Most people assume that menstrual products contain safe, non-toxic ingredients. However, that is unfortunately not the case for pads and tampons. The problem with Tampax, O.B and other conventional menstrual product manufacturers is that they use genetically modified cotton, as well as a list of other toxic ingredients such as wood pulp, plastics and dyes.
So today, I wanted to write a blog on the hidden dangers found in our menstrual products and what products to use instead! Because let’s face it- we should not be putting toxic chemicals inside of our bodies on a regular basis.
Periods: The basics
Before I dive into the horrible and unnecessary ingredients in both pads & tampons, I want to talk about why a menstrual period is such an important cycle that happens within the human body.
A period is a way for the body to cleanse itself, reproduce necessary hormones and shed off the lining of the uterus. We go through many phases both before and after our monthly cycles based on the hormones being released. Examples of this include the follicular phase, ovulatory phase and the luteal phase.
Throughout the week of our actual menstrual cycle, it is so important to allow your body to do a full cleanse! This can be experienced emotionally such as crying (PMS) or even just focusing more on your diet. What I want to get at here is that it’s so important to not add toxic chemicals to your cycle because this can later cause hormonal imbalances, bacterial infections or even a heavier flow. Chemicals and ingredients found in conventional tampons have many unadvertised side effects and dangers so let’s get into it and explore healthier alternatives!
Ingredients found in Conventional Pads and Tampons
The information that I retrieved about the ingredients found in varying menstrual products can be found on Tampax.com.
1. Genetically Modified Cotton
Genetically modified cotton was introduced in 1996 (only 25 years ago) and is thought to be one of the world’s dirtiest crops. Globally, cotton crops cover just 2.4% of the worlds cultivated land, but uses 6% of the worlds pesticides and 16% of insecticides- more than any other single major crop. This greatly increases the risk of residues being present in your personal products and can throw off the natural pH balance within your vagina.
Vaginal pH imbalances can lead to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and can cause allergy related symptoms such as itching.
Aside from the negative health effects associated with GM cotton, thousands of cotton farmers and their families suffer from pesticide poisoning every year. Some cotton farmers earn less than $2.00 a day for their cotton and spend up to 60% of their annual income on pesticides.
Rayon is a semi synthetic fabric made from recycled wood pulp. It’s widely used in the fashion industry because of its ability to mimic the look and feel of other fabrics such as silk, cotton, wool and others. This may sound great for fashion and clothing, but it does not belong in our bodies!
Rayon is processed with many other chemicals to be broken down into cellulose, which according to Tampax “helps absorb and retain fluid”. However, rayon is processed with many chemicals such as carbon disulphide, sulphuric acid, ammonia, acetone and others. The carbon disulphide emitted from rayon has been proven to cause symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, headaches and chest pain when inhaled. Toxins released from rayon can also rarely cause tissue necrosis for people who regularly wear clothing made of this fabric.
The interesting thing is that most studies done on rayon are based on fashion or clothing, not on the effects of putting it inside of the body. It is considered one of the most dangerous fabrics, but is still one of the main ingredients in our menstrual products! #notokay
Propylene is a plastic that is found in food containers like those that hold yogurt, cream cheese and butter products. It’s derived from petroleum and is found in some beauty products because it’s very cheap and is considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
However, a recent study conducted in November 2020 demonstrated that micro plastics are released from propylene infant feeding bottles. In the study, 48 regions were surveyed to estimate the global exposure to infants up to 12 months. They found values ranging from 14,600-4,550,000 particles per capita per day, depending on the region.
This greatly demonstrates that propylene plastics release micro plastics into our bodies and can have damaging health effects. The vagina is an extremely sensitive organ and using plastic derived ingredients is a big no no!
Paraffin is a by-product of the petrochemical industry and has to be intensively refined with bleach and other harmful chemicals in order to be useful. Its production is not sustainable nor environmentally friendly, making it a harmful and unnecessary ingredient in our menstrual products.
On its own, paraffin is greasy and has an unpleasant odour. So manufacturers add preservatives, fragrance and bleach to make it more appealing. This ingredient is used by Tampax as a wax “to keep the [tampon] string clean”. However, paraffin is far from clean!
Paraffin on its own can cause inflammation and irritation, but with the concoction of other chemicals added during production, it’s the perfect storm to throw off your pH.
As I mentioned earlier, vaginal pH imbalances can lead to different bacterial and fungal infections.
5. PEG-100 Stearate
PEGS or polyethylene glycols are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in the cosmetic industry as thickeners, solvents and softeners.
Depending on the manufacturing processes, PEGs can be contaminated with measurable amounts of chemicals such as ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen. Additionally, ethylene oxide can also harm the nervous system and has been classified as a developmental toxicant by the California Environmental Protection Agency.
You would think that with all of the evidence behind the dangers related to this ingredient that it would not be used in menstrual products, however there is very little regulation as you can see! Most people assume that their personal products are safe and are willing to use them regardless of ingredients which is why big companies are still using cheap and unsafe ingredients. We definitely need more activism and awareness around this issue!
6. Titanium Dioxide
Titanium Dioxide is a pigment that is used in both pads and tampons to make them appear whiter. Titanium dioxide has recently been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen “possible carcinogen to humans”.
This ingredient is widely used to provide a whiter appearance and opacity to products such as paints, plastics, papers, inks, foods and toothpaste. It can also be found in a variety of beauty products and lotions such as sunscreen.
Although it has been proven to likely be carcinogenic, this ingredient is still used in many products including menstrual products.
Healthier Alternatives for your Cycle & Your body
So now that you know why you should avoid conventional menstrual products at all costs, let’s explore some healthier alternatives and brands!
This brand is my go to- you can find it at Loblaws or even Amazon! I love this brand because it lists the ingredients right on the box. I also love that they use 100% organic cotton, are plastic & fragrance free, totally chlorine free and are biodegradable!
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to your personal care products, check out Natracare. They are about the same price as regular pads and tampons, but contain much cleaner ingredients!
Organyc is also a safe and clean choice for menstrual products. They are very similar to Natracare and do not contain genetically modified cotton or any of the other chemicals that we discussed. You can find their products at Healthy Planet or order from their website.
The Diva Cup
I don’t want to speak much on something that I personally have never tried, but I have heard great things about the Diva Cup! Not only is it a more environmentally friendly option, it doesn’t contain many ingredients that will linger in your body afterwards.
As you can see, there is not much regulation that goes into the manufacturing of menstrual products. It seems that because most people trust the ingredients, big companies and corporations can get away with adding cheap and harmful ingredients to our personal products. That is why it’s so important to take your own health into account and start educating yourself on common ingredients. Before I wrote this blog, I knew tampons and pads contained harmful chemicals but I will admit that I’m a bit shocked by the amount of information there is on this already. Needless to say, we need to start voting with our money and stop buying products that we know are not good for us.
Always remember- you are the only one with your health in best interest! Most big companies will do anything to make a bit of profit.
Carbon disulfide – US EPA. (1992, April 11). Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/carbon-disulfide.pdf
Government of Canada, C. C. (2021, May 09). Titanium Dioxide : OSH Answers. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/titanium_dioxide.html
Joy, R. (2020, September 23). Is polypropylene a safe plastic to use in your home? Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/is-polypropylene-safe
Li, D., Shi, Y., Yang, L., Xiao, L., Kehoe, D. K., Gun’ko, Y. K., . . . Wang, J. J. (2020). Microplastic release from the degradation of Polypropylene feeding bottles during infant Formula Preparation. Nature Food, 1(11), 746-754. doi:10.1038/s43016-020-00171-y
Ltd, B. S. (2021, April 27). The Problem With Paraffin In Emollients. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://balmonds.co.uk/blogs/blog/the-problem-with-paraffin-in-emollients
Mancini, F., Bruggen, A. H., Jiggins, J. L., Ambatipudi, A. C., & Murphy, H. (2005). Acute Pesticide Poisoning among Female and Male Cotton Growers in India. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health,11(3), 221-232. doi:10.1179/oeh.2005.11.3.221
Polypropylene. (2021, May 01). Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polypropylene#Health_concerns
Rayon (Viscose). (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/rayon-viscose
Schwebel, D. C., & Swart, D. (2009). Preventing paraffin-related injury. Journal of Injury and Violence Research,1(1), 3-5. doi:10.5249/jivr.v1i1.1
The Dirty Dozen: PEG Compounds and their contaminants. (2020, February 12). Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/dirty-dozen-peg-compounds-contaminants/
Watson, S. (2019, July 11). Everything You Need to Know About Maintaining Your Vaginal pH Balance: Normal Levels… Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/vaginal-ph-balance