Because Your Tampon Could Be Killing You

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 17:36
Submitted by Carlin Ross

The FDA doesn't require any sort of labeling on feminine hygiene products. What this means is that manufacturers are free to use chemicals, damaging fibers, and even GMO cotton.

Andrea Donsky has an extremely thorough post on the dangers of non-organic tampons and pads. Here's some of Andrea's research:

  • Conventional tampons and sanitary pads are bleached using chlorine dioxide. Although the process is technically “chlorine-free,” it produces dioxins as a byproduct released into the environment. In 1998, the EPA outlawed a much more potent dioxin-producing bleaching process, and while the newer process significantly reduces dioxins, some experts believe it doesn’t eliminate them entirely from the end products. According to the EPA, dioxin exposure causes cancer in lab animals and poses a high risk to humans as well.
  • Conventional tampons contain pesticides. I’ve long been wary of conventional, non-organic, foods for fear of pesticide residue. All the while, conventional cotton, the most heavily sprayed crop in existence, is used in the tampons that women use each and every month. Cotton crops make up just 2.4 percent of the world’s land, but each year a whopping $2 billion is spent on pesticides to spray this one crop. If tampons were a fruit or vegetable, they would most certainly be added to the top of the Dirty Dozen Plus™ list.
  • Tampons and pads with odor neutralizers and other artificial fragrances are nothing short of a chemical soup laced with artificial colors, polyester, adhesives, polyethylene (PET), polypropylene, and propylene glycol (PEG), contaminants linked to hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, dryness, and infertility. We are becoming more aware of the dangers associated with chemicals in everyday products including lotions, shampoos, shower curtains, household cleaners, etc. but we need to stop and think about the tampons and sanitary pads we put into and onto our bodies every single month.
  • In 2003, House Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation that would have required research into the health risks posed by additives found in feminine hygiene products. The suspected risks included endometriosis, cervical cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This legislation didn't pass. We recently called Carolyn Maloney's office to inquire whether any new legislation has been put forth since 2003 and they confirmed nothing has. It's been over 10 years since concern arose that the chemicals in tampons and pads could potentially harm women's reproductive organs. So why wouldn't legislation to research the issue be brought back to the table over and over again until something is done about it?
  • Many conventional sanitary pads include latex, a potential allergen. Latex can be used to make the wings on pads more flexible, and it can be used as a binder on the surface of pads and liners, where it comes in close contact with the skin.
  • Ninety percent of conventional sanitary pads are made from crude oil plastic. The rest is made from chlorine-bleached wood pulp. By using plastic laden feminine hygiene products, we add the equivalent to 180 billion plastic bags to our waste stream.
  • Conventional tampons most probably contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). According the USDA, 94 percent of all the cotton planted in the U.S. is genetically engineered.[1] GMOs have been linked to a host of health issues[2] including food allergies, leaky gut syndrome, and inflammation, just to name a few. By purchasing conventional tampons you are essentially supporting GMO grown [cotton] crops.

I switched to a menstrual cup about a year ago and I love it. For $25, I have a reusable, silicone cup that I can use for the rest of my life with no risk to my health.

It took a few months to get good at inserting and removing my diva cup but it was so worth it. You have to be comfortable putting your fingers in your vagina. You simply pinch the cup, fold it in half, insert it, and then run your fingers around the cup to make sure it opened up. If it's still pinched on one side, I pull it out just a bit and push it back in.

It's amazing to see how much you actually bleed. When you empty your cup, you realize that it's really not that much blood. And it's become kind of a ritual to spill out my blood in the shower and watch it pool around my feet before going down the drain. There's something about the metallic smell, the stickiness and knowing that my body is a dynamic reproductive system that makes my clit hard.

If you're using Tampax or OB or Always - throw them in the garbage. Make sure you buy organic products like natracare or Luna pads. And if you never want to dig through your purse for a forgotten tampon or scrounge around your apartment for a stray pad get a Diva Cup.  It will change your life. 

Editor in Chief & Keeper of All Things Betty Dodson

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tampons are "killing" users? get real.

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 02:51


I'm sorry to have to say it, but your titular claim that tampons put users in mortal danger is extremely problematic.

You reference Andrea Donsky's article, which primarily argues that manufacturers should be required to disclose the materials used in tampons sold in the United States. Nowhere does Donsky use the extraordinary language you have used. All she does is give several examples of potentially dangerous materials appearing in tampons. And while consumers clearly benefit from having more information about the products they buy, Donsky does not compellingly demonstrate that tampons are dangerous, or even that disclosure of ingredients by manfacturers would help consumers to make substantially better choices.

Donsky's two most damning claims are 1) that tampon use causes exposure to dioxin that increases the user's risk of cancer, and 2) that if consumers knew the materials in various tampon products, they could buy products less likely to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome.

However, Donsky presents minimal credible evidence to either of these claims. The most authoritative source she gives is a statement by the Mayo Clinic. But the statement indicates that "researchers don't know exactly how tampons may cause toxic shock syndrome." If this is true, then it is hard to see how better labeling would help consumers choose safer tampons. Donsky also explains that tampons contain dioxin and that dioxin exposure is linked to cancer, but gives no evidence that dioxin exposure from tampons is dangerous. She does not address, for example, the amount of dioxin in tampons, or what amounts or methods of exposure carry actual risk.

Indeed, credible medical sources have rejected claims of the dangers of tampons. The American Cancer Society characterizes the dioxin concern as having "enough of a basis in fact to give it an air of credibility", but unable to withstand scrutiny [1]. A report given by the FDA systemically debunks both of these myths about the supposed dangers of tampons (including a related asbestos myth, which Donsky thankfully did include in her article) [2]. Finally, an article by Stephen Barrett, MD, appearing in QuackWatch, explores the undignified history of these scares [3].

Donsky's other concerns expressed in the article lack even the appearance of credibility. She complains about pesticides, GMOs, plastics, and perfumes. All of these appear abundantly in a vast assortment of products that we use, wear, and eat without a second thought.  In this case she gives no evidence of any kind that tampons containing these materials cause harm.

Andrea Donsky's article is all around fraught with problems. Propagating the information contained within it is unhelpful. Using exaggerated language exceeding even its strongest allegations is irresponsible.

[2] Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin, & Toxic Shock Syndrome
[3] The Tampon Scare

that's why I said "could be

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 10:53
Carlin Ross

that's why I said "could be killing you". 

Causation is the main problem with any study on cancer rates among women using these products.  If you're choosing to eat organic food, then you may want to know that you're inserting GMO cotton inside your body that's been sprayed with pesticides.  In the end, it's about choice.  As long as we have labeling, then there's choice.  We do not label any feminine hygiene products.

Then there's convenience and cost savings.  You can buy a $25 menstrual cup that you know is made of medical grade silicone (no risk of toxic shock) and use it for the rest of your life.  Just pop it in your bag and go.

The average woman will have 500 periods in her lifetime that last for 3-7 days = 20 tampons per period.  That's a cost of about $1000 over the course of your life.  $25 vs. $1000 then add on the non-issue of added chemicals, pesticides and GMO cotton and I'm sold.

choice is good, misinformation is bad

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 21:48


Do you sincerely believe that by using modal phraseology (i.e. "could be" instead of "are"), you avoid responsibility and accountabililty for everything you say? I certainly hope not.

When you are a regular columnist in an educational publication or web site, and readers follow and trust what you say, you have a responsibility to use language that is clear and accurate, not overly general or inappropriately scary.

Saying "hungry lions could be loose on Manhattan streets" cannot possibly be defended later, only when challenged, by saying "they could not be", or by saying "the important thing is that people are aware of the dangers before entering the city". The claim implies both that people in Manhattan have a reason to be afraid, and also that at least some credible evidence indicates that lions are indeed loose. It has genuine, harmful effects on the way people behave in a world absent of any serious reason for their changing their behaviour.

For reasons we have seen, there are no serious reasons on which to claim that tampons are dangerous.

While it is indeed true that estabishing causality is extremely difficult even in science, no such issue appears in this case. The problem arises when researchers discover a statistical link between variables, say "a" and "b", and then want to know whether "a" causes "b", "b" causes "a", or some third variable causes both "a" and "b". In the case of tampons and cancer, no correlation has been discovered, so no question of causation exists.

More to the point, you are not, as far as I can determine, a doctor or medical researcher. For that matter, neither am I. That means we need to pass the buck to the experts. But both the ACS and the FDA have forcefully rejected the cancer concern, based on studies published by experts. If you wish meanfully to challenge their statements, you must at a mimimum show a body of expertly-collected evidence to substatiate your challenge.

As for telling us that the whole post has always been been about choice and cost savings, everyone can see that you are being disingenious. It was always health concern that was the focus of the post. You used the word "killing" in your title. You complained in the second sentence that "that manufacturers are free to use chemicals, damaging fibers, and even GMO cotton". You said in the third sentence that Donsky's article exposes the "dangers of non-organic tampons". Choice and cost savings are important concerns. In your article, they were mentioned as auxiliary issues. They were manifestly not the purpose of the post. Better labeling on products would benefit consumers, but it would not resolve a phantom crisis.

killer tampons

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 11:09
Lisa Leger (not verified)

I agree with saltandpepper 's critique about the scaremongering in the wording and the difficulties with proving causation., but the overall message should not be lost in such quibbles.
I use the analogy of the straws on the camel's back when telling people about risks of toxic chemicals in their products and environment.  I get them to visualize the accumulations of straws leading to the last straw that breaks the camel's back (ie kills the person who is labouring under the toxic burden).  This image helps people understand why they want to reduce their exposure and be aware of where such toxins may show up in their consumer products.  I invite readers to reduce their risk, lighten their load by shopping with this in mind and selecting non-toxic products and foods whenever possible.  I also try to calm their fears by pointing out that no one thing causes cancer, rather a number of factors push the body into a state of ill health and many factors promote good health, too.  So let's emphasize the good stuff we do for our health, avoid toxic chemicals as much as we can, and dont sweat the details too much.

Sensible advice, Lisa

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 18:08

There are many potentially harmful substances in mass-produced food and consumer goods, but from what I understand our risk is cumulative. We needn't obsess about everything, so to speak, but being an informed and aware shopper is important. The more risk we can eliminate, the better off we'll be.

I disagree with Patric and

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 15:11
Elin A (not verified)

I disagree with Patric and Lisa. Not in the avoiding potentially toxic foods and products, but in the "subtlebelitteling" of saltandpeppers comments. You make them out as nitpicking, when they are relevant and to the point. Sticking to the facts and differentiating between facts and speculation is very important, especially when it comes to subjects as infused with myths as in this forum.

What I see in the two comments above is really a poke in the rib for saltandpepper to get back in line. Personally, I think this is the result of this forum being too homogeneous.

yes, indeed

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 11:49

Yes, evidence always plays the central role in effective decision making.

The FDA tests conclude that the dioxin content is from trace amounts left in the environment by pollution. Specifically, the measurements are on the order of one part in ten to the thirteenth power, or 10% of one millionth of one millionth. Scientists have a special name for numbers this small, and that name is "zero".

So you see, when the ACS says there is "no risk to consumers", it really means that there is no risk.

Elin . . .

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 14:52

I think it's non-controversial that there are toxic industrial substances in our environment and that some of them pose a definite risk to human health. While the heatlh risks from tampons may be nil based on their dioxin content, I have to remind myself that many legitimate health risks, such as from tobacco use, have been denied or dismissed because admitting them would jeopardize profits. I tend to listen to reports from hard scientists, but let's remember that there is a history of scientists being paid to produce reports favorable to industry, as in the case of cigarettes. So I actually agree with both Lisa and saltandpepper in the essence of what they said. We need to base decisions on evidence, but I don't take any one study or report as definitive, and we need to recognize the possibility of bias on both sides.

we can trust science, we really can

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 16:24


I know you are trying to look for what you see as a reasonable middle ground, and I appreciate that effort.

The problem is that your analysis misrepresents the nature of the evidence I provided, and even smacks of the conspiratorial.

If we were cancer researchers, we would be carefully reading the papers of our colleagues to determine which conclusions most are strongly substantiated. We would have the expertise to dismiss particular studies based on flaws in their designs or their lack of agreement with other studies, and to praise other studies based on their merits. And it would be appropriate for us to do so.

We are not these people, but rather we are consumers trying to make good decisions. To succeed, we do not do the above, because we lack the resources and expertise. We rather look to the consensus formed by those researcher who have already done the dirty work we cannot do.

It was with this in mind, that I specifically did not present any particular study in my original criticism. Rather, I presented reports given by organizations such as the ACS, the FDA, and QuackWatch. These groups are not in the business of putting articles in journals and waiting for responses from peers. They are in the business of reviewing available literature, and giving consumers the best possible guidance. We should not object to these reports on the basis that we cannot "take any one study or report as definitive". Neither should we, as Carlin does, worry about whether causality is adequately considered. The writers of
the reports understand these issues very well, and work for organizations with very high rupute. If they give us advice, we can be sure it is good advice based on the current state of knowledge.

It is of course always a possibility that they are wrong, but only other experts are competent to argue as such.

It is also always possible that any particular researcher or group is doing bad science or junk science because of incompetence or unscrupulous activity, such as taking payoffs. I haven't researched the matter, but I have no doubt that tobacco companies indeed did as much, because they believed it necessary to their long term survival.

But science is still safe. The way scientific researchers gain recognition is showing their colleagues are wrong. And it's almost unimaginable that tampon manufacturers are bribing the ACS and FDA to write bogus conclusions, and further, that other researchers aren't noticing.

So you can be and should be skeptical of any researcher or study, but I am detecting a deeper cynism about science itself, which is completely unmerited. Science is a constant process that works to give you the best possible information about reality. All you need to do is get recent reports, like the ones I provided, from evidence-based researchers working for reliable organizations. As I said, we need to pass the buck to the experts. Because of the way science works, we are very safe in doing so.

I don't disagree . . .

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 16:20

Saltandpepper, in my response I wasn't specifically addressing the evidence you provided but speaking more in generalities. I do think we can have faith in the scientific method; I do myself. And we ought to be able to trust impartial (as far as we know) surveys of legitimate peer-reviewed scientific studies. While I believe in the scientific method itself, however, I think that there have been enough instances of paid-for or suppressed results (Big Tobacco, certain pharmaceutical trials) to inspire a certain amount of wariness. Not about the methods of science, but about what might be at play when corporate greed meets researchers in search of their next grant.

Good news - tampons are safe!

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 17:18

Looking through the links to respectable organisations that saltandpepper has provided plus a couple more specific to the UK, it seems clear that there is agreement within the scientific community that :

tampons do NOT contain harmful chemicals
tampons do NOT cause harm to their users

This in no way negates Carlin's secondary suggestion that alternatives may be more environmentally friendly and more economical. I'm not sure why this latter argument was confused with pseudo-science health scares.

Informed choice is key.


Tue, 04/08/2014 - 23:46


Your comments are extremely reasonable, and it would appear we essentially agree.

If I interpretted your comments to be unduly critical of science, then the fault is mine not yours. What you must understand is that I have encountered enough people who carry specious critisisms of science that I have almost come to expect anyone I meet to have these issues. You wouldn't believe how many people I encounter who tell me that science is only one of many equally vaild ways of understanding reality, or that there are deeply-rooted conspiracies among scientist to suppress the distribution of accurate information. You are not among these people, I now know, and indeed take comfort in knowing.

All I would want to say is that there appears to be discord on one essential point. I interpret your comments to mean that you hold that the scientific method, while essentially effective, is at long last only as reliable as the scientists who practice it. I reject this claim. I would say rather that science, by its design, corrects the ill effects of human fraility. Being based on consensus and on independently-verifiable evidence, it guarantees that no individual or group can hold hostage the improvement of knowledge. Although the scientist may fail, science will in every case advance. This characteristic above all else is specifically why science is so wildly successful beyond all other modes of discourse.

As it appears that an agreement essentially has been reached, I believe this post will be my last on this subject. As such, I would want to take advantage of the opportunity to address NorthLondonHousewife's final concern, as well as the related issue of what I think we have learned.

NorthLondonHouewife notes that the affirmation that tampons are safe in no way diminishes the possibility that alternatives are better economically and environmentally. This observation is true, clearly. But when she says she is "not sure why this latter argument was confused with pseudo-science health scares", I believe she is taking issue with my earlier critisism of Carlin, in which I said that appealing to the cost-saving advantage of the menstrual cup does not vindicate her original post's focus on health hazards of tampons. I specifically said she was being "disingenuous". I certainly noticed that she never responded to that charge, and I strongly suspect the reason is that she perceived that my language was inappropriately harsh. She may consider me, by virtue of my manner, to more closely resemble a troll than someone with sincere and valid grievences. If this assessment is accurate, and if I did anything to deserve such a characterization, then I regret it, truly.

Although I sincerely mean the above, I also stand by my original motive, which is to demonstrate that Carlin may not avoid responsibility for what she writes on this site. Someone who chooses to give information to the public has more than just a job. She has the power to do genuine good by giving accurate information, as well as to do substantial harm by giving false information. When Carlin said first that we need to worry about the heath risks of tampons, and then appeared to want to change the subject to the economic benefits of the menstrual cup, she failed to accept responsibiity for the damage she may have done by propagating bad information.

Regardless of whether Carlin wishes to address my comments, I only ask that she in the future considers the effects of what she says and does, in order that she might more effectively advance the common interests.

Pseudo science

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 04:05

SaltandPepper - my comments  re: pseudo science claims were entirely directed at the original post and not at all a reflection on your comments. Apologies if you found them ambiguous.

The original post would have been much stronger had it stuck to the environmental and economic benefits. The two so rarely coincide that in themselves they would be worth reading about.

Patrick, your reply is

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 12:40
Elin A (not verified)

Patrick, your reply is irrelevant to my post. I have not in any way argued against the possibilities of toxins in tampons or any other products, or their possibly negative effect on our helth. My response is to the dismissive nature of your and Lisas comment to saltandpepper when she criticizes Carlin for giving out misinformation. Basically, your argument says that becuase toxins are bad it's ok to go as far as to say that "they could be killing you". And it's not.

Elin, there seems to be a misunderstanding

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 18:28

Elin, I believe that we've been crossing signals somehow. Saltandpepper hasn't implied that he took any of my comments as dismissive, nor did I mean them in that way. My initial argument simply addressed my understanding that the damage done by environmental toxins is cumulative and that it's therefore prudent to reduce our exposure to as many genuine risks as we can. I'm not sure how you concluded from my comment that I take any kind of extreme position about toxins, but I don't.

Patrick, I have explained why

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 11:41
Elin A (not verified)

I have explained why I see your comments as dismissive. If you don't agree and want to discuss it further, please counter said arguments.
I have not concluded that you take "extreme position about toxins". My argument is that when Lisa says (as you by agreeing with her) "[= 13.63636302947998px; line-height: 22px]I agree with saltandpepper 's critique about the scaremongering in the wording and the difficulties with proving causation, but the overall message should not be lost in such quibbles." and "let's not sweat the details too much", you are diminishing the importance of saltandpepper's post and his/her arguments of the importance of giving out correct information.[/]

Elin, I didn't . . .

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 18:29

Elin, in my first comment I didn't dismiss saltandpepper's argument about giving out correct information, I just didn't address it directly even though it made sense to me. I chose to focus on another aspect of the toxin question, which concerns the prudence of limiting our overall exposure to harmful substances. Even though I didn't respond point-by-point to his post, I happen to substantially agree with him about taking care to provide accurate information. The bottom line is that I wasn't being disrespectful of his comments, I was simply taking another and more general approach to the whole question and letting his well-considered arguments speak for themselves. He's made his peace with me, so why don't we do the same?

Skin rashes

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 04:09

Tampons do cause skin rashes and are not environment friendly too.