Chem Fatale

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Parabens, Pesticides and Formaldehyde: Inside and Unregulated Industry

We see the commercials every day, women backflipping into pools and frolicking through grass fields, all because their “revolutionary” tampons allow them to do so with ease! It’s clear to see that these feminine hygiene companies will show you just about anything to sell the product – anything but the list of harmful ingredients that find their way into these products that women are using every day.

Tampons and sanitary pads might seem simple enough: cotton guards for that time of the month. In reality, the materials, ingredients, and production of these items are far more complex and potentially hazardous than most people realize. The truth is that most major companies are selling products that are not made from cotton at all, but rather a synthetic blend of cotton and rayon, a manufactured fiber derived from cellulose that comes from wood pulp. The extraction process and the subsequent stage of bleaching the rayon with chlorine to give it that clean, white appearance creates toxic carcinogens such as dioxin and disinfection by-products like trihalomethane. Some studies show that dioxin, even in trace levels, may be linked to disruption of the endocrine system, suppression of the immune system, and abnormal cell and tissue growth in the body.

On the contrary, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that these bleaching methods are no longer used and “rayon raw material used in U.S. tampons is now produced using elemental chlorine-free bleaching or totally chlorine-free bleaching processes.” However it is also explained that during the elemental chlorine-free bleaching process, “dioxins are occasionally detected in trace amounts in mill effluents and pulp.” The FDA also states that “no risk to health would be expected from these trace amounts.” This might put our minds at ease if the use of tampons was a rare occasion for women, however this is not the case. It becomes a concern when we realize that the average woman will use over 10,000 tampons in her lifetime. Trace amounts or not, that is still more than enough exposure to a potentially harmful carcinogen.

Aside from this issue, other harmful ingredients of tampons and sanitary pads may include dyes, preservatives, and pesticides. You should also avoid products or product wrappers with a fragrance or perfume, as they can cause further irritation to your skin. Another thing to consider besides the tampon itself, is the tampon applicator. Usually the applicators are either plastic or cardboard. The plastic applicators could potentially be harmful to you and are most certainly harmful to our environment. The cardboard applicators most often have a glossy coat for “easy insertion” but this glossy finish actually comes from phthalates, which are chemical plasticizers. These phthalates and plastics are known to interfere with normal endocrine system function, possibly leading to other health risks.

Not a fan of tampons? There are risks involving sanitary pad use as well, as most brands are not made of pure cotton either. Additionally, most pads and panty liners are backed with synthetic materials and plastic which restrict the free flow of air and trap heat and dampness. These conditions lead to increased chance of the growth of yeast and other bacteria. Other products like washes, wipes and douching are actually medically unnecessary and could also put you at risk for a bacteria infection. It is likely that potentially harmful pesticides are present in the packaging for feminine wipes, as they are used to maintain moisture and prevent bacteria growth within the package.

What Should I Use Instead?

Now that you’re aware of some of the potentially harmful ingredients of feminine hygiene big-name brands, let’s get to the good news. There are safe and healthy alternatives that will significantly lower harmful risks because of their natural ingredients. For example, there are products made with 100% organic or natural cotton, which is a more breathable fiber that is healthier for your body and for the environment. Look for brands that are chlorine and toxin free to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals. Use low-absorbency tampons and change them often to avoid Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Avoid tampons with plastic applicators and pads with plastic backs or lining to reduce toxic waste. There are also reusable pads made from organic and unbleached cotton that can be machine-washed and used again, which also helps to protect the environment from disposable, plastic-backed main brands.

While topics and concerns of feminine hygiene often get swept under the rug, it’s time to become aware of what threats are hiding behind vague labels and dramatic commercials. Make a change to protect your body, and the environment at the same time.


Say Yes To

- Organic cotton

- Chlorine & toxin free

- Low absorbency

Say No To

- Fragrance & perfumes

- Genetically modified (GM) cotton

- Plastic applicators

- Chlorine-compound bleaching process