Did you know the average woman will use over 11,000 tampons in her lifetime? That is 11,000 plus exposures to whatever chemicals or toxins are in the tampon material. That is not counting sanitary napkins or liners.
A few months ago I sent out a round of Industry Action Letters to make sure companies knew I had switched to safer, chemical free alternatives. I received a letter back refuting my points about rayon blend tampons.:
|The cotton and rayon purification process is a chlorine-free process||Even non-chlorine bleaching methods are done with chemicals|
|Our tampons are made of materials that have been safely used in feminine care products for many years||This companies current pads contain plastics, rayons, and petrochemical additives for absorption|
Every year, we find out companies put chemicals in products formerly overlooked as “safe” and then later when independent research finds them unsafe, they are recalled. For example, when a popular baby shampoo was found to have preservatives in them that turned into formaldehyde over time.
“Formaldehyde, which last year was identified by government scientists as a carcinogen, is released over time by common preservatives like quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin, which do appear on labels. And 1,4 dioxane, which has been linked to cancer in animal studies, is created during a process commonly used to make other ingredients gentler on the skin.” 
Tampons are considered Class II medical devices and are not required to disclose their ingredients. This doesn’t make any sense; these products are used by women monthly- shouldn’t the list of what they are composed of be and openly stated on the packaging?
Why not just use organic cotton to make tampons and be done with it? Why are companies so averse to using organic cotton? The bottom line: money and profits.
Rayon is Used in Most Mainstream Tampons
Rayon started being used in tampons due to it’s cheap production costs, but the way rayon is produced involves chemicals- Yes Chemicals!
“Rayon is a manufactured regenerated cellulose fiber. It is made from purified cellulose, primarily from wood pulp, which is chemically converted into a soluble compound. It is then dissolved and forced through a spinneret to produce filaments which are chemically solidified, resulting in synthetic fibers…” 
Organic cotton is costlier and the company’s products cost more, which in a competitive environment, many will choose cost over safety (unfortunately).
I gladly will pay more for organic cotton tampons ; this is my feminine health after all.
Regular Cotton Vs. Organic Cotton
Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop. Other environmental consequences of the elevated use of chemicals in the non-organic cotton growing methods consist of:
- High levels of agrochemicals are used in the production of non-organic, conventional cotton.
- Cotton production uses more chemicals per unit area than any other crop and accounts in total for 10-16% of the world’s pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants chemicals used in the processing of cotton pollute the air and surface waters.
- Residual chemicals may irritate consumers’ skin.
- Decreased biodiversity and shifting equilibrium of ecosystems due to the use of pesticides. 
Organic Cotton is different primarily as it’s not treated with chemicals.
“Farmers have been growing cotton without harmful chemicals for years. Their yield is high, and the quality of the cotton they grow is equal to or better than conventionally grown cotton. Their methods support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, improve the quality of soil and often use less water. Organic farming is more time consuming, requires more knowledge and skill, and, for now, costs more. But it’s worth it.” 
This graphic from Organicfacts.net explains why organic cotton is so much better: Production does not involve chemicals, better quality, reduces potential for pollution by pesticides, natural fiber, and environmentally friendly farming practices.
What Else is in a Tampon or Sanitary Napkin?
Not only the chemicals are a factor, but the synthetic plastic applicators take longer to biodegrade than cardboard applicators. In fact, even cardboard applicators can be treated with chemicals or a “plastic finish” to give them a smoother feel, so we have to be careful there also.
Also, artificial fragrances should not be used in a woman’s vagina. The lining of the internal vagina wall is highly permeable, even more so than our skin. Aside from pesticides, traces of dioxin, and GMOs, if you’re using scented tampons, be aware that such products may contain any of the nearly 3,000 fragrance chemicals in use. 
Tampons are made of cotton, rayon, polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene, and fiber finishes. Aside from the cotton and fiber finishes, these materials are not bio-degradable. Organic cotton tampons are biodegradable, but must be composted to ensure they break down in a reasonable amount of time. 
The letter also stated that “independent” research study showed no pesticides. It mentioned that research by a certain government agency deems their product safe. These agencies need to overhaul the regulations in our cosmetic industry. So many products on the market simply are not safe.
Yes, most cosmetics in this country are on the market as “safe” and our government agencies allow it. For now… read the end of this article for how that may change!
Our regulators allow over 3,000 toxic chemicals to be used in the US makeup industry. Did you know the EU bans more than 1,300 chemicals and the US only bans 8 and restricts 3? WOW.
Even “non-chlorine” bleaching methods, in my opinion, are unsafe.
“A common method used in bleaching rayon, elemental chlorine-free bleaching, can still pose a dioxin risk because of the use of chlorine dioxide (the bleaching agent). In theory, these elemental chlorine-free processes can generate dioxins at very low levels, even though the process is considered “dioxin free.”
According to the EPA, dioxin exposure causes cancer in lab animals and poses a high risk for humans as well. The agency also finds it to be a risk for damaged immune systems, reduced fertility, an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, and endometriosis.” 
I’m not trying to slander this company and it was actually very nice that someone took the time to respond to my letter. Most of their big competitors use the same ingredients in their products, but I would like to see them take more responsibility for what is in their products and give consumers what they want- safer alternatives.
A trace chemical is still a chemical and in a delicate area it’s more dangerous with repeat exposure.
The average woman ends up with up to 5 lbs. of chemicals in her body per year. Per year!  Of course, this includes our makeups, soaps, lotions, tampons, etc…
Many of today’s feminine hygiene products are made primarily from rayon, viscose, and cellulose wood fluff pulp… not cotton — let alone organic cotton. Rayon and viscose present a potential danger in part because of their highly absorbent fibers. 
Safe Alternatives- Organic Cotton Tampons and Cups
I love Natracare organic cotton tampons and sanitary products (their pads are so soft). They are a company I trust. Mercola is also producing organic cotton products and so does Seventh Generation brand and Honest Company.
Of course, there are even greener alternatives, like silicon reusable menstrual cups. I did try a cup and I simply could not get enough privacy (a 4 year old that is always following me into the bathroom) to master the skill of it.
I do joke around with my husband (we are big The Walking Dead fans) if the zombie apocalypse happens and we have to go survive in the wild- I’m grabbing that Diva cup!
As consumers, we must be wary of what we put in or on our bodies. I’ll be teaching my daughter to use safer products. Hopefully by then some of these companies will be forced to change their product formulations.
I’ll stick with the progressive companies that did what is right from the start.
Change on the Horizon
The Personal Care Product Safety Act, S-1014, is a bipartisan bill that is backed by the Environment Working Group: www.ewg.org. Although certain companies I don’t trust (Ahem, companies who previously added formaldehyde releasers in baby care products) are also supporters, this is still a pivotal step in regulating the US Cosmetic industry.
The FDA must review the safety of at least five cosmetic ingredients each year, and it may establish conditions for safe use of an ingredient, including a limit on the amount of the ingredient or a requirement for a warning label. A cosmetic cannot be sold if it contains an ingredient that is not safe, not safe under the recommended conditions of use, or not safe in the amount present in the cosmetic. 
There is an excellent chart that shows you a breakdown of current law vs. proposed laws under this act.
Click here to view it from CosmeticsandtheLaw.com
The first 5 chemicals up for review in 2016 would be the following:
- Diazolidinyl urea (a formaldehyde used as a preservative in a wide range of products including deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath and lotion)
- Lead acetate (used as a color additive in hair dyes)
- Methylene glycol/formaldehyde, which is used in hair treatments
- Propyl paraben, which is used as a preservative in a wide range of products including shampoo, conditioner and lotion
- Quaternium-15, which is used as a preservative in a wide range of products including shampoo, shaving cream, skin creams and cleansers 
Although we have a long way to go, consumers like you and a strong social media activism can help propagate the message that we will not use toxic products.
What Can I Do?
You can write an Activism Letter or sign online petitions. Support the labeling of personal hygiene products. Switch brands NOW!
If organic cotton tampon sales went up significantly I guaranteed big companies would consider a shift from rayon blends or offer an organic line as an option.
I have to drive to a different town to get my organic products, convenience would be nice, or even if my local grocer would start carrying these smaller company brands.
The potential for them to affect our health and wellness outweighs extra costs or the extra measures we have to take to buy these safe alternatives. I may drive to a different town to buy Natracare products, but they are available online. Check out the Genbumom Amazon link for safe alternatives.
Will you be making a switch to organic cotton feminine hygiene products?
- Organic Cotton from Wikepedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_cotton
- Stuff You Should Know Podcast: “How Makeup Works” Broadcasted March 17, 2016. www.howstuffworks.com
- April 21, 2015. Cosmetics and the Law website: www.cosmeticsandthelaw.com
- Dr. Mercola. May 13, 2015. Conventional Tampons are toxic and not sustainable. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/05/13/tampons.aspx
- Tampon from Wikepedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tampon
- Donsky, Andrea. Rayon: What you need to know about this fiber and your health. Accessed May 4, 2016 www.naturallysavvy.com
- Patagonia Clothing website. Accessed April 25, 2016. http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=2077
- Johnson, Katie. August 5, 2012. Johnson and Johnson to remove Formaldehyde from Their Products. www.nytimes.com
- Rayon from Wikepedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayon