It’s that time of the month again – when you rip open a new pack of sanitary napkins or tampons and befriend them for a few days. You may think of them as lifesavers and wonder how women managed before the invention of modern-day feminine hygiene products. Turns out, things were a lot safer back then. Did you know that the sanitary napkins and tampons you use are laden with chemicals that could jeopardize your health?
Though the vagina is pretty much self-cleaning, it secretes and absorbs fluids much faster than your skin. Every time you use either sanitary napkins or tampons, the mucous membranes of your vagina and vulva absorb the chemicals in them rather quickly, resulting in harm you never thought possible.1
So what’s really in feminine hygiene products? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out about some of the toxic substances in sanitary napkins and tampons and their major side effects.
Cotton is the main ingredient in sanitary napkins and tampons. But, like all other crops, most cotton being produced in the world is treated with pesticides like cyanide, naled, propargite, dicofol, and trifluralin. So, when you use a sanitary napkin or tampon, residues of these pesticides directly come into contact with your vagina and cause harm. These pesticides are primarily said to affect the female reproductive hormone estrogen, metabolism, and the functioning of the reproductive system.
2. Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is a commonly-used plasticizer (a substance added to plastics to make them flexible). Sanitary pads contain roughly the same amount of BPA as plastic grocery bags. Though dietary exposure to this chemical is the worst, prolonged exposure of the vaginal skin to BPA is also dangerous. Research suggests that this chemical can interfere with the development of embryos when exposed women conceive and affect proper organ formation.2
3. Bleached Rayon
A super white pad or tampon means super clean, right? Well, not really. Besides cotton, rayon is also often used in sanitary napkins and tampons and is bleached to give you that spotless and clean impression. That said, nobody would want bleach anywhere near their private parts.
Rayon is made by treating cellulose fibers with chemicals like chlorine, carbon disulfide, and sulphuric acid. Sanitary napkins and tampons made with it tend to leave behind the chemical-loaded fibers and absorb vaginal fluids and bacteria, upsetting the natural state and pH of the vagina.3 As a result, a host of problems like vaginal thrush (vaginal yeast infection), bladder infections, and toxic shock syndrome (a condition in which certain materials in tampons and sanitary napkins react with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, creating the ideal environment to produce a toxin in the vagina) may occur. The abrasive rayon fibers can also cause tiny tears and scratches in the vagina, especially when you insert and remove tampons made of it.
Dioxin, which is an environmental pollutant, is also a by-product of bleaching pads and tampons with chlorine. Though considered more deadly by dietary exposure, dioxin in feminine hygiene products could result in problems due to increased exposure over time. High exposure to this chemical has been found to cause life-threatening conditions like endometriosis and breast cancer.4 This is because dioxin functions as an endocrine disruptor, which causes it to inhibit the functioning of multiple hormones in the body including the female reproductive hormone estrogen.
5. Methyldibromo Glutaronitrile
Though rare, side effects of a compound called methyldibromo glutaronitrile have also been recorded in the recent past. An industrial grade preservative used in sundry beauty and hygiene products, it is among the top allergy-causing chemicals for humans. Unfortunately, it is also used in most commercially available sanitary pads. Research suggests that methyldibromo glutaronitrile in sanitary napkins can result in allergic contact dermatitis (rashes caused by an allergy) in the vulva.5
So, think twice before using the chemical-loaded sanitary napkins and tampons you normally use. Instead, try using organic alternatives or menstrual cups, which are less likely to expose you to dangerous toxins.
|↑1||Nicole, Wendee. “A question for women’s health: chemicals in feminine hygiene products and personal lubricants.” Environmental health perspectives 122, no. 3 (2014): A70.|
|↑2||Ramakrishnan, Siddharth, and Nancy L. Wayne. “Impact of bisphenol-A on early embryonic development and reproductive maturation.” Reproductive Toxicology 25, no. 2 (2008): 177-183.|
|↑3||Onderdonk, A. B., G. R. Zamarchi, M. L. Rodriguez, M. L. Hirsch, A. Munoz, and E. H. Kass. “Quantitative assessment of vaginal microflora during use of tampons of various compositions.” Applied and environmental microbiology 53, no. 12 (1987): 2774-2778.|
|↑4||Birnbaum, Linda S., and Suzanne E. Fenton. “Cancer and developmental exposure to endocrine disruptors.” Environmental health perspectives 111, no. 4 (2003): 389.|
|↑5||Williams, Jason D., Kathryn E. Frowen, and Rosemary L. Nixon. “Allergic contact dermatitis from methyldibromo glutaronitrile in a sanitary pad and review of Australian clinic data.” Contact Dermatitis 56, no. 3 (2007): 164-167.|