5 Scary Tampon Questions We've All Had -- Answered!

tampons or pads in drugstore aisleThough it may have been a big mystery in your Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret? tween days, most of us are perfectly content with our routine every time of the month. We rarely wonder much about our menstrual products, because who has time for that? If you've been using a certain kind of tampon for, ahem, YEARS, why think about it at all?

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But we do. At least in the back of our heads, we wonder quite a few things about the menstrual products in brightly-colored packages that don't divulge much, if any, info about what actually goes IN the tampon that we're putting IN our bodies.

Joel Evans, OB/GYN, MD, founder of The Center for Women's Health in Stamford, Connecticut reveals that his patients have expressed concerns about getting Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) or having foreign chemicals enter their body from tampon use. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Here, five Qs that most women have at one time or another thought in passing about tampons -- and what the experts have to say about 'em.

1. "What is actually in my tampon?" "The problem is that the chemicals in sanitary products are not disclosed by the manufacturers, so we must use indirect methods -- like observing the thick black smoke that is identical to that seen when plastic bags are burned -- to identify them," says Dr. Evans. That said, there are several concerning characteristics of non-organic tampons: the synthetic chemicals that make up the tampon itself (plastics), the whiteners (chlorine bleach), the deodorizers, and chemicals in the applicators, says Dr. Evans.

In other words, unless they're marked "chlorine-free," tampons are typically made of non-organic cotton, rayon, or a combo of those materials, along with synthetic fibers like vicose rayon that are added to increase absorbency. Non-organic cotton soaks up pesticides, and diuron, an herbicide used on cotton, that has even been pegged as a "likely" human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency, and it's also linked to birth defects.

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2. "What are dioxins, and are they dangerous?" Most tampon manufacturers bleach rayon using a disinfectant chlorine dioxide, which produces a toxin called dioxin (linked to reproductive and developmental impairment at certain levels). The FDA does require tampon producers to monitor dioxin, but as activists note, dioxins are only one of many toxins in women's menstrual and personal care products that should be monitored.

3. "What are the real concerns about these chemicals and compounds in tampons?" "They're known to disrupt the hormone system, increasing risk of hormonal cancers, like breast cancer," says Dr. Evans. "In addition, these chemicals can impact the body in many ways, leading to fatigue, headaches, and neurological diseases. Finally, other cancers have been linked to some of these chemicals as well."

For those who are already suffering from a chronic illness, steering clear of conventional tampons could be a gamechanger, notes Dr. Evans. "This is an often overlooked lifestyle change that can make a significant difference in your health," he says.

4. "What hasn't safety of tampons been studed?" "Because industry has made it such that the compounds cannot be identified, it is impossible to study the health effects," says Dr. Evans. "Also, who would fund such a study?" It may sound pessimistic, but there's definitely truth to the fact that studies on women's health are not nearly as funded or extensive as on other areas of medicine.

5. "What alternatives exist if I want to steer clear of conventional tampons?" Dr. Evans recommends looking for organic cotton tampons. Brands that manufacture these include Seventh Generation, Natracare, and Maxim. Another smart practice you probably already (hopefully!) do, but it never hurts to remember: "Alternate tampons during the day with pads at night, and change them every four to six hours," says Dr. Evans.

How do you feel about regular tampons? What other Qs about them have crossed your mind?

tampon safety questions

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