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Want to get hands-on experience with some medical devices? All you have to do is go out and buy some feminine hygiene products! That’s right, sanitary napkins and tampons are considered medical devices, and labeled as such, the manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients used. So who knows what’s in that thing you’re putting in one of the most sensitive parts of your body!
A study at the National University of La Plata in Argentina discovered the presence of the harmful pesticide glyphosate in the cotton used for feminine hygiene products. This toxic ingredient has been found to cause different types of cancers such as Leukemia and Multiple Myeloma. The study revealed that 100 percent of the sterilized cotton gauze that was analyzed tested positive for evidence of glyphosate. However, since the research has yet to be officially published, some people remain skeptical.
The undisclosed ingredients are starting to catch the attention of concerned women who are nervous about the safety of what they’re putting near and inside of their genitals.
Andrea Donsky, holistic nutritionist, editor-in-chief, and co-founder of Healthy Shopper Inc. and Naturally Savvy Media, conducted an at-home experiment involving two different brands of sanitary napkins, one from the popular mainstream brand Always Infinity, and the other from an organic independent company called Natracare. She placed them both in a bowl and lit them on fire. While they were burning she compared the rate that they burned, the color of the smoke, and the smell.
Always Infinity chooses to withhold its ingredients, while Natracare pads list them directly on its box.
From her simple experiment, Donsky concluded that Always Infinity contains harsh chemicals, as indicated by the fact that the pad burned at an incredibly fast rate with a huge flame and dark black smoke that expelled a nauseating smell.
Conversely, the Natracare pad burned slowly and with a small flame, eventually putting itself out, and released a white smoke with a campfire-like smell. The smoke that Always Infinity gave off suggested that the product could include dioxins known for causing cancer, synthetic fibers, petrochemicals, and other harsh additives not suitable to be in or around the genital area.
BTRtoday spoke with Deborah Katz, press officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to explore the regulation process on feminine hygiene products. She clarifies through email that in order for a manufacturer to receive FDA clearance it must provide information demonstrating that its product is free of chemical residues. Manufacturers are advised to conduct microbiology-testing that proves that the product does not enhance growth of certain bacteria or other organisms, like the bacteria known for causing toxic shock syndrome.
Out of three classes, the FDA declares tampons as a class II risk. Class III devices are usually instruments that sustain life, such as pacemakers or implants, while class I are devices that pose the lowest risk, such as bandages or dental floss.
“In short, the FDA recommends that companies monitor residue levels in tampons and menstrual pads,” Katz simplifies.
In response to the a question regarding the La Plata University study, she states matter-of-factly: “We request that tampons are free of herbicide residue.”
Dr. Lauren Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school and diplomat for the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology is also skeptical of the claim that tampons can be poisonous. She states that the only concern there should be for feminine hygiene products is toxic shock syndrome, but even that is very rare to contract.
“This whole thing about, ‘oh you shouldn’t use tampons’ and ‘don’t leave them in too long, because you’re going to get toxic shock,’ is generally overplayed in the popular media,” Dr. Streicher tells BTRtoday. She adds that she’s not afraid to encourage her patients who want to use tampons to use them. Contradicting popular media, she states that it’s fine to leave them in overnight and that there’s no need to limit the usage.
“The reality is that this is not alarming,” she says with full confidence. “This is not something people need to be concerned about and if you want to use a tampon, use a tampon.”
Susie Hewson, founder of Natracare, begs to differ.
Natracare is a manufacturer of only organic and natural products and chooses to fully disclose the ingredients in their feminine hygiene line—being completely chlorine-free and made with certified organic cotton. They’ve won The Ethical Company Organisation Award and the Triodos Bank Women In Ethical Business Award.
Hewson started her battle against large feminine hygiene brands back in the 1980s. She tells BTRtoday that she was very angry about the undisclosed dangers of dioxins and pollutants that tampons and sanitary napkins contain.
“For me, it’s always been a campaign,” Hewson explains about advocacy on healthier and more environmentally friendly feminine hygiene products. “I’m very heartbroken when I see very talented girls and women being affected and experiencing real problems, yet these brands are still allowed to continue to hide what they’re made of.”
Natracare prioritizes transparency and ensures that none of its ingredients hurt women or the environment.
“Why wouldn’t you share your ingredients?” Hewson poses the question to larger brands like Always and Tampex. “The fact of the matter is that they’ll lose sales if they share with the public the type of materials they’re actually using, and they just don’t want to do that.”
It’s estimated that a woman will use almost 10,000 tampons in her life. Girls from as young as eight-years-old are putting these products inside of their bodies. Though the FDA claims to instate a thorough analysis of feminine hygiene products, women should still have a right to know what is going into the products they use on a monthly basis.