Ladies, we have got to stop putting bleach up our hoo-hahs. “Bleach? I don’t put bleach up there…” you may be thinking. But if you use conventional tampons, you are absolutely putting bleach (among other things) into your vagina 4-7 days per month…
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My husband told me yesterday that he got a text from one of his guy friends from high school saying, “I’ve listened to every single episode of Shannon’s podcast. A+.” While I was very flattered, it was not great timing to write the tampon episode the next day. So, to my husband’s friend Joe, this episode is not for you but feel free to keep listening and pass the info along to all of the women in your life : ) Alright, let’s talk periods.
Ladies, we have got to stop putting bleach up our hoo-hahs. Bleach? I don’t put bleach up there… you may be thinking. But if you use conventional tampons, you are absolutely putting bleach (among other things) into your vagina 4-7 days per month.
I don’t remember them teaching us this is the limited sex education we got in middle school, but the vagina is a highly permeable place. Anything we put inside is very easily absorbed through the mucus membrane and then into our bloodstream. So, if you’re putting anything that is remotely unnatural or dare I say “toxic” into this highly permeable space, then it can present a toxic burden to your body.
Because tampons are considered a “medical device” by the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers are not required to provide a full disclosure of what is in their tampons. So, tampons (as well as pads) may contain odor neutralizers, dyes, pesticides, and fragrances.
Tampon manufacturers and the FDA say that tampons are safe, and that the level of dioxin is so low that they pose no real health risk. A dioxin is a very dangerous chemical and a by-product of bleaching. Tampons are made of rayon, in addition to cotton, and if the ones you’re using are white then something was used to get that color. It used to be that tampon manufacturers used chlorine gas to purify the wood pulp which is used to make rayon. And this process did contribute to dioxins in tampons.
So, now manufacturers purify the wood pulp with a chlorine-free bleaching process that uses chlorine dioxide as the bleaching agent. This process can cause dioxins to be detected in trace amounts in tampons but the level is so low that it’s sometimes not even detectable. So it is considered safe by FDA standards.
But as I’ve talked about before in the deodorant episode, this would be less of a concern if we were talking about single tampon exposure. And that’s how the safety of products is measured — it doesn’t consider the lifetime exposure. Because here’s the thing: We are talking about thousands of tampons. It’s said the average woman uses 11,000 tampons in her lifetime.
Dioxin is one of the most potent and dangerous chemicals on the planet. Even just a minimal amount can cause damage. So while the new bleach being used by manufacturers is safer than other bleaches, we can’t assume that it is safe to women’s bodies given the large amount of tampons used over our lifetime.
So again, while it wouldn’t be as much of a concern if we were talking about single exposure or even a handful of exposures, it’s the repeated exposure that’s problematic. What’s even worse is that dioxin can accumulate over time in our systems.
This chronic exposure disrupts our hormones and endocrine system, causes metabolic changes and increases our risk of cancer. Continual exposure to chemicals and toxins in our environment can also contribute to infertility, endometriosis and thyroid disorders — all of which are on the rise among women.
And unfortunately, this isn’t just about bleach and dioxin, a study completed by Women’s Voices have found over 20 other questionable ingredients in various feminine products — from preservatives to dyes and colorants to fragrances and pesticides.
If we are concerned about chemicals and toxins in our beauty products and food, then it makes sense to be equally concerned about something that is being directly inserted into the most sensitive area of our bodies.
So, in this episode’s segment of “This for That” I’m going to suggest two options. The most obvious one is to start buying organic tampons and pads. You’ll want to look for chlorine-free with no plastic applicator. The Honest Company makes them at an affordable price and there are a few other smaller subscription brands that I’ll link to in the show notes at cleanlivingpodcast.com/tampons.
Of course, this option doesn’t account for the massive amount of waste that feminine products amount to (I know, it’s hard being a woman). All of those tampons and pads have to end up somewhere and it’s either in our oceans or our landfills. So the option I would encourage and highly recommend is a menstrual cup.
And I’ll be the first to say, just like I said I would never be a vegetarian when I was in college and am now going on my 10th year of vegetarianism, I also said I could never use a menstrual cup. But after using one for the past six years, I will never go back. There is definitely a learning curve but once you find the right fit, you’ll get the hang of it after 2-4 months of use and you’ll be a full-on convert, too.
There are so many benefits to using a menstrual cup over tampons and pads — they’re made out of high quality silicone so there’s no risk of endocrine disruption, they hold more so you need to change it less times than a tampon, there’s no risk of toxic shock syndrome and you can actually use it in anticipation of your period — best of all, they’re reusable. I’ll link to a variety of menstrual cup options on the show notes page at cleanlivingpodcast.com/tampons.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. If this episode was helpful, please share it with your best girlfriend — she’ll be happy you did. Here’s to creating a cleaner, more sustainable world for all of us.