Do you know what's in your tampon?

What's in your tampon?
© Dmitri Ma

There's a good reason why menstrual product manufacturers don't want to reveal their ingredient lists.

If you're a TreeHugger reader, then chances are you're also an ingredient reader. Whether you're shopping for food, cosmetics, skincare products, or clothing, you may have a habit of checking always to see what something is made of before buying it.

But have you ever stopped to examine a box of tampons to see what it's made of? If the answer is no, you're not missing much -- because there is no ingredient list. Tampon manufacturers are not required to say what their product contains, which is a matter of great concern to those people who do know what's in them.

A group called Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE) recently had six varieties of tampons tested by STAT Analysis. All tampons were purchased from stores in New York City and included conventional, organic, and dollar store brands. The results were troubling. Every tampon that contained rayon also had traces of carbon disulfide, a known reproductive toxin that is used in the manufacture of rayon. Some brands revealed methylene chloride, which is commonly used for paint stripping and metal cleaning and is considered an occupational carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Labor, and volatile organic compounds such as toluene and xylene.

Alexandra Scranton, WVE’s Director of Science and Research, said in a statement:

"This testing is just one snapshot that shows us there is more to these products than is being disclosed. Whether the chemicals we detected are a result of contamination from rayon manufacturing, from added fragrance ingredients, or other unknown additives, we need to know to be able to avoid these chemicals of concern."

An estimated 85 percent of women use tampons while menstruating, and yet organic tampon producer TOTM says that nine out of 10 women have no idea what they're made of -- this despite the fact that the vagina is one of the most sensitive and absorptive regions of the body, and these chemical-laden products are used throughout important child-bearing years. TOTM writes in its informative FAQ section:

"On average a woman will use 12,000 tampons in their lifetime, and health experts are still researching the cumulative effects of these substances in the long-run."

TOTM also goes on to say that rayon-containing tampons can leave small fibers lodged in the vaginal wall, releasing dioxins and causing small cuts. If that's not enough to turn you off them, I don't know what will!

Linda B. Rosenthal is a Democrat Assemblymember from Manhattan who hopes to change this with Bill A521A. The bill, which has yet to pass, would require clear ingredient labeling of menstrual products by manufacturers. Rosenthal said,

“Women and girls have every right to know what they put in and on their bodies. And yet, there is currently no requirement for ingredient labeling of menstrual hygiene products, which women use because of biological necessity. Without my legislation requiring package labeling, we leave millions of New Yorkers blindfolded in the aisles of drug stores and supermarkets as they consider what products to buy for themselves and their families.”

Rosenthal is absolutely right, and I hope her bill is successful, but we also need to begin by teaching women that there is a problem in the first place with conventional menstrual products. This may come as a revelation to many, who haven't stopped to think about it before. It's new territory for many women and it can seem daunting to navigate. If you're new to the idea that menstrual products can be harmful and are wondering where to start, here are some ideas:

  • Look for natural, organic brands of tampons, pads, and panty liners, such as Seventh Generation and NatraCare (available in most supermarkets and health stores), or order a monthly subscription from TOTM.
  • Buy reusable organic cotton pads. I have Luna pads, which I like, but there are many others out there, like GladRags and New Moon Pads. Check Etsy for ideas or make your own.
  • Buy a menstrual cup. This has been a total game-changer for me. It goes in, stays for up to 12 hours, and is super easy to empty and re-insert. I basically don't notice anymore when I have my period. A few brands: Diva Cup, Moon Cup, Keeper Cup, Skoon, Blossom.
  • Try some menstrual underwear. Kimberley reviewed a sporty pair of WUKA undies earlier this year; read her report here.
  • Throw a 'Detox the Box' party, aided by WVE. This is a fun and clever way to talk to your female friends about something that affects them and needs to change. Find out how to do it here.

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