For women, when that time of the month hits, you dash to your trusty stash of (hopefully) healthy tampons, try all your natural methods to keep PMS at bay, and eat the proper foods to avoid bloating and hormonal breakouts.
But for those who grab whatever tampon’s available (often of the Tampax and Kotex sort prevalent in drug stores and your local bodega or grocery store), you’re most likely putting some pretty toxic ingredients in an area of your body that’s incredibly absorbent.
That’s because, as is unfortunately the norm with personal care products, there’s not much regulation at all in terms of ingredients used (hence the clean beauty revolution for the world of skin care and cosmetics). Tampon and pad manufacturers are not even required to list the ingredients on their packaging.
Realizing this stirred Talia Frenkel—formerly a photojournalist who worked with the Red Cross and United Nations to document humanitarian crises—to create L., a brand which started with condoms and has now expanded to include feminine care products.
“We put between 10,000 and 11,000 tampons into our bodies throughout our lifetime,” says Frenkel. “You’re putting pesticides, chlorine, fragrance, and all sorts of harmful chemicals inside you. And there are no long-term studies done on the impact these ingredients have on women’s bodies.”
Another important factor to note? Toxic shock syndrome isn’t necessarily from just leaving your tampon in for too long. “People get confused about TSS,” says Frenkel. “At the end of the day, it’s caused by toxins produced by bacteria—and studies have concluded that using high-absorbency tampons increase the risk of TSS. Synthetic additives make tampons more absorbent.”
Until the industry cleans up its act, you should be aware of common chemicals in feminine care products that could be doing your body harm. And with all the emerging healthy (and chic) tampons on the market, there’s just no need to put your healthy body through that.
Read on for the six items on the label to watch out for.
“Highly absorbent viscose rayon is one of four synthetic ingredients that is commonly associated with the increase of likelihood of TSS,” says Frenkel. “While the other three synthetic ingredients (polyester, carboxymethylcellulose, and polyacrylate rayon) have been taken off the market, rayon still exists in many tampons today.”
This chemical is a result of chlorine processing. “According to the EPA, there is no safe level of exposure to dioxin,” says Frenkel. It’s also linked to hormone disruption and can affect your immune system.
3. Non-organic cotton
“The purpose of genetically engineered cotton is so that it will be resistant to pesticides and herbicides, which would affect the cotton’s growth,” says Frenkel. “This is problematic because it allows substantially more pesticides and herbicides to be sprayed on the cotton, which increases the risk of its residues being present in the cotton that’s in our tampons.” Hence why she stresses the importance of using organic cotton, since non-organic cotton tampons are likely to be genetically modified.
“Fragrance is essentially chemical soup,” says Frenkel. As with beauty products, brands don’t have to list what chemicals they’re putting under the umbrella term “fragrance,” so it can contain harmful ingredients.
“Chlorine is used in the bleaching processes and does produce trace amounts of dioxins in the process,” notes Frenkel. “While the FDA maintains that there are only trace amounts of dioxins, when you look at this from a cumulative angle, there is cause for concern.”
BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical that comes from producing plastic, and it has been linked to cancer. Look for BPA-free applicators when shopping for tampons, says Frenkel.
It’s important to know what’s inside the products you’re putting on (and in) your body. This is why even products that claim to be”preservative-free” can be a red flag. As far as food goes, at least the FDA is calling out sugar in a big way.