May 26, 2019 | 78° F

Toxic tampons: hidden dangers in your feminine hygiene products

Feminine products like tampons are meant to make a woman’s monthly cycle more manageable, but most women are not aware of the potentially life-threatening issues they may face by placing the hazardous chemicals that most tampons are made with in their bodies. 

Most manufacturers of feminine products, like Procter & Gamble (P&G), the largest manufacturer of feminine products, do not disclose the materials they use to make tampons, making it hard for women to determine their contents. 

“Our concerns of the care products … was out of the lack of ingredient disclosure,” said Alexandra Scranton, director of Science and Research for Women’s Voices for the Earth, a non-profit that is geared toward the limitation of harmful chemicals used by people.

Although most products like cosmetics require manufacturers to list the materials on product labels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not make this a requirement for tampons because they are categorized as “medical devices.”

“Because tampons are considered 'medical devices,' there’s no labeling requirement for ingredients,” said Sarada Tangrila of Women’s Voices for the Earth. “So for allergens or chemicals linked to cancer or other toxicity, even if you want to avoid them you can’t because you can’t see them." 

Among these hazardous ingredients are dioxins, which are byproducts of the bleaching process involved in the making of tampons. These byproducts are created from rayon, which is a synthetic fiber produced from bleached wood pulp and also one of the things a tampon is made out of.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports dioxins as “highly toxic” chemicals that are classified as a “known human carcinogen,” which is any substance, radionuclide or radiation that promotes carcinogens, the formation of cancer, according to an article in TIME magazine.

Bleached wood pulp comes from a process known as Elemental Chlorine bleaching, which uses chlorine gas. It was a process used by the U.S. manufacturers in the past to purify wood pulp. According to FDA manufacturers, manufacturers now use elemental-free bleaching that produce no dioxin. 

Although the dioxins may not be the primary cause to life-threatening fatalities, there are still issues when women use tampons. Toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is a rare and potentially life-threatening illness that is thought to be caused by infection from certain types of bacteria like staphylococcus aureus (staph) and streptococcus pyogenes (strep), according to the Mayo Clinic. TSS can be caused by leaving your tampon in for too long, encouraging bacteria growth or it may cause abrasions, which is an area that is damaged by scraping or wearing away.  

When 24-year-old model Lauren Wasser was found unconscious in her apartment in December 2012, it was found that she suffered from TSS. Doctors were able to save her life, but as a result of the illness, she had her right leg and her left toes amputated. 

“So much of my life has been taken because of this,” Wasser said in an interview with People magazine. “It’s a hard decision, but my only way of freedom.”

Although women may not know exactly what manufacturers are making the tampons with, it is still important to know the health risks when using potentially fatal personal care products. Better Health suggests that women change their tampons regularly, which is at least every 4 hours, try to avoid using super absorbent tampons and applicator tampons that cause abrasions on the vaginal walls. 

The best way to reduce the risk of any potentially fatal illnesses like TSS is to consider using alternatives like organic tampons. Companies such as Sustain Natural sell 100 percent organic cotton tampons, which do not contain any harsh chemicals, parabens, synthetic fragrances or animal by-products. 

It is important for women to be aware of what goes in their bodies, and although manufacturers may not be willing to completely be transparent about the materials they use, there are still alternative ways to live a healthier and longer life from the products that you use. 

Almier McCoy

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