By now, we can all agree that the fewer chemicals we come in contact with on a day-to-day basis, the better. So it makes sense that more and more feminine care companies are marketing their products as organic and free of chemicals, dyes, and synthetics. But what makes these alternatives that much better than traditional tampons or pads? Here, Cassidy Randall, who works for a nontoxic certification label, dives into what she sees as the human and environmental benefits of organic, minimally processed pads and tampons.
If you've ever looked at the label of a conventional pad or tampon box, you may have found it lacking in the ingredients department. Maybe you've wondered what's actually in there but thought, Hey, it must just be cotton, right?
Toxic chemicals in pads and tampons.
It turns out that many pads and tampons are actually made using synthetic materials like rayon or SAPs (super-absorbent polymers) that are bleached with chlorine to give them that pristine white look. Yes, some pads and tampons are made with just cotton—but it tends to be traditionally grown as opposed to organic.
Traditional cotton producers use up to 16 percent of the world's insecticides, and these chemicals can have severe health impacts on workers as well as surrounding ecosystems. In addition to killing pests and weeds, pesticides can be toxic to other organisms including birds, fish, and beneficial insects. Plus, they can get into our water sources through surface runoff. One study found that 90 percent of water and fish sampled from streams across the United States contained one or more strains of pesticide.
In addition to posing environmental concerns, pads and tampons can contain chemicals that are potentially harmful to human health, such as the following:
- Dioxins and furans: These by-products of the bleaching process have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and reproductive toxicity.
- Pesticide residues: These have been detected in small-scale studies on tampons made with traditionally grown cotton.
- Undisclosed fragrance ingredients: Many pads, and sometimes tampons, come in scented varieties. However, fragrances can include any of over 3,000 different chemicals, and none of them need to be disclosed on ingredients lists. According to a master list of fragrance chemicals made available by the International Fragrance Association, fragrances can include chemicals that are carcinogens, irritants, allergens, and potential endocrine disrupters.
The fact that pads and tampons come into contact with some of the most sensitive skin on women's bodies makes this even more concerning. The majority of women use pads and tampons for several days each month for decades of their lives, yet it's still not customary for companies to disclose what's in them. Why? Because pads and tampons are regulated as medical devices, meaning the government doesn't require that their ingredients be disclosed.
The cleaner alternative.
Before you freak out, there's some good news. Brands are beginning to step up and certify that their products are made with safe ingredients not known to harm human health or ecosystems. For the first time ever, women no longer have to unwittingly sacrifice their health just to manage the monthly flow.
Pads and tampons carrying the brand-new MADE SAFE seal are made without known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, hormone disrupters, pesticides, toxic fragrance chemicals, and other potentially dangerous ingredients. Furthermore, their ingredients have been examined by a chemist for levels of bioaccumulation (buildup in our bodies), persistence (buildup in the environment), and general toxicity to humans and the environment. Here are two brands spearheading this certification:
Natracare products use renewable and sustainable ingredients that are chlorine-free and never tested on animals. Bonus: These tampons and pads are made using biodegradable and compostable materials, so they don't burden landfills as much as traditional pads.
Organ(y)c pads are made with 100 percent organic cotton, so they don't have any rayon or SAPs. The brand believes that a healthy period helps your hormones work in harmony, uninterrupted by the chemicals that come with conventionally grown materials (read: pesticides).
Tips for choosing healthier feminine care.
Here's hoping that more feminine care companies begin to consider getting third-party certified. Until then, you can make sure that the products you're using every month are easy on your body by keeping the following in mind:
- Choose unbleached, chlorine-free pads and tampons to avoid dioxins and furans.
- Opt for unscented products, which will save you exposure to undisclosed fragrance ingredients.
- When possible, buy from companies that prioritize transparency and list all ingredients on the label.
- Write to companies or reach out on social media and ask them to display their ingredients and be transparent with shoppers about what's in their products.