These items are so normal, so white, and seemingly so innocuous… but they may be laced with dioxin, BPA (and its cousin BPS), petrochemicals, plastics, GMOs, and fragrances.
And you unwittingly place them against sensitive skin tissue for decades on end. It’s all pretty much a hush-hush topic.
Think this doesn’t concern you? Hold on, because you may also be at risk from related products. So I urge you to keep reading.
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The average woman will use nearly 17,000 tampons during her lifetime. That’s a lot of exposure. And that’s just tampons. Many women use pads instead or in addition.
And everyone uses toilet paper without giving it a second thought. What’s lurking in that – and in napkins, paper towels, and diapers?
Let’s tackle this sensitive issue and explore some alternatives.
The misnomer of “protection”
“Protection” has long been a buzzword in this industry, and women trust their feminine hygiene products to protect them from leaks.
In fact, there’s actually an FDA standard for level of absorbency.
But while protecting yourself from the embarrassment of leaks, you may be exposing yourself to greater risks — things you haven’t been warned about.
You may never look at “protection”
the same way again
Your skin is your largest and most absorbent organ. Anything you place on or against it is absorbed into your bloodstream. The lining of the vagina happens to be exceptionally absorbent.
If asked what sanitary pads and tampons are made of, most women would probably answer “cotton”… since that’s what’s frequently advertised.
In reality, most of today’s feminine hygiene products contain mostly rayon, viscose, and cellulose wood fluff pulp. Here’s a little about each:
7 nasty toxins found in hygiene products
Used to turn products to a white, clean-looking, “pure” color.
2. Dioxins, furans, and disinfection byproducts (DBPs)
The bleaching process creates toxins, such as dioxin, and DBPs, like trihalomethane.
Dioxin is in the same family as Agent Orange. The Environmental Protection Agency labels it a serious health threat, stating there’s no “safe” level of exposure to it because it accumulates in tissue.
Dioxin also has a very long half-life, meaning it remains in your fatty tissues for up to 11 years.
Dioxins are known carcinogens linked to reproductive, developmental, and hormonal problems. They also sabotage your immune system.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) gave dioxin a carcinogen rating of 10 out of 10 – the worst rating the nonprofit watchdog group issues. Dioxin is considered dangerous enough to increase cancer risk even at very low levels of exposure.
Yet the FDA’s official position on dioxins in tampons is that they pose no health risk. That seems a little naïve (not to mention contradictory to what the other government agency is saying)…
More recently, the FDA informed us that manufacturers now use a chlorine-free bleaching method (i.e., chlorine dioxide instead of elemental chlorine gas). Here’s what the agency says, in its own words. See if it gives you peace of mind…
“Some elemental chlorine-free bleaching processes can theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels, and dioxins are occasionally detected in trace amounts in mill effluents and pulp. In practice, however, this method is considered to be dioxin free. “
If the process can theoretically generate dioxins at low levels, how can it also be dioxin-free? Let me put it this way: If this involved a natural supplement with “extremely low levels” of dioxins, I can almost guarantee you the FDA would pull it off the market. To repeat, that other government agency, the EPA, says there is NO safe level of dioxin exposure.
Today’s sanitary pads are about 90 percent plastic, made from crude oil. This plastic restricts airflow. It traps dampness and heat, and can promote the growth of yeast and bacteria, which upsets the delicate balance needed to remain healthy.
If a product is labeled “non-woven,” “highly absorbent foam” or “polyethylene,” take it as a red flag that it contains petrochemicals.
Having petrochemicals against your skin may be dangerous in the long term. Sensitive individuals may also experience burning, chafing, and soreness.
Most of the cotton used in tampons and pads is conventionally-grown – and conventional cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. Although cotton covers just 2.4 percent of the world’s farm land, two billion dollars’ worth of pesticides are dumped on it every year.
Sure, the FDA “recommends” that tampons be free of pesticides.
But testing of the popular o.b. brand turned up pesticides like pyrethrum, procymidone, mecarbam, and fensulothion – all possible carcinogens and all linked to endocrine disruption.
But it gets worse. According to the USDA, 94 percent of all cotton grown in the U.S. today is genetically modified. I’m not an expert on the GMO issue, but activists say GMOs are linked to many health problems, including allergies, leaky gut syndrome, inflammation, and cancer.
So if you avoid eating GMO foods, you may also want to reconsider putting GMO products on or in highly absorbent parts of your body. The evidence I’ve seen suggests that it’s the huge amounts of herbicides sprayed on GMO crops, rather than the genetic modification itself, that may pose the greatest health danger.
You’d be hard-pressed to find 100% cotton tampons or pads these days. Most are made from synthetics, like rayon, viscose, and Super Absorbent Powders (SAPs). They may also be laced with artificial colors, adhesives, polyester, polyethylene (PET), polypropylene, and propylene glycol (PEG).
This one seemingly harmless word really means a toxic chemical soup. And the government does not require companies to list fragrances on labels.
“Fragrances” can include known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, irritants, and allergens. Many of today’s pads and tampons come in scented versions.
Creates a toxin factory in your body
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) hit the newspapers in 1980 when Procter and Gamble’s Rely Tampons were found to have caused the deaths of 38 women. If you think it’s ancient history, think again. TSS is still an unspoken threat today.
TSS is a systemic, potentially deadly illness caused by either Staphylococcus aureus (staph) or group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Though rare, it is linked to tampon use.
Super-absorbent synthetic materials create the perfect breeding ground for TSS-causing bacteria. These materials expand so much that they stick to your vaginal wall. When you remove the tampon, loosened fibers are left behind, or part of the vaginal lining may be scraped or peeled off.
Micro-tears in the vaginal wall give bacteria easy access.
In 1999, USA Today reported that TSS strikes 1,300 people every year… and five percent die from it. The syndrome is more frequently linked to synthetic tampons than to cotton ones. But that brings up a very real issue…
How to find out what’s
really in your products…
Logic suggests that you should keep GMOs, dioxins, and the rest of these hazards far away from your body’s most sensitive membranes.
But you can’t just pick up a box of conventional pads or tampons and read the ingredients. For example, given current U.S. and Canadian law, GMO ingredients won’t be labeled, even if the rest are.
Sanitary pads are considered a “medical device,” so ingredients don’t have to be disclosed. Certain brands may list some ingredients, but full disclosure isn’t mandatory. The FDA deems the lists of ingredients to be legally protected proprietary formulas – trade secrets of the manufacturer.
You might wonder, “Since when is a tampon or pad a medical device?”
The FDA states that a medical device is “an instrument, apparatus … or other similar or related article which is intended to diagnose, prevent or treat disease.”
You might wonder… since when is a woman’s menstrual cycle considered a disease? Seems it’s a natural life cycle.
Feminine hygiene products increase your risk of cancer of the cervix, breast, and ovaries, plus endometriosis, birth defects, and more. So why is so little research being done to investigate these risks?
In 2003, House Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation that would’ve required research into these risks. But it didn’t pass. And nothing’s been done since then to reignite her efforts.
Now, about those other
“personal” paper products?
Unfortunately, we live in a world awash with BPA, dioxins, and other chemicals. It’s impossible to avoid them all… But small changes can add up to a life-saving difference.
This isn’t just about feminine products.
How about the toilet paper you use? Disposable diapers? Napkins? Paper towels?
Many of the same ingredients and processes used for tampons and pads are also used for these products. It may be time to reconsider your choices for them too.
What’s in your shopping cart?
Fortunately, you have some choices. Some of them may require you to think outside the box.
Consider replacing as many disposable items as possible with reusable, washable ones. This can be done for diapers, napkins, and towels.
Here’s what else we’ve been able to dig up for you:
Tampons and pads: Susie Hewson created Natracare feminine hygiene products in 1989, due to concerns about dioxins in women’s products. They offer a line of 100% organic cotton tampons and pads, now available in 54 countries.
Glad Rags and Imse Vimse offer washable pads, similar to what women throughout history have used.
Toilet paper: Our research couldn’t turn up a totally non-toxic toilet paper, which presents a difficult dilemma. Recycled toilet paper is tainted with micrograms of BPA. Conventional toilet paper suffers from chlorine, dioxins, and DBPs. It’s a tough call. I guess if you live in France – or you’re rich – you might try a bidet (a low basin for washing your private parts).
Unlike a tampon, paper towels and toilet paper are not in contact with the skin for prolonged periods of time, so I suspect they pose less danger. I don’t see a practical replacement for conventional toilet paper. My guess is the worst feature of these products is the bleaches, dioxins and other chemicals they release into the water supply by way of reprocessed and recycled waste water.
But the best bet is to do what you can. Isn’t it time to get rid of some of these “pure white” products and switch to those you can toss in with your weekly laundry instead?
Lee Euler, Publisher