As breast cancer awareness month ends, moms everywhere should know about another danger lurking in our homes: feminine care products, which may be making us sick. These must-have tools that every woman needs can harbor unsafe chemicals. The FDA has categorized tampons and sanitary pads as medical devices. They made this categorization thanks to toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a complication caused by a bacterial infection, which can be life-threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic. TSS has been linked with tampons and, indeed, a number of toxic tampon brands were removed from the market several years ago. The reported cases of TSS in the following years were reduced. While it is rare, you might still be at risk – 50% of current cases are still linked to menstruation, according to KidsHealth.org.
For better regulation, the FDA continues to track feminine care products as medical devices but, unfortunately, that also means that companies do not need to disclose the ingredients they use in these products. While tampons have been linked to TSS, we just don’t know if pads or tampons contain carcinogens or any other potentially harmful chemicals. Earlier this year, Andrea Donsky of Naturally Savvy created a video in which she lit Always Infinity and Natracare pads on fire to see how they burned. The results were interesting – watch it here:
WHAT IS IN YOUR FEMININE CARE PRODUCTS?
Andrea’s video shows black smoke coming from the Always Infinity Pad, which could be an indication of anything from dioxins to petrochemicals to additives. Since labeling is voluntary, there is no way to know what is in any unlabeled pads and tampons that you and your daughters might use, although there are few items that are commonly known to be used.
Many pads are bleached with chlorine to give them that sparkling white appearance. Unfortunately, this process leaves behind dioxins, which have been categorized as a cancer-causing agent by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and given the maximum hazard warning of a “10” by the Environmental Working Group. The FDA claims that exposure is safe, but if the smoke in Andrea’s video does point to dioxins, then you may be at risk.
Another item of concern the scent used in many feminine care products, because fragrances can contain ingredients from up to 3000 chemicals that have not even been fully evaluated by the fragrance industry itself. (See the Huffington Post article, “The Danger of Toxic Consumer Product, Fragrances”.) Fragrances can also contain allergens and irritants, but there’s no way to know which formula makes up the fragrance.
Finally, many consumers experience reactions to one brand or another. Last year, I noticed a change in a popular brand that I’d used for years. This “non-scented” pad suddenly emitted a fragrance that my sensitive nose picked up and the pads themselves irritated me. Could the brand have changed its formula to include chemicals that I’m allergic to? I wasn’t about to take a chance, so I changed brands right away.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Because you, as a woman, need to use these items regularly, you may want to make changes to ensure your safety. There are a few things that you and your daughters can do to protect yourselves.
- To help avoid TSS, change your tampon frequently and alternate tampon use with less invasive pads, rather than wearing tampons 100% of the time.
- In addition, the McKinley Health Center recommends using a tampon with minimum absorbency to prevent the bacteria buildup that can cause TSS.
- Avoid any products with fragrance or with a scent, even if they are not labeled as “scented”.
- Change out any brand that suddenly irritates you. It can indicate a change in formula or ingredients, and may include ingredients that you are allergic to.
- Buy feminine products that have ingredients listed on their labels.
- Buy safer brands of pads, tampons and menstrual cups.
The good news is that there is a growing list of organic products and menstrual cups to choose from. Most of them are eco-friendly as well, and a reliable cup or reusable pad can save you money. Safer brands that we recommend for feminine care products include:
- Natracare: These disposable feminine care products are made from organic cotton, so you can feel safe selecting this brand for your family. They are also free from chlorine, rayon, binders, plastics, surfactants, resins, dyes, lubricants and fragrances, making them great for those with allergies or sensitive skin. All their products are biodegradable.
- SckoonCup: Made of medical grade silicone, SckoonCup claims to be the most comfortable reusable cup to wear and the easiest to clean. It promises up to 12 hours of protection free from leaks. They also sell organic reusable pads.
- OrgaN(Y)C: Offering a full line of pads and tampons, these are also made of 100% organic cotton. Chlorine-free and unbleached.
- Lunapads: Creators of the silicone Diva Cup, Lunapads also make reusable pads and panty liners from organic cotton fleece.
- Maxim Hygiene Products: They sell 100% certified organic tampons, as well as “natural” cotton pads and organic cotton panty liners. Their pads are free of chlorine, synthetics, wood pulp and fragrance, and are also hypoallergenic.
Feminine care products should be free of toxins, making your life easier, not be making you sick. Changing your brands can help you feel more comfortable and safer, and minimize your risk of TSS and toxin exposure. Try it for yourself first and then teach your daughters, too.
Disclosure: Bookieboo LLC has worked with numerous brands in the natural space, including Natracare, SckoonCup, OrgaNYC, Lunapads and Maxim Hygiene Products.