There is no law requiring tampon makers to disclose their ingredients. Yet.
The packaging of most products that come into close contact with our bodies, like candy bars and cosmetics, is required to prominently list each ingredient. Tampon usage is about as intimate as contact can get.
However, despite ongoing consumer demands for full disclosure, tampon users currently have no idea what they are inserting into their bodies.
Three female politicos insist on explicit labeling of tampon ingredients
- Representative Grace Meng is a US House of Representatives member from New York. In May of 2017, Meng introduced the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act. The proposed legislation was promptly sent to a House subcommittee, where it continues to languish.
- Representative Carolyn Maloney, another Congresswoman from New York, has introduced (for the 10th time) a bill directing the National Institute of Health to perform the research necessary to determine whether chemicals used in feminine hygiene products pose health risks. Her bill has also never made it out of committee.
- Linda Rosenthal, a member of the New York State Assembly is undaunted by the federal Congressional failures. She is sponsoring legislation to require explicit labeling on the packaging of all menstrual products sold in the state of New York.
Are there chemicals in tampons, like asbestos and dioxin?
A recent spate of internet rumors has given new impetus to the cause underlying the proposed laws. These rumors allege tampons are contaminated with asbestos and dioxin, and can cause toxic shock syndrome.
What’s all the ruckus about? Well, tampons contain rayon, a synthetic fiber. A substance called dioxin is one of the byproducts of the bleaching process which, until the 1990s, was used to make rayon out of wood pulp.
In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that dioxin is highly hazardous. It causes cancer in animals, and probably in people as well.
Did tampon manufacturers try to remove the dioxin in tampons?
Yes. They adopted new bleaching methods to eliminate the dioxin. But trace dioxin is still present in tampons. The EPA says dioxin has just about totally permeated our environment. So trace amounts of dioxin are still found in the rayon and cotton used to make tampons.
Dioxin testing results are not available to the public
The FDA requires tampon manufacturers to test their products for dioxin. The results must be reported to the FDA. But the FDA relies upon the manufacturers to perform the testing, and the testing results are not currently available to the public.
Is there asbestos in tampons?
The internet asbestos/tampon rumors also claimed that tampon manufacturers were adding asbestos to tampons. The asbestos would, it was said, promote excessive bleeding, leading to higher sales of tampons. But there appears to be no evidence in support of this conspiracy theory. The FDA credibly asserts its inspection procedures would disclose any foreign material like asbestos.
What causes toxic shock syndrome?
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is another hazard associated with tampon usage. The precise cause and effect of TSS and tampons is still murky. But ultra absorbent tampons and keeping a tampon in for an extended period of time, both appear to increase the risk of TSS.
The incidence of TSS peaked in 1980, with 814 cases (including 38 deaths) reported to the Centers for Disease Control. The resultant publicity caused the most highly absorbent tampons to be taken off the market. Warnings about TSS and tampons were widely publicized through various media.
In 1982, the FDA mandated that tampon manufacturers had to include TSS warnings on tampon labels. The labels list the absorbency level of the tampons and advise women to use the lowest possible absorbency level. The labels also list the symptoms of TSS.
Tampon makers also removed most of the synthetic absorbent ingredients which were associated with TSS. The number of TSS cases dropped dramatically in response to these measures.
Manufacturers of “natural tampons” posting dioxin and asbestos stories on the internet. So who do we believe?
At this point it’s probably appropriate to note a lot of the more incendiary material on the internet seems to have been provided by organizations connected to manufacturers of so-called natural tampons.
Has the FDA done a good job protecting women from chemicals in tampons?
In summary, it looks like the FDA has probably done its job of protecting American women against tampon hazards. But when we’re talking about a product the average American women will use thousands of times, “probably” is absolutely inadequate.
Vaginal tissue is extremely delicate and permeable. Any foreign material that comes into contact with it is almost instantly introduced into the bloodstream. So what may be a trace amount after one use, may prove to be incrementally harmful, perhaps very harmful, after thousands of usages.
In my opinion, it’s eminently reasonable to require tampon manufacturers, just like candy makers, to list each and every ingredient in their products. After all, what do they have to hide? Let me know what you think. Thaïs
About Dr. Thais Aliabadi
As one of the nation’s leading OB-GYNs, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in gynecological and obstetric care. Together with her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi supports women through all phases of life. She fosters a special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor. We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please click here to make an appointment or call us at (844) 863-6700.
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