Have you ever wondered what your period care products are made of? You may think it’s just cotton. But in fact some tampons, pads, pantyliners, menstrual cups and period underwear may contain various toxic contaminants remaining from manufacturing or bleaching processes, petroleum based polymers, antimicrobial nanoparticles, undisclosed fragrance ingredients and more.
The problem is that these products don’t only absorb your period -- YOU can absorb the chemicals in them too. Menstrual products are in contact with one of your most intimate, sensitive and absorptive areas in the body - the vaginal and vulvar tissues. Chemicals in your period product may find their way to these tissues, irritate them or affect the unique microbiome that maintains the healthy balance, and even get further into your bloodstream.
Once I realized that, I definitely had to know what’s in those products so I could choose nontoxic products - and so can you!
Starting October 2021, menstrual products sold in the state of New York are required to list all intentionally added ingredients (hats off to our friends: nonprofit organizations Women’s Voices for the Earth, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Clean and Healthy New York and their partners, for leading the way to signing this important law).
The good news is that following that legislation some brands are updating their ingredients lists everywhere, not only in NY state, including online, and that’s where Clearya can help!
Clearya now spots toxics in period care product ingredient lists! The Clearya mobile app and browser plug-in works automatically when you shop online. It tells you if the product ingredient list contains hormone disruptors, banned chemicals, allergens, or other chemicals of concern, and helps you choose safer products.
Here are simple tips for choosing safer period care products, when the ingredient list is confusing or incomplete:
Unbleached, organic cotton
Tampons and pads made of chlorine-bleached material may contain toxic contaminants like dioxins and furans, which are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and reproductive harm. Look for unbleached (or chlorine-free bleached) material.
Did you know that cotton is a top consumer of pesticides among all crops? To avoid unnecessary exposure to toxic pesticide residues prefer 100% organic cotton.
Plastic, Rayon, and other synthetics
That soft, white, absorbent material in your pad or tampon may not be as natural as it seems. Instead of cotton, some period care products use Rayon (natural cellulose processed with the toxic chemical carbon disulfide, which is linked with female reproductive toxicity and other harm), Spandex (a synthetic fabric which may sometimes contain the hormone disruptor BPA, according to scientific studies), or “Super Absorbent Polymers” which are made of nonbiodegradable plastic that pollute the environment as well. The literature on vaginal plastic exposure is still in its infancy, but what is bad for the environment is generally also bad for us. Use less plastic and processed/synthetics like Rayon and Spandex.
This one is easy: when you spot the words “Fragrance / Perfume” in the label simply choose a different product. The word “Fragrance” can mask dozens of undisclosed synthetic chemicals, and could include skin sensitizers and even endocrine disruptors like phthalates. Go for unscented products.
Some products contain antimicrobial / antibacterial additives - typically silver nanoparticles - which are meant to “fight odor” by killing bacteria. Silver might sound glittery, but there’s a fine balanced microbiome down there and you don’t want to disturb your “good bacteria”, or have these nanoparticles accumulate in your tissues if they migrate out of the product. Skip antimicrobials and antibacterials.
Try to avoid dyes and colorants in your products. Nobody is looking anyway, and esthetics come at a cost. Many processes used to dye and pigment fabrics are known to be harmful to the environment. Titanium dioxide, a colorant used to make some period products look white, is prohibited in Europe for use as a food additive as of 8/2022.
PFAS in underwear
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are synthetic chemicals used in various consumer products to make them grease and water resistant. Vast research suggests that high levels of certain PFAS may lead to negative health outcomes including increased cholesterol levels, decreased vaccine response in children, increased high blood pressure in pregnant women and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer. Sadly, several (but not all) period underwear are likely to contain PFAS according to tests conducted by Mamavation using an EPA certified lab.
If you are using a menstrual cup (which is actually my personal favorite!) make sure it’s only made of 100% medical grade silicone, preferably undyed. Ask your favorite brand to confirm their cups do not include phthalates or D4 (D4 is a toxic contaminant which is sometimes found in certain silicone products including “medical grade” silicone).
Beyond period care products, Clearya can alert you to potentially toxic chemicals in “intimate hygiene” products like vaginal washes, wipes, sprays, powders; as well as beauty and personal care, cleaning, baby care and other products.
Disclaimer: the content in this blog post is provided for general information, and does not substitute any medical advice by your own doctor or another health care professional. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.