In a world of vaginal steams, crystal-wearing, and period panties, are organic feminine products really worth the hype, not to mention the extra expense? Is it a legitimate need or a silly gimmick that can be skipped?
Consider this: the skin in the vagina is highly absorbent, and it is known to be an effective method for systemic drug delivery. (1,2) Chemicals introduced into the vaginal canal are going to be easily absorbed and systemically delivered to the rest of the body, too.
The Dangers of Toxic Exposure
Why should we be worried about toxic exposure from feminine products? Most women figure that they only use pads and tampons for just a few days every month, but when you add that up over three decades of reproductive years? That’s anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 days of a woman’s life.
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Products like tampons, pads, and pantiliners have contact with vaginal mucous membranes, which are designed to be highly absorbent. Because this area is filled with blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, it’s primed to deliver whatever it encounters to the entire body through the circulatory system.
Enter the argument that the chemicals found in these products can’t be “that bad.” If you read the label on the average tampon or pad, it won’t sound that scary, at least not until you dig a little deeper. Most people believe that the FDA or some overarching government body regulates these types of products and won’t allow anything in them that would be unsafe. Because tampons and pads are categorized as medical devices, they’re regulated by the FDA, but the FDA doesn’t regulate the cosmetic industry or other chemical-laden products strictly either. Just because the FDA allows it to be sold doesn’t mean it’s safe. As a medical device, companies also aren’t required to disclose every detail about the ingredients.
Bottom line: Women need to be aware that toxin exposure from unexpected sources can still have a significant impact on their health, and feminine products are no exception.
Toxins Found in Feminine Products
Most toxins found in feminine products aren’t easily deciphered by simply reading the label. Companies manufacturing these items are either unaware that they’ve created a chemical delivery system, or they’re trying to mask it with pink and blue boxes and fresh scents. Even if we assume the best of these companies, initiatives over the last few years to get full label disclosure have been met with silence. (3) Companies disclose ingredients that may be in their products, but do not transparently list exactly what they contain.
The truth is that any feminine products not labeled as organic can contain any of the following. Since manufacturers are not being open, we can assume that their products very likely contain many or most of them.
6 Hormone Disruptors and Chemicals Found in Feminine Products
A plastic-like chemical found in many products that are scented, phthalates, found in fragranced pads or tampons used to mask vaginal odors, are hormone disrupting. (4)
You know how those tampons and pads are crisp and white? Dioxins are chemicals that appear as a result of the bleaching process, and are associated with hormone disruption and autoimmunity. (5)
While no one is adding mercury to feminine products, it can be found in pads and tampons because it’s a byproduct of the manufacturing and bleaching process, and it’s associated with disruption of the nervous, immune, and digestive systems. (6)
Cotton, one of the primary ingredients of tampons and pads, is one of the top GMO (genetically modified organism) crops that are heavily treated with glyphosate. Cotton is highly absorbent, hence the use in tampons and feminine pads, but it also absorbs those chemicals that it’s doused with. One study found that 85 percent of non-organic tampons contained glyphosate. (7)
A synthetic ingredient made from sawdust, rayon is most closely associated with TSS, or toxic shock syndrome. Tampons all get a warning label that they shouldn’t be left in for more than eight hours because of TSS, which can cause symptoms like fever, rash, low blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, and even seizures. (8) TSS is life-threatening, so most women are educated about this risk. However, women aren’t informed that the very same tampon that could cause TSS is also exposing them to dioxins, which are byproducts of rayon, and which are not safe at any exposure level. (9)
A fancy way of saying “a chemical cocktail to produce a synthetic scent,” fragrances are used in thousands of products to produce a specific smell. They’re also used to mask odors, such as in feminine products. The problem with this is that just because something smells clean and fresh doesn’t mean that it is. Chemicals used in fragrances are often proprietary and are not required to be disclosed, meaning you have no idea what you’re inhaling, ingesting, or inserting. Some fragrances even contain known carcinogens. (10)
Bottom line: While women aren’t exposed to feminine products on a daily basis, the cumulative hours that they will be exposed over their lifetime is significant, especially considering that a few of these chemicals have no safe exposure levels.
3 Dangers of Toxic Feminine Products
It might be easy to brush off chemicals found in pads and tampons as less important than chemicals found in, say, make-up or lotions, based on daily usage and skin coverage.
However, for a week every month, for roughly 30 years, women often get around-the-clock exposure from these seemingly harmless items.
1. More Infections
Chemicals and synthetic ingredients found in feminine products increase a woman’s risk of yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis because the presence of these unnatural materials disrupt normal and healthy vaginal bacterial balance. (11)
2. Cancer Risk
While most companies will deny that their products or ingredients are carcinogenic, dioxins and other components of women’s hygiene products have cancer-causing components. (12)
3. Reproductive Harm
All of the exposures that a woman faces on a daily basis from environmental sources can work together to attack fertility. Hormones are sensitive to disruptions, and women face risk by chemicals found in feminine products they use. (13)
Bottom line: The volume of usage and hours of exposure make feminine care products one of the most significant issues regarding toxic exposure.
4 Organic and Toxin-Free Alternatives
Organic feminine products cost more than non-organic versions, and one of the largest complaints is that companies slap the organic label on there so that they can charge more. The truth is that the products are entirely different, and given a moment to compare, you’ll see why.
Cleaner hygiene products are critical since vaginal tissues absorb toxins and chemicals more easily than other skin areas.
Natural alternatives exist for everything from organic cotton tampons and pads that are not bleached to reusable and washable products like fabric pads, menstrual cups, and period underwear that are designed to eliminate waste altogether.
While many women may view laundering their menstrual products as an unnecessary chore (or a gross one at that), all of these organic and reusable products have been designed with care for both women’s health and the environment. So explore the various chemical-free options available for menstrual care and choose a system that works best for you.
Organic and Disposable Tampons, Pads, and Liners
Much the same as the non-organic ones, these are disposable and convenient. Made from organic cotton that is unbleached and free from nasty chemicals, these products are produced primarily by four brands: Seventh Generation, NatraCare, Maxim, and The Honest Company. They’re available in varying sizes and thicknesses and work as effectively as other non-organic brands.
Menstrual pads work the same way as disposable ones, except they’re constructed from cotton and are highly absorbent. These also come in different sizes and thicknesses, and are designed to be laundered and reused for numerous cycles. The laundering process is described by each company, and is simple and ick-free. Most suggest soaking in a bucket of natural disinfectant solution during the menstrual cycle, and washing everything in one load at the end. If you’re really bothered by the idea of dirty menstrual rags, you can easily wash them more often. Popular brands include GladRags, LunaPads, Sckoon Organic Cloth Pads, Charlie Banana Reusable Cloth Pads, and Earth Girl.
Menstrual cups are in a league of their own: they collect the menstrual blood and don’t absorb. They can safely be worn longer than tampons and don’t carry the risk of toxic shock syndrome. They’re available in different sizes and shapes, and can be used for numerous cycles, only needing to be rinsed before each use and washed thoroughly at the end of the cycle before storing until the next one. These are great options for women of any age. Top brands include the DivaCup, Lunette Menstrual Cup, Ruby Cup, Yuuki Cup, and EvaCup.
Newest on the scene are panties specifically designed to be worn during menstruation. Some are designed to be worn without any additional pads or cups, while others are meant to be used in conjunction with reusable pads or cups. They are made of highly absorbent and leak-proof materials, and are designed to last for many years. Popular brands are Thinx, PantyProp, Modibodi, and Knixwear.
Bottom line: Each of these different menstrual options offers their own benefits and come without the chemical cocktail of side effects like conventional period products. Not only are they cleaner options, but they are greener and either come from more ethically sourced disposable cotton or remove the need for disposing altogether. While the cost for any of these options will be more than just buying the cheapest option, your health is an investment and is worth protecting from an onslaught of chemicals.
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