Unpacking What’s In Your Tampon Box

Many consumers have gotten savvier about paying attention to the food and beauty products they toss into their grocery carts each week. New organic makeup brands are hitting store shelves all the time, and many shoppers are doing their research to find products that are cruelty free, made with natural ingredients, and without harmful chemicals. Do you pay equal attention to what’s in your feminine hygiene products?

When I shop for tampons, I grab the cheapest generic brand and toss them into my cart. I never take a look at the back of the box to see what’s in them or where they’re made. Tampon advertisements do nothing to help inform the shopping process, since all they do is show abnormally happy teen girls doing acrobatic stunts who look like they’ve never suffered a period in their lives.

As it turns out, discovering what your tampons are made of isn’t as easy as you’d think. The FDA currently does not require companies that make menstrual hygiene products to disclose their ingredients, since tampons and pads are considered “medical devices.” The only user labeling requirements they have are warnings about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

I took a look at the generic brand box under my bathroom counter and found that they list the ingredients, sort of—if you can decipher what a “rayon and/or cotton fiber blend” is (the “and/or” makes their actual composition unclear). There is no information about what percent of each material is in them, so how do we really know?

The FDA’s site lists information about the use of rayon in tampons and describes the process of making rayon for U.S. tampons, to combat some of the skepticism they’ve recently faced. The concern many consumers have is regarding chemical compounds called dioxins, which are found in tampons at a maximum ratio of a part per trillion (about the same as one teaspoon in a lake fifteen feet deep and a square mile). The evidence supports the FDA’s finding that rayon poses no real dioxin-related risk, since the amount in rayon-based tampons is many times less that what would be normally present in the body from other environmental sources.

Even if you feel that the health risk related to using synthetic material based tampons is small, women still have a right to know the exact ingredients they are putting into their bodies. When you go to your favorite store and pick out a new t-shirt, you know the exact percentage of each material it’s made of, since it’s right there on the tag. Yet, we don’t get a clear label of what’s inside the products we stick inside our lady parts each month.

The Robin Danielson Act attempts to mandate independent testing and require that tampon producers list what ingredients their products are made of, since there has been very little research into the general safety of feminine hygiene products to date. But the bill has made little progress thus far. Although manufacturers already do their own private testing, that information is only given to the FDA, and consumers don’t have access to the results.

The act also aims to mandate research that would examine possible links between the usage of feminine hygiene products and other harmful conditions like endometriosis and cervical cancer, which are a much greater concern than the TSS horror stories you’ve vaguely heard about, but always ignore with the assumption that “it will never happen to me.” (The minimal risk still hasn’t stopped me from laying in bed wondering if I might die in my sleep from leaving my tampon in too long, though. I’m not a hypochondriac, you are.)

Enter LOLA tampons, a new brand that aims to help make it easier for women to have more peace of mind about what they’re putting into their bodies. Their tampons are made with 100% hypoallergenic cotton with no additives, synthetics, chemicals, or dyes. The tampons themselves are also 100% biodegradable, unlike rayon-cotton blend tampons, so they help eliminate some of the wastes associated with feminine hygiene products, too. The tampons are wrapped in BPA-free plastic applicators, and are manufactured in Europe, then packaged in the U.S.. The best part? They’re delivered right to your door in a box made from recyclable cardboard.  

You can customize the exact number of tampons you receive at each absorbency level and how frequently you receive the subscription (with the option to pause shipping any month). At $10 for 18 tampons, they do cost more than your average box, so they may not be accessible for all women yet, especially those that already struggle to afford this basic necessity. But brands like LOLA are a step in the right direction towards standardizing better quality feminine care products for all.

There is also something to be said for the convenience factor of having them shipped right to your door each month (the $10 includes shipping), so you won’t risk running out and forgetting to buy more. If you’re interested in giving them a try, you can get your 1st 2-box order for $9. The discount code should auto-apply to your cart.

You may not be ready to change your shopping habits quite yet, and you certainly don’t have to. But the next time your “monthly gift” comes around (who decided we should call it that?), take a quick look at the back of the tampon box you’re considering and see what information you can find. We may not have all the answers we want yet, but it’s never too soon to start getting in the habit of making more informed decisions about your health.

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