I have had a few clients and friends recently ask me my opinion on tampons. Are tampons safe? Are there harmful ingredients in tampons? Are organic tampons better?
There are lots of opinions by many different people and manufacturers, but I set out to do some research and found a few reliable resources. There are tons of articles written by each tampon company, but that is likely very biased information.
I did find a few facts and research articles that I think are as unbiased as they come and somewhat reassuring.
First, tampons are considered a medical device, so they are tested by the FDA (if you are in the US, I’m not sure what regulations there are in other countries).1 This means they are tested for safety, for materials used, etc. The ingredients are listed on the packages.
Tampons have been around since the 1930’s and like many other medical devices and other inventions there have been significant improvements over time.2 Tampons always come with a warning of toxic shock syndrome and women have been educated to wear them no longer than 8 hours at a time to reduce this risk. This is because some tampons have rayon material embedded in them to increase absorbency and that may lead to pelvic irritation. That is also why it is recommended to use the least absorbent tampon necessary because heavier absorbency have more rayon material than less absorbent tampons.
Toxic shock syndrome comes from bacteria growth that occurs inside the vagina during tampon usage. This is another reason it is recommended not to wear tampons longer than 8 hours, to reduce this risk. One study I found showed currently marketed tampons do not increase the risk of bacterial growth. In fact, mixed material (cotton and rayon) tampons inhibited bacteria growth and all cotton tampons had no effect on bacteria growth.3 Maybe those all organic cotton tampons are not better to use according to this study.
Women are also concerned about the bleaching process used in tampons and if that creates harmful chemical side effects. Bleaching is done so women can see the blood content on the tampon. If the material were not white it would be more difficult to judge the amount of blood within the tampon upon removal.
When tampons were first created, they were bleached with chlorine which caused unwanted chemical by-products. Now the bleaching process no longer uses chlorine and therefore does not produce dioxin, which is a harmful environmental chemical. Dioxin is an environmental by-product found in food, paper and from manufacturing plants. One study I found demonstrated only trace levels of dioxin in both cotton/rayon tampons and cotton only tampons.4 According to the study humans are exposed to more dioxin in their daily lives from food sources, especially animal food sources, than from tampons. This study also showed no significant difference between all cotton and cotton blends of tampons, meaning the organic tampons may not necessarily be any safer for our bodies.
I didn’t know what to expect when I set out to research tampons, but the findings were interesting. Tampons are safe. They are tested and regulated by the FDA to the standard of medical devices. All cotton organic tampons are not necessarily safer than cotton blend tampons, and actually bacteria grows more on the all-cotton tampons than on the other tampon brands. Wear the least absorbent tampon that you need for your flow to reduce risk of toxic shock syndrome and change your tampons often.
For some women tampons are uncomfortable to insert and wear so menstrual pads may be a better option for them. There is also a newer product on the market called Thinx underwear that is washable, reusable, absorbent underwear created to be worn during menstruation rather than using disposable products. There are also menstrual cups which are inserted like a tampon but are reusable.
If tampon insertion or usage is painful or uncomfortable that is not normal. The pelvic floor muscles may be too tight to comfortably hold a tampon and pelvic floor physical therapy can help with that.
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If you have a topic related to pelvic health you want to know more about, let me know and I will research and write about that in an upcoming blog.