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What’s inside your tampon?

Before we start, it’s worth remembering that the vagina is a mucous membrane, which is one of the most absorbent parts of the body, where chemicals and toxins are readily absorbed.

Recently, we asked an expert what ingredients go into a conventional tampon, and the answer that came back was “just too many to list”.

We know that they’re a mix of viscous rayon and conventional cotton but what gets added in terms of chemicals, bleaching agents, perfumes, dyes and finishing agents, which can all ‘leach’ out of the product, depends upon the manufacturing and processing techniques employed. And, current legislation doesn’t force manufacturers to list these ingredients.

Here at TOTM, we think organic cotton tampons, pads and liners should be the obvious choice for increasingly informed, health conscious and environmentally responsible women. But, there is a massive job of education to be done because most women don’t know what’s in their tampons (well, of course they don’t if they aren’t listed!) and don’t realise there is a healthy choice to be exercised.

This is partly because the major brands carry such marketing power and partly because the major retailers don’t stock an organic cotton alternative. Most supermarkets don’t offer anything other than the mainstream brands and their own brand so consumers have to go out of their way to find organic cotton products.

Many women suffer discomfort, itching, irritation and thrush-like symptoms when using mainstream sanitary products and this is because of a reaction to the synthetic fibres, chemical additives and perfumes. For these women, a hypoallergenic, pH neutral, organic cotton product provides a welcome relief.

Other women may simply choose to use organic cotton tampons, pads and liners to be kinder to their body as well as to the environment.

We’re not sure why major brands don’t go organic and chemical-free but it could have something to do with their profit margins. Rayon has been used since the 1930’s because it’s absorbent, cheap and, as is made by chemically treating wood pulp. Whilst wood pulp may be sustainable to begin with (if responsibly sourced), the process of turning this into rayon can be bad for the planet.

It’s no secret that non-organic cotton is one of the most intensively farmed crops in the world. It’s estimated that each year 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides are used to grow it. This makes the farmers who cultivate the land very sick and causes up to 20,000 deaths each year from pesticide poisoning in developing countries.

Over and above these issues, endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome and gynaecological cancers are all on the increase and some observers have tried to link the chemicals found in some tampons to these diseases but no long term studies have been funded so it’s a highly controversial subject. There’s just no proof but when you’re talking about your reproductive organs, we think it’s best to err on the side of caution.

And what about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)? All tampon manufacturers have to carry warnings about TSS and organic cotton tampons are not exempt from this. It’s important to stress the need to change your tampon regularly and use the lowest absorbency for your needs, whatever they’re made from. But, even though TSS is thankfully rare, it’s still an important issue and cotton is still the safest alternative of any fibre.

Without question, viscous rayon amplifies the toxins of the bacteria staphylococcus aureus (commonly found in the vagina) more than organic cotton. Dr. Philip Tierno, a professor of microbiology and pathology at the New York University School of Medicine, who has been researching TSS for over 30 years, goes as far as to say: “I have never, ever – in all my work with TSS – ever had a result of all cotton tampons resulting in toxic shock.” The majority of gynaecologists and midwives also recommend the use of natural cotton products during your period.

One of the problems that many women are unaware of is that often these man-made fibres shed inside them, causing small cuts, which can become infected and play a host to bacteria.

Some products still use chlorine in the bleaching process, which leads to the production of dioxins. According to the World Health Organisation: “Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. Due to the omnipresence of dioxins, all people have background exposure, which is not expected to affect human health. However, due to the highly toxic potential, efforts need to be undertaken to reduce current background exposure.” So, it would make sense not to introduce dioxins into the most absorbent part of your body, right?

Glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA, the chemical found in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, and classified as “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organisation, was found in 85% of personal hygiene cotton products, including tampons. This is why it’s important to differentiate between cotton and organic cotton – there’s a massive difference.

Lots of the defence for conventional tampons relies on the fact that exposure levels to any of these chemicals are so low as to make them negligible in the context of background exposure through the food chain and other sources. But remember, these are being put into the most absorbent part of the body and close to your reproductive organs. Doesn’t sound like a terribly sensible idea if the recommendation is to reduce exposure now does it?

It’s not just tampons either. Did you know that many conventional pads contain the equivalent of four plastic bags? Plastic waste is a huge problem facing our planet; in just 30 years it is forecast to outweigh fish in the ocean. It can also take literally forever to biodegrade; up to 800 years for pads(!)

Given the average women will use around 13,000 tampons in her lifetime, we think you have the right to know what goes into them. Ours are 100% certified pure organic cotton.

Time for a change? Be kinder to your vagina and choose organic cotton tampons, pads and liners.

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