Do tampons affect women's health?

All feminine care products are suspect Photo: Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON, December 24, 2013  – The term ‘Toxic Shock Syndrome’ (TSS) was frightening back in the 1980s as scores of women got deathly ill and many died from the use of super-absorbent tampons. Today, many consumers think manufacturers made changes to make the uses of tampons and pads safe.

This thinking may be very far from the truth.

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Not only have instances of TSS risen in the late 90s, there are still deaths from it. Now, new data regarding the long term use of feminine care products question their safety. Moreover, users rarely follow the instructions that come with these products, allowing caustic chemicals to invade and infiltrate tissue.

Unfortunately, many of today’s younger women never heard of TSS.

The instructions that come with tampons generally call for a tampon change every four to six hours and instruct users not leave them in overnight.

Why do tampons have to be changed so often and why must they not be left in overnight? Advocates who believe in an industry coverup claim it is because tampons are so caustic, they can cause illness and death.

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Vaginal tissue is some of the most absorbent tissue in a female’s body and chemicals absorbed through this area are not metabolized. Instead, the chemicals go directly into the bloodstream.

Dr. Ami Zota, a professor of occupational and environmental health at George Washington University said, “The chemicals used in these products are a real concern given the inevitable exposure to sensitive and absorptive vulvar and vaginal tissue. There is a clear need of more research on the health effects of these exposures on women’s health.”

“Greater scrutiny, oversight and research are badly needed to assure the safety of their ingredients on women’s health,” claims the director of science and research who authored a report titled “Chem Fatale.”

The products in question are primarily tampon-style but extend to all female care products, such as douches, pads, wipes, etc.

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The chemicals noted in research are dioxins, formaldehyde, DMDM hydantoin, deuterium-15, parabens, pesticides and hormone disrupters.

Tampons and pads are regulated as medical devices which mean no disclosure is necessary about their ingredients. Worse, laws do not require companies to disclose any ingredient related to fragrance, and the ingredients for fragrances can include over 3,000 different chemicals and combinations of chemicals.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tells consumers the material used for making tampons and pads are relatively safe, but the lack of oversight regarding what comprises ingredients that create a fragrance is not addressed.

Fragrance neutralizing chemicals in tampons may include pesticides, artificial coloring, polyester, adhesives, polyethylene (PET) polypropylene and propylene glycol.

Furthermore, studies from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest dioxin collects in fatty tissue and there is no level of safety regarding exposure. Even trace levels of dioxin are linked to abnormal tissue growth in reproductive and abdominal tissue, abnormal cell growth throughout the body, immune system suppression and hormonal and endocrine disruption.

A decade ago, House Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation requiring research into the potential health risks of any ingredient in feminine care products with a focus on breast, ovary and cervical cancers and a focus on endometriosis, but the bill got shot down and never approached again.

Some tips on avoiding exposure are to use products that list all ingredients, particularly non-fragrance and natural products that have a good reputation; use less feminine care products altogether; use chlorine and non-bleached products; and log on to the Women’s Voices for the Earth website which includes a ‘hall of shame’ product list to avoid.


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist and writer


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Paul R. Mountjoy

Paul Mountjoy is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science

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