Are Drugstore Tampons Safe?
The real difference “organic” tampons make.
We’ve learned, when it comes to food, why organic is important, why GMOs are not okay, and just how far and how fast to run away from anything including Red Dye 40, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats. So when new feminine care companies pop up selling organic, clean menstrual products free of chlorine, rayon, and dioxide, we respond by saying, “absolutely, where do we sign?” After all, the average woman uses 12,000 tampons or pads in her lifetime, and the ingredients absorbed by your skin (including the skin in your vagina) go directly into your bloodstream. So, no thanks, conventional tampons, get your chemicals away from our bodies!
Not so fast.
We sat down with sisters Kimmy Scotti and LisaMarie Lawrence, co-founders of a subscription-based menstrual product business called Monthly Gift, to learn more about the feminine care industry. Monthly Gift, started in 2015, sends tampons, pads, and/or liners to your door on a subscription basis, so that you don’t have to freak out when your period shows up and, guess what? They’re not organic.
Scotti and Lawrence tried and researched everything in the market before creating Monthly Gift—if there’s something you can put in your vagina, they’ve done it. According to the sister squad, non-organic tampons are not only significantly more effective than organic tampons (read: actually absorbent enough to prevent leakage), but they are just as safe. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, menstrual products were made with a combination of cotton and rayon and then bleached with chlorine,” says Lawrence. It was this bleaching process that put harmful dioxins into women’s bodies (which, according to the World Health Organization, is a very serious no-no when it comes to healthy reproductive and immune systems). But this is no longer the case. Because menstrual products are considered “medical devices” by the FDA, they are highly regulated and frequently tested to make sure they are safe for use and have come a long way from those toxic versions our mamas used. So today’s conventional menstrual products lining the shelves of Duane Reade? Naturally free of chlorine and dioxins.
We’ve heard that conventional cotton farming is sprayed with harmful chemicals...
If it’s not 100% organic cotton, then this is likely true (yuck). However, “any cotton grown with pesticides that becomes a non-woven product (such as a tampon or a pad),” says Lawrence, “goes through processing that includes heating and washing the cotton, which removes the residue of the pesticides within the cotton.” Not exactly the process of our dreams, but, according to the co-founders, bottom line is: it’s safe.
But what about rayon?
It’s true, conventional tampons do use rayon (including Monthly Gift’s) because it is significantly more absorbent than cotton (your new lacy pair of underwear will thank you). But, regardless of how scary this five-letter word may sound, rayon is not a synthetic product: it’s wood pulp from birch trees. According to Scotti, “rayon is totally safe—it’s because it has to be processed to be used in menstrual products that it can’t be called organic [editor’s note: similar to salt, which can not be labeled organic even if it is grown and processed with organic farming practices]. No bleach is used to treat it. No dioxins are added. It’s actually the same absorbent material gynos use in pap smears.”
And what about plastic applicators?
At this point, no one in the market has created a plastic-free applicator (even organic products are using plastic applicators), so your options are a plastic applicator or an applicator-less tampon, the co-founders informed us. Culturally, applicator-less tampons have not taken off in the U.S.A. (not shocked), but as for safety, the duo isn’t convinced that one is safer than the other. “This one is much more about personal hygiene,” says Scotti. “Whether a potentially dirty finger going in your vagina is safer than clean plastic, we just can’t say.” Plus, remember that the plastic applicators are not sitting inside of you the way the remainder of the tampon is, so if you’re just not ready to use your finger yet, a brief instance of plastic isn’t the worst thing you could do.
Okay, is there anything we should look out for?
According to the co-founders, the most important thing to look for in a tampon is the appropriate level of absorbency because, if you’re using a higher absorbency than you need, bacteria can build up, and that’s where problems occur. Also, whenever possible, go “fragrance-free.” Lawrence says that “fragrance tends to cause irritation for many people with hygiene products (and skincare products too!)” and it’s still pretty unclear as to what ingredients companies are hiding in those fragrance mixes, so best to steer clear. As for general chemicals to look out for, Scotti claims that “it’s a safe market at this point because so much of what was bad about the products has been cycled through by the FDA,” so no need to ruin your new pair of leggings over fear of running to CVS.
Still intrigued… anywhere us consumers can go look for more?
If you’re still skeptical about those Tampax, or want to learn more, the FDA requires each manufacturer “to identify any risks specific to each product,” says Lawrence. “These can all be located here, or you can also use good old Google, search 510(k) and list the product you’re looking for.” The FDA website itself also has a ton of information on each product and ingredient if you want to roll your sleeves up and dig in.
[Editor’s Note: As ever, we are not doctors or medical know-it-alls. And everybody is different, so make sure to check with a doctor before trying anything new.]
Photo: Shot on site at 6 Columbus, a Sixty Hotel