Killer Tampons: The Research Gap That’s Hurting Women

by kaya payseno

An average American woman uses 16,800 tampons in her reproductive lifetime. That’s 16,800 times inserting a foreign object into our bodies, a foreign object we know very little about. For about a week every month for however long we are fertile, a tampon is cozied-on-in-there next to some of the most sensitive, absorbent skin the body has to offer. Ideally, these tampons are soaking up our flow, making our lives easier and stain-free, but we need to consider what our bodies are taking from the products while they’re busy at work.

What’s in a tampon? and are they dangerous? have been latent questions since the 1980s-90s when the non-cotton fibers being used for high absorbency tampons are thought to have caused an outbreak of toxic shock. Women’s Voices for the Earth is making us think again after their study of Always pads yielded disturbing results in August 2014. The study found chemicals named as toxins and carcinogens by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program and the State of California Environmental Protection Agency present in Always products.

She's The Man

The question of whether these chemicals are harmful to tampon users now or over time goes unanswered because the FDA has put very little pressure on the two-billion dollar a year industry to test how their products actually interact with the ecology of a woman’s vagina! The FDA doesn’t even require tampon manufacturers to list materials on the box because Tampons and Pads are categorized as medical devices. P&G has buckled and released a materials list after being protested in person and criticized on the Internet. However, their list is pretty vague, including blanket terms such as “fragrance,” which could mean over 100 different chemical compounds. As of right now, women are still not being given enough information to make an informed decision about what we want hanging out in our vaginas every month.

More independent research needs to take place. The government has to stop looking at women’s health as a niche issue and regulate this industry in a more effective way starting with passing a bill that would fund research into this area like the Robin Danielson Act that died in congress last year. Vaginas are a fact of life, not a mystery, and choosing a brand of tampons should be an informed decision, not a Jesus-take-the-wheel moment. In the meantime there are brands like Luna Pads or Diva Cup which prioritize the safety and comfort of women. We just have to remember that these products are not accessible to everyone and no unsafe tampon should go on the shelf.

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