Is your tampon toxic?

is your tampon toxic

Alright, ladies, we’re getting real right here. No need to be bashful; we all get a little visit from Aunt Flo every month…

So what’s one thing that is sure to make your period worse? Oh, just knowing that your trusty tampon may be toxic.

The average woman uses approximately 11,000 tampons during her lifetime. Goodness, that’s a lot of tampons. And potentially a lot of toxins. How so?

Cotton and pesticides

Most tampons are made of cotton, rayon, or a blend of both. Conventional cotton tampons are very likely made with cotton that has been treated with pesticides. Cotton is considered the “dirtiest” crop due to the sheer amount of hazardous pesticides used in its production. While cotton consists of only 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land use, 16% of the world’s pesticides goes towards cotton production, more than any other individual crop.

Three of the pesticides that are most acutely hazardous to human health (as determined by the World Health Organization), rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production. All but one of the remaining seven most commonly used are classified as moderately to highly hazardous. The second most commonly used pesticide is the most acutely poisonous to humans. Just one drop (ingested or absorbed through the skin) is lethal, yet it is still used in 25 countries, including the US.

These pesticides also have a profound effect on the environment: research conducted by Seventh Generation has found that if every woman of menstruating age replaced one 16-count package of regular absorbency conventional cotton tampons with organic cotton tampons, it would prevent a whopping 17,000 lbs of pesticides from polluting rivers, lakes, and streams.

Chlorine concerns

Rayon is made from bleached cellulose fibers derived from wood pulp. According to the US FDA, “at one time, bleaching the wood pulp was a potential source of trace amounts of dioxin in tampons, but that bleaching method is no longer used. Rayon raw material used in U.S. tampons is now produced using elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine free bleaching processes.”

While “chlorine-free” is pretty straight forward, what the heck is “elemental chlorine-free” bleaching? Elemental chlorine-free bleaching processes do not use pure chlorine gas to purify the wood pulp, but rather use chlorine dioxide. According to the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, elemental chlorine-free bleaching processes “produce far fewer chlorine-containing chemicals and have virtually eliminated a number of chlorinated chemicals of concern, including dioxin.”

This is great! But terms like “far fewer” and “virtually” just aren’t cutting it for me, especially considering the fact that dioxins bioaccumulate in our bodies, and even low levels of exposure can lead to cancer, endometriosis, birth defects, and reproductive disorders. Even the FDA states that “some elemental chlorine-free bleaching processes can theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels, and dioxins are occasionally detected in trace amounts.”

Fragrancing our feminine bits

Many do not realize that fragrances (including expensive perfumes) are primarily made from synthetic chemicals. According Connie Pitts, author of Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes-The Invisible Chemical Poisons, “scented products contain an abundance of harmful chemicals, many of which are listed on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste List. They also include numerous carcinogenic chemicals, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, solvents, aldehydes, hundreds of untested and unregulated petro-chemicals, phthalates (which can act as hormone disrupters), narcotics, and much more.”

Hm. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my lady parts could benefit from this.

The solutions

Reusable menstrual cups: I only recently purchased a menstrual cup and have used it for three cycles. The first two were definitely an adjustment period (no pun intended), but I felt I had the hang of it by the third cycle. Ironically, I was hesitant to start using a reusable cup because of my job – I was concerned about emptying it during work. But I found that I didn’t have to change it at all! Most women only empty or change their cup every 8-12 hours, which is more convenient. Unlike tampons, there is no danger of Toxic Shock Syndrome with the reusable menstrual cups, so there is no risk with keeping it in for an extended period of time. For health, environmental, and economic reasons, these cups are a winner in my book. Click here to view the cup I purchased. It is seriously a life-changer, and I wish I had made a switch sooner.

Organic, chlorine-free, unscented tampons: These are relatively widely available and a great alternative for tampon-users who are hesitant about using a reusable menstrual cup. Click here to view some available options and brands. 

is your tampon toxic 2

Sources and further reading:

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  1. I use castile soap, which I just generally use at home. I’ve had mine for over a year and a half but this is what the Diva website says: “Silicone is very durable, but we recommend that you inspect your cup regularly for signs of deterioration such as a sticky or powdery film, severe discoloration or odor, etc. If you detect any of these signs or if you experience irritation we recommend you replace your DivaCup with a new one. Depending on the factors unique to each woman, like vaginal pH, how well and often the cup is cleaned, what cleansing agents are used, etc., the lifespan may vary. Since The DivaCup is a personal hygienic product, a general guideline is to replace it once a year, but ultimately, it is up to the consumer to decide when it is necessary to replace the cup.”

  2. I’ve been using menstrual cups for 10 years, specifically I started out with Mooncup – http://www.mooncup.co.uk/wc.php?u=1741

    I’d NEVER even consider going back to tampons/pads, not only because since starting using a cup I’ve learned a lot more about tampon risks and my body, but also because right now I couldn’t even afford the small fortune tampons/pads cost me, and tampons/pads are so inconvenient!

    I’d leak through an ultra tampon within 15 minutes, you can’t wear tampons overnight and you’re supposed to alternate with pads, so it was super-inconvenient managing my periods with tampons and pads. With cups I can keep the cup in for FAR longer, my flow has been reduced, I can wear cups throughout my period including overnight, and they don’t leak (when full you can feel it, even if you don’t empty soon enough you get light spotting rather than the sudden gush when tampons leak). Cups are a million times better than tampons.

  3. Hmm I’ve actually never heard of Meluna, I’ll have to look into it! I’m glad to hear you prefer the cup as well!

  4. I’ve been using a menstrual cup for probably 5 years or more. I started with the Diva cup, then got a Meluna, which was more comfortable. If you have a low ick-factor tolerance, this is probably not for you, as it can be messy to empty. For me, it’s worth it. I noticed that my cramps are less intense when I use my cup vs a tampon, as I’m not absorbing those chemicals any more. I have an extremely heavy flow thanks to fibroids, and I feel much better about my eco-footprint now that I’m no longer trying to single-handedly stock a landfill with pads or tampons. Leakage is also minimized with a cup, though I will use liners on my heaviest days.

  5. luckyvitamin dot com sells a 6 pack of disposable “softcups”. for $3.39 for 6. I rarely buy anything with the word “disposable” on it but I liked being able to try before “investing” in the diva cup. Now I’m stoked about them!

  6. what about pads? i’ve never used tampons and wont use them because of the TSS risk. plus i dont like the thought of keeping old dead cells inside ur body when they are supposed to be coming out. hence why i use pads, i used to use scented ones but they caused severe irritation to my skin so i use unscented now when possible.

  7. I’ve been using a Mooncup for over 10 years now and I love it. Not a hassle to use it out and about. It’s only during those first few heavier days that it needs to be emptied more often.