Do your tampons contain indications of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals?” The answer to that question may be surprising. Mamavation sent 23 different tampons to an EPA-certified laboratory looking for indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.” According to our lab, 22% of those tampons had indications of PFAS, including two “organic” tampons. Would you like to know which products were tested? You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover topics like best cookware sans PFAS, best green beauty makeup sans PFAS, and safest collagens. Now join us for a consumer study on indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” in tampons. If you want to just see the raw data, scroll down close to the bottom of this post.
Disclosure: This consumer study is released in partnership with Environmental Health News. Scientific reviews were performed by (1) Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, (2) Linda S. Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program & Scholar at Residence at Duke University, North Carolina University, & Yale University, (3) Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future, & (4) Scott Belcher, Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University. This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. Donations were provided by Environmental Health News and Mamavation community members. This post contains affiliate links.
Mamavation Finds Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals” in Tampons
PFAS “forever chemicals” are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances used as stain-resistant, water-resistant, & oil-resistant chemicals in commerce. They are linked to serious health effects and have been used for decades inside consumer products, as manufacturing aides, and inside building materials. Mamavation’s lab found indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside popular tampons sold to American consumers for use as a menstrual product.
Mamavation sent 23 tampon products off to an EPA-certified lab to look for indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.” We included regular tampons made from synthetic materials, organic tampons, tampons with a smaller tube applicator, & tampons with different types of wrappers. We did not test any menstrual cups, menstrual pads, or sanitary napkins. Our EPA-certified lab revealed several products tested had detectable organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS “forever chemicals.”
Scott Belcher, Ph.D. & Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University says “fluoropolymers, such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or Teflon®, are extremely common forms of PFAS that can be contributing to the organic fluorine found in tampon products. Methods used for detecting individual PFAS, such as PFOA or GenX, cannot directly identify PTFE. However, the analysis of total organic fluorine does account for all PFAS contaminants in tampons, including PTFE. Therefore, this method of testing serves as a good ‘spot-check’ of consumer products.”
Here are some main findings from the lab:
- 22% of the tampons we sent to our EPA-certified laboratory had indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.” 5 out of 23 tampons tested had indications of PFAS.
- 2 products with detections of organic fluorine were advertised as “organic” tampons, however, they were not GOTS organic certified products.
- 3 products with detections of organic fluorine had plastic applicators and 2 had cardboard applicators.
- The levels of organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS, varied from 19 parts per million (ppm) to 28 parts per million (ppm).
- It’s unknown what the health impacts are to women who are exposed to PFAS “forever chemicals” inside the vagina or if those chemicals can leach into the body from the intimate use of a tampon.
Our scientific advisor, Linda Birnbaum, Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program & Scholar in Residence at Duke University, University of North Carolina, & Yale University had something to say about the findings.
“It’s disturbing for any tampon to have detectable amounts of fluorine present. We already know that PFAS has the ability to impact almost every organ of the body. The vagina is an incredibly vascular area and dermal exposure is often higher there than in other places of the body. “
Health Impacts from Exposure to PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Inside Your Vagina
No one knows the health outcomes of vaginal exposure to PFAS. That, however, does not mean there is no danger. It just means we don’t know the extent of the danger. Therefore, we may not be able to tell you how bad this exposure is, because nobody knows if or when PFAS is leached into the body from a tampon.
Tampons are an intimate menstrual product. They are often cotton “plugs” inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood during a monthly cycle. These menstrual products vary in design, ease of use, and have different sizes, but they are all used for the same purpose–to keep menstrual blood from escaping onto your undergarments and clothes. Therefore, exposure is incredibly intimate.
PFAS “forever chemicals” are problematic to human health and the environment. They are considered ubiquitous, persistent, and toxic. Many of these chemicals can last for years or decades in our bodies. Therefore, it’s imperative to reduce the amount of PFAS you are exposed to from food, water, and personal care products such as tampons.
Below are listed health impacts from exposure to PFAS in general:
- Reduction in immunity
- Reduced vaccination response
- Increased risk of allergies & asthma in young children
- Affected growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- Increase cholesterol levels
- Metabolic diseases like obesity & diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lowered a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- Lowered male fertility
- Smaller penis size
- Increased the risk of kidney & testicular cancers
- Causes endocrine disruption
- Disrupted normal thyroid function
We may not be able to tell you if or how much PFAS will leach into the body from exposure in the vagina. But we do know that PFAS exposure is possible based on some studies looking at dermal exposure in animals. Biomonitoring evidence from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has found PFAS in most of Americans.
- One study found that dermal exposure to PFBA demonstrated effects on the liver and showed similar results to oral PFBA and PFOA exposure.
- Another study found that dermal exposure is similar to oral exposure to PFOA and can be immunotoxic.
- One study looking at PFAS in infant car seats found that PFAS can migrate from fabric to sweat, suggesting a potential risk of dermal exposure.
However, it’s still assumed that food is the most prevalent pathway for PFAS to get into your body. Mamavation discussed dermal exposure with Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future. We wanted to know how much PFAS could be absorbed through the skin after the usage of a tampon.
“While we know that PFAS can be absorbed through the skin we have very little information about how much would be transferred from tampons. It’s unlikely to be nothing. It’s unacceptable for a product potentially used by half the population and marketed for decades to have never provided relatively basic science that can tell us about the absorption of chemicals they use through this vaginal route of exposure, ” says Pete Myers.
If you feel like you’ve been exposed to PFAS, especially during pregnancy, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of Community Health Investigations has created this health advisory fact sheet to use when talking to your doctor. While regulating authorities struggle to catch up, it would be wise to limit your daily exposure to PFAS markers within consumer products like tampons.
How are PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Getting Inside My Tampons?
Not all tampons are created equal. Of the 23 products we tested, we did notice differences in their design, materials, additives used, and different levels of absorbency. However, we did not notice any major similarities that would give us a clue of what they all had in common or how the contamination happened. Also, because our lab detected levels between 19 -28 parts per million (ppm) of organic fluorine, those levels are considered “not intentionally added” by the manufacturer and are likely the result of contamination in the supply chain.
Since 2020, Mamavation has been privy to numerous brands reformulating their products after our lab found indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.” Brands have communicated to us the following scenarios when they found their contamination points:
- Fluorinated plastic exposure in the supply chain
- Fluorinated packaging
- Fluorinated fiberglass exposure
- Fluorinated storage containers transporting supplies
- Fluorinated lubrication used around machinery
- Fluorinated sprays used on machinery
- Contamination originating within raw materials
Any of these possibilities could also be plausible with tampons. Mamavation is likely to learn more after this investigation as to how PFAS can get into a tampon and when we discover that information from brands that decide to change, we will update this post.
Other Chemicals & Materials To Avoid Inside Tampons
The possibility of PFAS exposure inside your tampon may be shocking, but tampons have been known to contain other problematic chemicals. Here are some chemicals and other components that are linked to harmful health effects, especially when in direct contact with the vagina.
- Unknown Fragrances: Fragrances can hide a myriad of chemicals without disclosure on personal care products, but some of them are very problematic. Phthalates, a known endocrine-disrupting chemical found in fragrance, are linked to weight gain, cancers, and reproductive issues. There are additional problematic chemicals associated with fragrance inside tampons. A study from Women’s Voices from the Earth found the following chemicals inside tampons in 2018: methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, ethyl acetate, m,p-xylene, heptane, hexane, & toluene. It’s possible they were either from undisclosed fragrances, undisclosed additives, or contaminants inside tampons.
- Additives: Additives were rarely disclosed on tampons until New York passed recent legislation. That’s good news. The bad news is what they are now disclosing. This is a list of ingredients that are mostly additives that were compiled by Women’s Voices for the Earth in their latest report. Here’s what could be inside your tampon: PEG Castor Oil, PEG Cocoate, Dialkyl sulfosuccinate, Glycerin, Ethoxylated Fatty Acid Esters, PEG-100 Stearate, Fatty Acid Polyglycol Ester, Plant Derived Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Ether & Ester based oil, Titanium Dioxide, Pigment White 6, C.I. Disperse Blue 60 (string), Disperse Yellow 235 (string), Dihexyl fumarate, Ethyl Undecylenate Isobornyl Cyclohexanol, Phenoxy ethyl alcohol, Polysorbate 20, 4-tert-butylcyclohexyl acetate, alpha-isomethyl ionone, dipropylene glycol, ethylene brassylate, geraniol, hexyl cinnamal, isobutyl methyl tetrahydropyranol, limonene, linalool, methyl hydrogenated rosinate, methyl-dihydro jasmonate, pentadecalactone, tetramethyl acetyloctahydronaphthalenes (OTNE), Parrafin, Butyl Stearate, Carnauba Wax, & Polymer Wax Dispersion. The additives listed range in toxicity.
- Dioxins & Furans: These are highly toxic compounds that contaminate tampon products in trace amounts when they are bleached with chlorine compounds. Exposure to dioxins and furans has been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption. One 20-year-old consumer study found a small but detectable amount of dioxins in four unidentified brands of tampons.
- Synthetic Fibers like Rayon: Rayon is known as artificial silk, but it’s made from purified cellulose. The process of making rayon fiber includes a solution of carbon disulfide, which is known as a harmful chemical. Women’s Voices for the Earth found Carbon disulfide in trace amounts in all tampons they tested made from rayon in 2018. The all-cotton tampons they tested did not have any trace amounts of carbon disulfide.
- Pesticide Residues: Cotton is one of the “dirtiest” food crops because it’s not treated as a food substance (even though cottonseed oil is a staple in processed food), but it’s rather treated as fiber and thus, more pesticides are used indiscriminately. In fact, in India, cotton is only produced on 5% of the arable farming land yet it consumes 50% of the pesticides. Cotton is also a very popular genetically modified (GMO) crop and thus is sprayed with glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Parabens & Bisphenols like BPA: One study in 2020 found 24 endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), comprising nine phthalates, six parabens, eight bisphenols, and triclocarban (TCC) inside feminine hygiene products (i.e., pads, panty liners, tampons, wipes, bactericidal creams and solutions, and deodorant sprays and powders).
These ingredients are a bit scary, but it’s important to make an educated decision when you are inserting things into your body. This is why we are making recommendations for you at the bottom of this post to help decipher the mess on aisle four.
What About Titanium Dioxide in My Tampons?
A few months back, a TikToker went viral for finding titanium dioxide inside her “organic” tampons and the internet erupted in chaos. This viral TikTok video was created around the same time Skittles was going viral for a lawsuit filed by one California man for use of that same chemical.
Titanium dioxide is a white, powdery mineral used in several everyday products. When this substance changes into a nanoparticle, it becomes more useful, but also far more problematic. Nano titanium dioxide (TiO2-NPs), a carcinogen considered “unfit for human consumption” in Europe, is found in several products sold to Americans like coatings on ceramic cookware, makeup, sunscreens, & OTC medications. After European scientists declared titanium dioxide “can no longer be considered as safe when used as a food additive,” a safety assessment was done and then quickly banned as a food additive in the Europe Union.
Therefore, If there are concerns about this chemical in Europe as a food additive, should it be used on products inserted inside the vagina? We aren’t sure. First off, no study has been done looking at the effects of nano titanium dioxide (TiO2-NPs) inside the vagina. That doesn’t mean there is no danger. It just means we don’t know the extent of the danger. But here are some of the things we do know about nano titanium dioxide (TiO2-NPs):
- There are some concerns around nano titanium dioxide (TiO2-NPs) and fertility. One study linked nano titanium dioxide to fertility issues when administered to mice orally.
- Chronic oral exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2-NPs) has been linked to immune disruption and pre-cancer lesions in the gut.
- There is a concern this chemical may be passed to offspring through breastmilk after exposure to the mother.
- It also looks to possibly be toxic to aquatic environments, so presents a danger to the ecosystem.
Mamavation does not recommend exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2-NPs) in cookware. So what about titanium dioxide in tampons? It’s unclear if brands using titanium dioxide to brighten the color are using the nano-sized version (TiO2-NPs). Therefore as a precaution, we made sure to pull brands that disclose the use of “titanium dioxide” out of our best-recommended list below. Their choice to add titanium dioxide prioritizes the appearance of the tampon over public health in their products.
Tampons Regulated as “Medical Devices” Means Lack of Oversight
One of the reasons why the feminine care aisle is so treacherous is because tampons and pads are regulated as “medical devices” and are not fully regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA does give the industry some direction, but these are all suggestions, not rules.
“FDA recommends that tampons be free of 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)/2,3,7,8-tetrachlorofuran dioxin (TCDF) and any pesticide and herbicide residues.
You should describe any assurances that chemical residues are not present or, if residues are present, the level present and the method used to assess it. These assurances may include, but are not limited to, test methods, tolerances, or acceptance criteria. For any materials bleached during processing, we recommend that you identify the bleaching process used, e.g., Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF) or Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF).”
The FDA does not mandate brands test and ensure consumers are not being exposed to dioxins and pesticides, but they do suggest it. But as you can see, there is also nothing requiring them to disclose what materials and ingredients they use to create a tampon. So, unfortunately, this category of feminine care products is similar to the “Wild West” in terms of rules and regulations.
New York & California Menstrual Product Labeling Laws
In 2019, New York State passed a law to require disclosure of all intentionally added substances present in period products. That law went into effect in October 2021. Later a report from May 2022 identified numerous chemicals of concern present in tampons based on the company’s ingredient labels required by New York State. These include previously undisclosed titanium dioxide, but no company included PFAS chemicals in their lists of tampon ingredients. The report found that packaging outside New York more often included ingredient information than before the law went into effect.
California also passed legislation protecting consumers and giving them the right to know what “intentionally added” ingredients they put into a menstrual product in 2020. This law goes into effect in January 2023. None of the products we purchased disclosed any PFAS chemicals on their packaging, however, they were all purchased before the California law goes into effect and underneath the amount that would need to be reported.
We did, however, find some brands that had incomplete disclosures of materials, whereas they did not disclose what type of plastic applicator they were using or disclose any other material other than “cotton” or “organic cotton” on the product packaging. To comply with the New York law, this would need to be changed, however, there is more wiggle room for non-disclosures of materials as trade secrets in the California law.
- Live Better from CVS Health
- OI Girl
- My Box Shop
- TOP The Organic Project
Another Feminine Care Option: Period Underwear
Period underwear is another great option for your menstruation and Mamavation has already done a consumer study on which brands are the safest in terms of indications of PFAS. Most of these “clean” brands are lined with polyethylene to capture the blood and keep it inside your underwear and away from your clothes. They vary in absorbency level but are very popular among young women.
In a prior investigation, Mamavation sent 21 brands of period underwear off to our EPA-certified laboratory looking for total fluorine, another broader marker for PFAS “forever chemicals.” Out of the 21 brands we sent, these were the seven brands that had non-detect test results meaning our lab could not find any indications of PFAS. Many of these brands reached out to us after the study was originally done and wanted to offer our audience discounts, so we worked together to make that happen to offer you safer period underwear at a discounted price.
- Lilova (no fluorine detected) Use discount code “MAMAVATION15” for 15% off your order.
- Aisle (formerly known as Lunapads) (no fluorine detected) Use discount code “MAMAVATION_10” for $10 off any order over $35 placed on periodaisle.com here.
- Bambody (no fluorine detected)
- Intimate Portal (no fluorine detected)
- Period (no fluorine detected) Use discount code “MAMA” for a special sale of “Buy 3 panties and get 1 free”
- Modibodi (no fluorine detected) Use discount code “MAMAV10” for 10% off orders over $100 for new customers. Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer, on sale, gift cards, or bundle packs. Limit one per customer.
- Revol (no fluorine detected) Use discount code “MAMAVATION” for 15% off your first purchase.
Period underwear is an alternative to using tampons. As we investigate more feminine care products, we will share their results.
Mamavation’s Investigation of Tampons & Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals” & Raw Data
Mamavation sent 23 tampon products to an EPA-certified laboratory looking for indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.” It’s important to note that our lab is not looking for PFAS compounds directly, because it’s simply impossible to look for all of them. There are over 12,000 PFAS compounds and assays for less than 100 compounds exist in a really good commercial lab.
Mamavation’s lab used marker testing to identify the potential presence of PFAS “forever chemicals” in tampon products. Organic fluorine is a marker for PFAS because all PFAS chemicals are carbon-based compounds that contain fluorine. The specific lab method used by Mamavation tested for total fluorine was the Determination of Total Fluorine by Oxygen Flask Combustion and Ion-Selective Electrode. If total fluorine was observed at a detection level of 10 ppm, the lab did the Determination of free Fluoride Ion in the tampon by Ion-Selective Electrode and then subtracted that from the Total Fluorine to determine the amount of organic fluorine. This marker testing is likely to show the presence of PFAS. Organic fluorine can also capture other fluoropolymers, pharmaceuticals, and common hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, such as 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (commonly known as R-134a) and 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoropropene (commonly known as HFO-1234yf). None of which you want inside your vagina!
Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, was shocked by the findings of this investigation.
To me, it is inconceivable that the unidentified PFAS found in some tampons and the other cited contaminants will be making their way into vaginal tissues and beyond in a woman’s body. We know more than enough about low-dose toxicities of PFAS compounds and other cited contaminants to be certain that detectable quantities in tampons are unjustifiable. While some tampons are organic, Mamavation demonstrates here that this safety assurance for the public is unfortunately often not good enough. This study, and the others it cites, make a case that women should avoid certain tampons until the manufacturers sleuth out the sources of the contaminants and ensure they disappear. They should be totally transparent in how they are addressing their chemical safety performance.
Not Our Favorite Tampons
These products are not recommended by Mamavation. Our EPA-certified laboratory found indications of PFAS in these products and we are reporting the amount they found here.
- Maxim Hygiene Organic Cotton Cardboard Applicator Tampons — 28 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- OrganYc Complete Protection Tampons (made with organic cotton) — 24 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Playtex SPORT Regular & Super Tampons — 19 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Tampax Cardboard Applicator Unscented Tampons — 23 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Up & Up (Target Brand) Regular Tampons — 23 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
These products were tested at an EPA-certified lab and no detections of organic fluorine were found at a detection level of 10 parts per million (ppm). Because these brands are not using organic cotton or GOTS-certified organic cotton, we are placing them in the better category. These tampons could have trace amounts of toxic persistent pesticides because they are not organic, while others could be using other types of additives we warned you about above. We are also pulling into this category any “organic” brand using titanium dioxide.
- Daye CBD-Filled Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine
- Love Begins With L. Organic Cotton Tampons – Regular — non-detect organic fluorine
- o.b. Fluid-Lock Regular Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine
- Playtex Simply Gentle Glide Ultra Absorbency Tampons w/ Plastic Applicator — non-detect organic fluorine
- Tampax Pearl Leakguard Protection Jumbo Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine
- Tampax 100% Organic Cotton Core Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine
- U by Kotex Click with Comfort Flex for your Perfect Fit compact Unscented tampons — non-detect organic fluorine
- Veeda 100% Natural Cotton Regular Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine (incomplete disclosure)
These are the tampons that Mamavation recommends you purchase. These products were tested at an EPA-certified lab and no detections of organic fluorine were found at a detection level of 10 parts per million (ppm). These products are also made with either organic cotton or GOTS-certified organic cotton and are less likely to contain trace amounts of toxic persistent pesticides like glyphosate. (We have also marked which brands have given us incomplete disclosures and need to change that if these products are also sold in New York.)
- Honey Pot Organically Grown Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine
- Live Better (CVS) Organic Cotton Tampons regular — non-detect organic fluorine (incomplete disclosure)
- Lola Super Tampons Made with 100% organic cotton — non-detect organic fluorine (incomplete disclosure)
- o.b. Organic 100% Organic cotton – regular — non-detect organic fluorine
- OI Girl Organic Regular Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine (incomplete disclosure)
- My Box Shop 32 Organic Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine (incomplete disclosure)
- Natracare Organic Tampons with applicator — non-detect organic fluorine (incomplete disclosure)
- Seventh Generation Organic Cotton Tampons — non-detect organic fluorine
- TOP Organic Cotton Tampons with plant-based compact applicator — non-detect organic fluorine (incomplete disclosure)
- Viv for your V Organic Cotton Tampons with Plant-based applicator — non-detect organic fluorine
Additional Mamavation Investigations To Help Your Family
Mamavation has been working hard to discover where to find PFAS “forever chemicals” inside food & other products we purchase and bring inside our homes. This is why we have decided to commission our own consumer studies on indications of PFAS in different consumer categories and share that information with you.
- Pasta & Tomato Sauces
- Nut Butters (Peanut butter, etc.)
- Cooking Oils (olive oil, almond oil, canola oil, etc)
- Activewear (Yoga Pants)
- Sports Bras
- Green Beauty Makeup
- Dental Floss
- Toilet Paper
- Period Underwear
- Parchment Paper
- Bamboo Flooring
- Baby Strollers
We also have other non-toxic investigations on products for your children or the rest of your family. Here are some that we thought you may like.
- Best Yoga mats
- Best Infrared Saunas
- Best Organic Mattresses
- Best Air purifiers
- Best Cookware
- Best Plant-Based Milks
- Best Water Filters for PFAS Filtration
- Best Collagen
- Best Electrolyte Replacement Drinks, Sports Drinks, & Coconut Water
- Best Infrared Saunas
- Best Bubble Bath
Click here for a complete list of product investigations.