The Dangers Lurking In Feminine Hygiene Products
It's time for us to have a serious talk about women's health.
For years we've welcomed big corporations inside our bodies without knowing the detriments it has caused our health. We now have mounting evidence showing a connection between feminine hygiene products, and an increase in infertility and hormone disruption.
Yet, feminine hygiene products have become indispensable for the modern age. We are able to have a normal life without having to hide at home every time we get our periods.
But the real question is…what price are we paying for this comfort?
A Brief History of Tampons
Tampons and pads are nothing new. Around 500 B.C Hippocrates documented how Greek women would wrap lint around pieces of wood to control their menstruation. Women everywhere improvised hygiene goods with different materials. In ancient Japan, they created tampons out of paper, in Hawaii, they used ferns, in Indonesia vegetable fibers and in Africa rolls of grass.
Around the 18th century tampons were used as a medical device. Antiseptic cotton rolls were used to stop bleeding from bullet wounds. A French doctor described a tampon made from tightly rolled, vinegar-soaked linen that was used to stop the flow of non-menstrual vaginal discharge.
Tampons Catch On
During World War I nurses produced their own tampons that were made from cotton wool. But it wasn't until Earle Cleavaland sold a patent he created for tampons to Gertrude Tendrich, a business woman that started a company named Tampax. And from there…it caught on. By the 1970's tampons were used by more than 70% of American women. This is when other companies like Procter & Gamble moved into the market and mass-produced using dioxin-producing chlorine gas for the bleaching methods of cotton. A highly toxic way of producing tampons that caused a number of ailments, as it lowers the immune system, causes imbalance of hormones and a long-time suspect to toxic shock syndrome.
Replacing Toxic Chemicals with Other Toxins
Around the 90's many companies (not all) switched to chlorine-free for the bleaching process. But continued to use synthetic rayon and conventional cotton along with other fibers.
Rayon in tampon products is more absorptive than using 100% cotton. This allows tampons to be more leak-proof, but it also has a very negative effect on a woman’s health. Synthetic rayon is a petroleum based product, using precious and polluting oil in their production, yuck!
Because of its powerful absorptive properties, viscose rayon highly concentrates menstrual proteins which allows the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus to grow and can cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. Studies have shown tampons made of 100% cotton are the safest as they have not shown to cause TSS.
Dyes and Fragrances
Endocrine disruptors interfere with the normal function of the hormone system and can contribute to an array of negative health impacts. A few studies in women's hygiene products detected many of chemicals that are known to be hormone disruptors, including phthalates, parabens and bisphenol-A. Dyes and fragrances are made mostly from these chemicals. They have also been linked to harm to reproductive health and are considered carcinogens.
The skin surrounding the genital area, including the vulvar and vaginal mucosa, is thin and very absorbent, which makes the results of the studies concerning. Researchers from one of the studies estimated that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals from menstrual products is at least 10 times higher than the estimated absorption rates through skin elsewhere on the body.
Further Reading: Your Orbital Junk and the Environment Around You
Pesticides in Tampons
Glyphosate the main ingredient in pesticides is considered a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. It causes an array of detriments to the liver, lungs, the brain and the endocrine system. If this is not shocking enough, methylphosphonyl the molecule that attaches to the glycine in glyphosate is a precursor to chemical weapons (nerve gas).
Around 85% of menstrual products (and even diapers) that contain conventional GMO cotton have been tested with large amounts of glyphosate. Sixty-two percent of the samples also tested positive for AMPA (or aminomethylphosphonic acid), a derivative of glyphosate.
Most of the cotton production in the country is GM [genetically modified] cotton that is resistant to glyphosate. It is sprayed when the bud is open and the glyphosate is condensed and goes straight into the product.
Further reading: Glyphosate Is Making You Age Faster
Heavy Metals in Menstrual Products
It's also concerning to think that your hygiene products could be contaminated with heavy metals. Especially If the cotton was grown in metal contaminated soils or if pesticides were applied to the cotton used in the tampons. Cadmium, lead, and mercury are known environmental toxicants and are especially of concern. Metals have oxidation-reduction properties that have been associated with enhancing oxidative damage, an important risk factor in the development of chronic inflammatory disease. Cadmium exposure has been linked to kidney and cardiovascular disease in humans. Lead and mercury exposures have been associated with negative impacts on the nervous system and with cardiovascular disease.
Better than Organic, Good for You and Good for the Planet
So what are the best menstrual products? Should I use tampons? I've asked myself these questions a lot. The answer is relative, but for me I found tampons to be convenient for my active lifestyle. I workout everyday, I'm always on the go. But where to begin? One of the companies I'm currently obsessing over is Tampon Tribe. A company by women for women. They checked all the boxes I was looking for when it comes to menstrual products. No dyes, fragrances, 100% organic cotton, no plastic, cardboard applicators, and no plastic wrapping. They come nicely wrapped in paper.
I wanted to share some of the questions I had for Tampon Tribe.
From the Source, by Women for Women:
Q&A with Tampon Tribe
How was Tampon Tribe started? What was the motivation behind it?
To be honest, we were first inspired by the Dollar Shave Club ads that we kept seeing everywhere. We thought it was such an awesome, simple idea that increased access for so many people, because of the affordable price point and home delivery. We loved the subscription model for convenience and were ruminating about how we could apply the same model to solve a different problem. One day during an "Oh NO!" moment when Ms. Flow arrived early and tampons were nowhere to be found…everything clicked. The one thing that comes monthly by Mother Nature is our period, so what could be more perfect than a monthly subscription service for feminine hygiene products?!
As we did more and more research we realized how few options there were for totally organic fem care products with total transparency. Those that did exist were also so much more expensive, thereby excluding the majority of women & families that can't afford such a premium, even for an essential item. We are strong believers that all women should have access to healthy, all natural products that love our bodies, so we saw a huge need that we could fill. On top of that, we are big Eco Warriors and always trying to find ways to reduce our personal waste, especially plastic. During this time we were on a kick to remove as much single-waste plastic from our daily lives, homes, and habits. As our research continued, we noticed the only totally plastic-free tampons were the non-applicator tampons, which are not common here in the US. Delivering healthy fem care products that love our bodies AND the Earth quickly became our mission, and voilà, Tampon Tribe was born!
Why is Tampon Tribe on a mission to improve feminine hygiene products?
We are very passionate about all women having access to the highest quality organic products that love our bodies – we noticed that there were very few certified organic cotton tampons, pads or pantyliners available and even fewer that were plastic free and actually worked! So we started Tampon Tribe and reinvented how feminine hygiene is presented, used and embraced!
What makes you different from other feminine hygiene products?
We are the only company that uses 100% certified organic cotton in all of our products. We don't use any fillers, bleachers, chemicals or any toxins at all even in our pads and our liners. We also don't use any plastics at all – we are the only company not using any plastics in both our products and packaging. Everything is compostable and biodegradable. That's super important to who we are. We are also the only company that offers a totally customizable online subscription. You can go in to our My Body product and pick exactly what you want in your bag every month, and you can change it month to month, no problem at all. We just see every woman's body as being totally different so we know that everyone loves to customize the products they receive. We also source our cotton from ethical, sustainable and organic farmers (which means we're also vegan and hypoallergenic).
What are some of the dangers of not using organic feminine products?
Many tampons & pads are made with toxins, chemicals, bleaches, superabsorbents and other known carcinogens. That means we are putting these horrible toxins inside of our precious bodies day after day, month after month. The only way to know these harmful ingredients are not in our tampons & pads is to use 100% certified organic products.
"The best thing is to look for the GOTS certification logo, which stands for the Global Organic Textile Standard, as not all products that are labeled "organic" are actually meeting all of the criteria."
Can Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) happen with organic products as well?
Yes, TSS happens when a tampon is left in for too long and harmful bacteria grows. It's very important no matter what kind of tampon you are using that you change it frequently, every 4-6 hours is recommended.
Take us through the process of making an organic tampon.
Cotton is grown at the ICEA-certified farm, meaning it is grown ethically, sustainably and is 100% organic. The raw cotton goes to our manufacturer where it is cleaned & processed (i.e. stems removed, etc.) and then the cotton is compressed into tampons. Then the organic cotton string and outer lining are sewn onto each tampon, which is then inserted into the biodegradable & compostable cardboard applicator. The tampon is then packaged in it's upcycled paper and ready to be packed!
What are your thoughts on BPA-free applicators?
BPA-free applicators are still plastic, thus they cause the same harm to our environment, wildlife and oceans as any other plastic applicator or single-use plastic item. The only way to protect our bodies and the Earth is to use plastic-free period products or our awesome menstrual cup!
Who shouldn’t be using tampons?
We believe each woman is best equipped to determine the products they use for their periods. Most women who avoid tampons do so because they have extreme sensitivity, so you'll know if that's you.
What are other alternatives to tampons and liners?
In addition to our 100% organic and totally plastic-free tampons, pads and liners, we also have an amazing silicon-free menstrual cup! They are the most affordable option as they are only $39.99 and last an entire year! On top of that, our cups have a special leak-proof design and you can keep it in for up to 12 hours. Perfect for women that are active, adventuresome, on-the-go, eco warriors and more!
What’s next for Tampon Tribe?
So many exciting things! We have our new PPE personal care line that we launched in April with masks, misters, sanitizing wipes and more – So very timely to keep everyone safe and healthy during these challenging times. We also have some exciting partnerships that we'll be launching this fall, so stay tuned for some big announcements to come!