Secret Toxic Ingredients of Pads & Tampons

Have you ever tried reading about what your pads and tampons are made of? You know, just to see what kind of a product you are subjecting your body to every month? If you did, you probably didn’t get much further from the “super absorbent core” and “instant dry top layer” kind of information, which is neither revealing nor a reason to feel at ease. 

Ingredients of commonly used pads and tampons are not only poisonous for our bodies, they are also kept secretive and remain undisclosed. Not knowing about the forming elements of these products, we can hardly make an informed purchasing decision.

Modern menstrual products are immersed in highly toxic and environmentally persistent pollutant chemicals such as bleaching agents, super absorbents acrylic polymers (SAPs), fragrances, dioxins, phthalates, furanes, pesticides and other carcinogenic components. But since manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the elements forming pads and tampons they produce, they don’t, and they have a good reason for it. How do we know? Various studies have been conducted that have detected hazardous chemicals in modern pads and tampons, and subjecting your body to these products every month exponentially increases risk of cancer, toxic shock syndrome, hormone disruption, serious allergic reactions, rashes and itches.

Aforementioned studies have detected volatile organic compounds which include styrene, chloromethane, chloroethane, chloroform, and acetone which are identified as carcinogens, and reproductive and developmental toxins according to the National Toxicology Program ATSDR. Additionally, methyldibromo glutaronitrile (MDBGN) which is known to cause dermatitis was identified and cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic alcohol, which are reported to be causative agents of allergic skin reaction and rash by European Chemical agency (ECHA), were found on scented pads. Highly toxic and environmentally persistent pollutants dioxins were detected in the absorbent core, as well as phthalates, a potentially carcinogenic chemical.

Categorizations of menstrual products in South Korea, the EU and the US.
Figure taken from a comparative study regulations in these three countries.

Women around the world protest against the lack of transparency surrounding menstrual hygiene products and demand full disclosure of their forming ingredients. In the EU no specific legislation is in place for menstrual products. These fall under an indistinct General Products category, which only requires for “safe products to be placed on the market”. Each EU country is then responsible for market surveillance on their territory. Producers however, are not specifically requested to disclose the exact components of their products, even if these products come in direct contact with women’s bodies. This lack of regulations and a vague stance towards menstrual products is troubling, and clearly needs a thorough revision. It is essential that we, as consumers, are aware of the situation, so that we are able to make more informed decisions.

Health Problems due to Chemical Exposure

Research indicates women’s health problems are on the rise, and this may be related to toxic chemical exposure. Over the last two decades, breast, ovarian and cervical cancer rates have risen dramatically. Additionally, many chemicals stored in a woman’s body are further passed onto her child during pregnancy and later through breast-feeding. A 2005 study by the Environmental Working Group revealed that at least 287 hazardous industrial chemicals pass through the placenta to the fetus. Toxic chemicals from beauty products, household cleaners and other sources (such as toxic menstrual products) are commonly detected in breastmilk.

Secrecy, Toxic Shock Syndrome and Inadequate Testing Conditions

After public pressure to do so, two biggest names on the menstrual products market, P&G, maker of Always pads and Tampax tampons, and Kimberly-Clark, maker of Kotex tampons and pads, published additional information about the ingredients used in their products on their websites. But microbiologist Philip Tierno of the New York University School of Medicine said that’s not enough. “Even if they list some ingredients, they may not be listing all of them.” Tierno was one of the scientists who helped discover the link between toxic shock syndrome and P&G’s tampons called Rely in the 1980s, of which 86 women died in 5 years. He connected TSS to the synthetic materials that were used in superabsorbent tampons at the time.

The FDA says that trace amounts of dioxin are not of concern for human health and that rayon tampons don’t have higher incidences of TSS. “Sure, one tampon is trace,” said Tierno, “but consider the menstrual lifetime of a woman. They use approximately 12,000 tampons in a lifetime. That means 12,000 exposures of dioxin … five, six, seven times a day. That’s a lot of dioxin absorbed directly through the vagina. It goes directly into the blood.” It’s the cumulative effect that is worrisome. Vaginal tissue isn’t like other skin. It’s covered in mucous membranes, it’s very permeable. It’s a direct route to your reproductive organs. We need to be really careful of these products,” said Scranton, of Women’s Voices for the Earth.

Tampon use is an understudied source of chemical exposure that could be associated with adverse health. The vaginal exposure route has so far been overlooked, although it is an extremely important route because of the rapid absorption that occurs in the vagina and the widespread use of tampons. Similarly, when conducting an exposure assessment of disposable hygiene pads, a protocol that simulates the actual wearing environment would be desirable to provide more accurate representation of realistic impacts of pads on a human body.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. There is an easy way out of this toxic relationship with pads and tampons that compromise your health. Pure menstrual cup is made of 100% medical grade silicone which doesn’t hurt your body at all. Medical grade silicone is:

  • Non-reactive
  • Bio-compatible
  • Temperature resistant

Medical grade silicone is a naturally inert material, which means it’s non-reactive in the presence of other chemicals or human tissue. It is a bio-compatible material, thus it does not produce a toxic or immune response within the body. It is water and temperature resistant, so it’s perfectly safe to place in boiling water for its disinfection, as it will stay intact in extreme high or low temperature environments. Medical grade silicone is used for a wide range of products such as baby bottle nipples, feeding tubes, dental instrument components, implants for long and short term use, food and skin contact products, etc. Pure menstrual cup has been tested vigorously to meet the highest ISO and CE standards, and is perfectly safe for insertion into your body.

The beautiful thing is that by cutting ties with corporate companies who make money on the expense of our health, we dodge the bullet of toxicity, save money and substantially limit plastic waste we produce with a perfectly natural process called menstruation. 

Menstrual cup, a pure no-brainer, isn’t it? 

References

Bae, J., Kwon, H. and Kim, J., 2018. Safety Evaluation of Absorbent Hygiene Pads: A Review on Assessment Framework and Test Methods. Sustainability, 10(11), p.4146.

European Commission – European Commission. n.d. General Product Safety Directive. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/general-product-safety-directive_en [Accessed 9 March 2021].

EWG. 2005. Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns. [online] Available at: https://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns [Accessed 15 March 2021].

Fourcassier, S., 2020. Tackling the Menstruation Taboo. Green European Journal. Available at: https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/tackling-the-menstruation-taboo/ [Accessed 9 March 2021].

Kwak, J., Nam, S., Kim, D. and An, Y., 2019. Comparative study of feminine hygiene product regulations in Korea, the European Union, and the United States. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 107, p.104397.

Rabin, R., 2017. Period Activists Want Tampon Makers to Disclose Ingredients (Published 2017). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/well/live/period-activists-want-tampon-makers-to-disclose-ingredients.html [Accessed 15 March 2021].

Regis College Online. n.d. 8 Common Women’s Health Issues to Know About | Regis College. [online] Available at: https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/health-issues-specific-womens-health/ [Accessed 15 March 2021].

Seventh Generation. 2017. Do You Know What’s In Your Tampons & Pads? Women Rally for their #RightToKnow. [online] Available at: <https://www.seventhgeneration.com/blog/do-you-know-whats-your-tampons-pads-women-rally-washington-dc-their-righttoknow> [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Tribune, S., 1998. TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME: NOT FORGOTTEN, AND NOT GONE EITHER. [online] chicagotribune.com. Available at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-02-01-9802010235-story.html#:~:text=Tests%20proved%20her%20right.,86%20women%20in%20five%20years. [Accessed 15 March 2021].

Vostral, S., 2011. Rely and Toxic Shock Syndrome: A Technological Health Crisis. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3238331/ [Accessed 15 March 2021].

Women’s Voices for the Earth. n.d. Women, Health, and Environment – Powerful voices for systemic change. Available at: https://www.womensvoices.org/about/why-a-womens-organization/ [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Women’s Voices for the Earth. 2018. Women Protest Against Body Shaming, Toxic Chemicals in Summer’s Eve Products. Available at: https://www.womensvoices.org/2018/08/02/women-rally-at-prestige-brands-headquarters-to-protest-body-shaming-and-toxic-chemicals-in-summers-eve-products/ [Accessed 9 March 2021].