Are Your Period Products Toxic?

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“There are … numerous potential toxins in these period care products that may be putting women’s health at risk.”

On average, women use over 11,000 tampons or disposable pads in their lifetime, and yet little thought goes into the materials that make up these products. The FDA classifies feminine hygiene products as “medical devices,” therefore the complete ingredient list does not need to be disclosed to consumers. There are, however, numerous potential toxins in these period care products that may be putting women’s health at risk.

“…with such close exposure repeated over a lifetime, the potential effects are largely unknown.”

One of the prevalent concerns associated with conventional tampons and pads is the presence of harmful chemicals like dioxins and synthetic fibers. Dioxins, a class of highly toxic compounds and environmental pollutants, can be produced during the bleaching process of tampons and pads. These chemicals have been linked to various health issues, including reproductive problems and even cancer.

Although they are found only in trace amounts in tampons, with such close exposure repeated over a lifetime, the potential effects are largely unknown. Additionally, the vagina is a mucous membrane, “capable of secreting and absorbing fluids at a higher rate than skin” which means chemicals are also more rapidly absorbed. This may make some chemicals when used in period products more toxic due to their application.

Additionally, fragrances and dyes used in some menstrual products can contain undisclosed chemicals that may cause allergic reactions or irritation. Manufacturers are not mandated to disclose each individual ingredient used in these fragrances due to proprietary concerns, leaving consumers unaware of potential risks posed by these unknown compounds.

“Other potential endocrine disruptors in period care products include phthalates, volatile organic compounds, parabens and phenols.”

Many of the chemicals in fragrances are also thought to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can impact hormones and reproductive health. Other potential endocrine disruptors in period care products include phthalates, volatile organic compounds, parabens and phenols. As discussed in a previous article, these chemicals can have numerous health consequences, especially when they are so ubiquitous in the environment and in our homes.

“Introducing foreign materials and chemicals into the vagina can disrupt the delicate balance…”

The vaginal microbiome is highly sensitive to alterations and changes throughout the menstrual cycle. It is essential that an acidic pH is maintained in order to preserve a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria and microbes. Introducing foreign materials and chemicals into the vagina can disrupt the delicate balance, killing off the “good” bacteria and allowing harmful bacteria and yeast to grow unchecked.

Disrupting the vaginal microbiota has consequences far beyond discomfort and common infections, with some studies suggesting it can increase risk of developing sexually transmitted infections. An abnormal vaginal microbiome may also increase rates of preterm birth in pregnant women. Further, there is a possible link between the vaginal microbiome and HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer.

“…rayon can lead to toxin production resulting in toxic shock syndrome…”

The synthetic fibers like rayon and polyester present in feminine hygiene products can lead to increased moisture and heat retention, creating a breeding ground for bacteria, potentially causing infections. In tampons, rayon can lead to toxin production resulting in toxic shock syndrome, a well-known and life threatening, albeit rare, condition caused by a complication of bacterial infections.

Toxic shock syndrome has specifically been linked to “a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus in the presence of synthetic-fiber tampons” since these fibers are more absorbent and allow the bacteria to proliferate. The absorbent nature of tampons in general can alter the vaginal pH, further increasing the chances of developing infections and presumably have an impact on the vaginal microbiome as a whole.

Thankfully, there are alternatives available for those seeking safer period care options. Organic cotton tampons and pads have become more popular as they are free from pesticides, synthetic fibers, and harmful chemicals. They are more breathable and less absorbent, which can reduce the risk of infection and allergic reactions.

“Menstrual cups are another excellent alternative, made from medical-grade silicone or latex, providing long-term usability.”

Menstrual cups are another excellent alternative, made from medical-grade silicone or latex, providing long-term usability. They are also more environmentally friendly as they can be reused for years rather than being disposed of after each use. They offer leak-proof protection without the risks associated with chemicals in traditional products.

“…it’s important to read the labels as best as possible.”

However, when opting for alternatives, it’s important to read the labels as best as possible. Some products labeled as “natural” or “organic” may still contain undisclosed chemicals or use vague marketing terms to mislead consumers.

Reading labels thoroughly, researching brands, and looking for certifications from reputable organizations like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or Oeko-Tex can help in making informed choices. Choosing products that explicitly list their ingredients and avoid using fragrances or dyes can significantly reduce exposure to potentially harmful substances.

Fiona Riddle Fiona is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD