Are organic tampons actually any better for you?

If you’re a menstruating human who uses tampons, you’ll probably use about 16,800 over the course of your life.

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So when we heard that there isn’t actually any research that unequivocally says tampons are safe, we were about as uncomfortable as we are when we know we have a full tampon and we’re stuck on a bus.  

Women have been buying tampons for decades, shoving them up their hoo-ha’s and assuming we’re all going to be ok. Now before you get your panty-liners in a knot, I’m not suggesting we’re all going to die from tampon use. If tampons were truly dangerous, we would have wizened up and ditched them long ago.

But, the problem is, we really have no way of knowing if the conventional tampons we use – full of toxic chemicals – month after month for at least 3 decades, isn’t in some sinister way harming our health.

The most absorbent part of your body

Have you ever used a shammy? It’s that towel that absorbs water, like off your car, and seems to just hold it? It’s kind of like our vagina walls. They’re incredibly permeable and absorbent. Which means whatever is in the tampon that goes up your hoo-ha will be absorbed by your vagina. There is no way to metabolise the chemicals, so they go straight into the bloodstream without breaking down first in your liver. (In fact, our vaginas are so absorbent that researchers have looked at delivering drugs vaginally). 

Most feminine hygiene products are made with a lot of ingredients that are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like parabens, polyethylene, and Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (SLS). And independent studies by women’s health organisations have found nasties like dioxins, carcinogens and reproductive toxins in pads and tampons.

“A lot of chemicals [found in feminine care products] can interfere with estrogen signalling,” says Ami Zota, an assistant professor of epidemiology at George Washington University.

Why the hell would someone make products for your life-giving hoo-ha packed with harmful shit?!

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What’s in our pads and tampons

Most pads and tampons are made from a combination of ingredients. You might think it’s just cotton, but, unless it’s 100% organic cotton, you can bet it’s not. Most conventional tampons are made using polyethylene, polypropylene and rayon. And even if the tampons are 100% cotton it’s often grown with the use of pesticides. (Organic cotton is grown without pesticides).

Tampons can also be contaminated with highly toxic dioxins and furans from the chlorine bleaching process (just thinking about that for a moment…chlorine bleaching…in your vagina). What’s more, the non-organic cotton contains pesticide residue and other chemicals from fragrances.

Exposure to dioxins and furans has been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption and allergic rashes. And while the FDA in the US recommends tampons and pads are made free from dioxin and pesticide residues, this is not mandatory for the manufacturers. Instead, tests repeatedly show that dioxins and pesticides are found in tampons.

Manufacturers can claim all they want that these toxins aren’t in a high enough quantity to cause harm, but they haven’t actually studied the impact of putting dioxin and pesticides into your vee-jay for days on end, each month, for several decades.

Imagine if we just studied the impact of one cigarette. Well, of course, they’d be fine. A little chemical exposure, fine apparently. But over a prolonged period of time? Not so good for us.

Why no research?

The lack of research and information into feminine hygiene products is unsurprising. Women’s health is about as under-represented in medical research as an Asian or African girl on the Bachelor. Until the 1980s women were left out of most medical research. Medical trials were done on men and even when specific diseases that impact women (like breast cancer) were studied, women were left out of the research. It’s kind of like trying to make a chocolate brownie but leaving out the chocolate.

Organic tampons are better for your hoo-ha

Organic cotton is made from cotton without the use of pesticides. If you compare an organic tampon with a conventional tampon, it might look a little ‘fluffier’. This is because it doesn’t have a slick, synthetic casing. If you pull apart a conventional tampon, it can easily be shredded with cheap-to-produce short fibres. Compare that to an organic tampon made with dense, virgin cotton.

Remember when you first started using tampons and your mum/teacher/girlfriend/Dr Dolly put the fear of God in you about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

“If you leave your tampon in for more than 8 hours you will get TSS and you will die,” they said.

“If you sleep with your tampon in your uterus will shrivel up like a sultana,” they said.

“You have to change it every time you got to the bathroom,” they said.

The truth is TSS is real and something we should all be aware of. But it’s only a massive issue if you use conventional tampons. In decades of research, Philip Tierno, a clinical microbiology and pathology professor at New York University, has never seen a case of TSS with an all-cotton tampon.

“Cotton is the best possible product,” says Tierno*.

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So is it time you gave organic cotton tampons a go? 

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*All tampons can cause tiny tears in the vagina which can provide entry for other chemicals to cause TSS. So you still need to be mindful of how long you need a tampon in. I.e. please don’t leave them in for more than 10 hours!