433.short
- Mocarelli, Gerthoux & Brambilla (2011), Perinatal Exposure to Low Doses of Dioxin Can Permanently Impair Human Semen Quality: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3094426/
- Houppert, Pulling The Plug On The Sanitary Protection Industry:http://www.spotsite.org/village.html
- Hautarzt (1982), Skin irritation caused by propylene glycols: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7085276
- Krapp, How Products are made: Polyester: http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Polyester.html
- Dudley, Nassar & Hartman (2009), Tampon Safety: http://center4research.org/i-saw-it-on-the-internet/tampon-safety/
- U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, List of Chemicals Evaluated for Carcinogenic Potential, January 20, 2012 (not online), and EPA, 1-3, Dichloropropene Quickview, May 2000.
- Darbre (2006), Environmental oestrogens, cosmetics and breast cancer: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522524
- Bretveld, Thomas, Scheepers, Zielhuis, Roeleveld (2006) Pesticide exposure: the hormonal function of the female reproductive system disrupted? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1524969/