What you need to know about some concerning ingredients
Because Health: Although being on your period can be a pain (sometimes literally- thanks cramps...), we know period products have got us covered. Even during tricky situations like swimming, athletics, or even wearing white pants, period products like pads, tampons, and menstrual cups are there for us. While they can be a life saver during our period, there's still so much we don't know about the ingredients that are used in these products, or how these exposures might impact our health. There's way too much mystery surrounding a product that we use daily, for hours at a time, that come into contact with some of the most absorbent and sensitive parts of the body, which is why Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE) decided to look at this topic further. Keep reading to hear from WVE about what's in period care products, what regulations are needed, and some safer options that are available now.
What's In Period Care Products?
Most pads and tampons are much more than a simple piece of cotton. Generally, products are made to be super absorbant, comfortable, easy to use, and can have other properties like "odor-absorbing" or some products even provide a scent.
Yet there is still so much we don't know about the ingredients that are used in these products, or how these exposures might impact our health. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers menstrual products "medical devices" so manufacturers of these products are not required to disclose their ingredients.
Independent, testing from various organizations, media sources and governing bodies from around the world has found numerous chemicals of concern in these products, particularly in chemical additives such as fragrances, lubricants, lotions, odor-absorbing compounds and even antibacterial compounds that are often added to menstrual products by manufacturers. Chemicals linked to allergies, irritation, cancer, endocrine disruption and birth defects have all been found hiding in period care products. In fact, as recently as 2020, phthalates (chemicals widely flagged as harmful) were found in every single sample (of the total 43 pads, panty liners and tampons tested) that were tested!
Once you realize how many questionable chemicals are in so many period products, It's not surprising to learn that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received hundreds of adverse health reports regarding tampons and pads. They describe genital irritation, rashes, chemical burns, allergic reactions (including anaphylactic shock), toxic shock syndrome and other symptoms as a result of exposure to a menstrual pad, pantyliner or tampon.
What Are the Health Impacts of Chemicals in Period Care Products
These reports and tests have raised important questions about the potential health impacts of these exposures. While a few studies have attempted to assess and measure potential risks of these products, all have indicated that there is more work to be done to better understand the impacts these products may have. What's more, the route of exposure to chemicals from menstrual products is both unique and poorly understood. Chemicals absorbed through the vagina are easily and effectively distributed throughout the body, without being metabolized. In order to better understand the health impacts of chemical exposures from menstrual products — at the very least — we need to know what is in them.
People deserve to know what's in the products they are using! This information is vital to make informed decisions about our health, and what we're putting on and in our bodies. We have come to expect disclosure of ingredients in foods and cosmetics because of the direct interaction of these products with our bodies. We should expect no less from menstrual products.
New Regulations for Menstrual Care
Because of public demand, many companies that make period products have started voluntarily disclosing some ingredients. In addition, many new companies have built ingredient disclosure into their policies and practices, understanding the importance of transparency and safety. However, voluntary disclosure remains problematic as it is inconsistent, is not universal, and these products are not always available or accessible to everyone.
New Right to Know Regulations
Important changes toward transparency are already in the works! In 2019, New York became the first state in the nation to require manufacturers of period care products to disclose ingredients. This new law will go into effect October 2021 require any menstrual products sold in the state to contain a "plain and conspicuous" list of all ingredients, in order of predominance. This must be printed on, or affixed to, the package. There's no doubt that this will have national impact, as it will open up new information about these products than ever before.
On the federal level, Congresswoman Grace Meng, is reintroducing her bill, the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, which will require disclosure of ingredients in menstrual products, including tampons, pads, menstrual cups and period underwear — providing vital ingredient information for people across the nation.
Safer Period Products Available Right Now
Even though there's a lot of work to be done related to the chemicals found in period products, we're already starting to see positive changes. An increasing amount of non-toxic options available for period products and ways to report negative health impacts means individuals can immediately take to protect their health.
- Choose unscented products where available, especially in tampons and pads.
- Choose chlorine-free bleach or unbleached tampons and pads.
- Organic products are also a good option as they are typically free (or nearly free) of fragrances and pesticides, and often have fewer additives, dyes or bleaches.
- If you are having allergic symptoms, switch brands, and then tell the company why you did by calling the 800 number on the label.
- Report any symptoms possibly resulting from these products to the FDA by calling 1-800-332-1088 or filling out a consumer report form.
- Look for period underwear that is made out of 100% cotton and doesn't use silver
- To learn more about these issues visit womensvoices.org