Yesterday, The South China Morning Post reported that more Chinese women are shunning domestically-made sanitary pads over fears of cancer-causing substances.
However, according to the state-owned Oriental Outlook, none of the 22 sanitary pad samples sent to a lab for independent testing – nine of which were domestically-produced – contained traces of fluorescent bleaching agents.
That may be, but it got me thinking about what other harmful substances might lurk in feminine hygiene products. The answer was surprisingly elusive.
There’s very little information available about the composition of disposable pads and tampons. According to a 2013 Salon article, "since tampons and sanitary pads are regulated as ‘medical devices’ [in the US]the industry is not required to disclose any of their ingredients."
Here’s a partial list of substances possibly contained in pads and tampons:
- Dioxin: This toxin is listed as a persistent environmental pollutant, hormone disruptor, and carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the FDA‘s stance is that trace amounts of dioxin are not harmful to human health.
- Pesticides: According to Mother Jones, "the non-organic cotton in pads and tampons have soaked up at least some of the more than 55 million pounds of pesticides (PDF) sprayed on cotton fields in the US each year that occasionally make it into our surface water."
- Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs): Conventional tampons manufactured in the US are likely to contain GMOs, as 94 percent of all American cotton is genetically-engineered.
As you can imagine, there is even less information available about the composition of Chinese-made sanitary products. (Unless you consider silly news items about radioactive pads to be authoritative information.)
What Can You Do?
Luckily, there are alternatives to conventional pads and tampons such as menstrual cups, washable pads, and disposable products made of organic cotton.
- Menstrual cups: These are basically re-usable silicone or rubber cups that are inserted straight into your hoo-ha. They’re durable, hygienic, eco-friendly, and have to changed less often than pads or tampons. Drawbacks include a definite learning curve and the fact that they have to be sterilized after each cycle. That being said, I’ve used the Diva Cup since I was in university and have never looked back.
- Washable pads: Exactly what it sounds like – pads made of cotton that you can wash. Many of them include a detachable outer shell and several inserts that can be doubled up depending on the heaviness of your menstrual flow. They’re safe and easy to use, but definitely not for everyone.
- Organic cotton pads and tampons: Organic pads and tampons don’t contain chlorine bleach or dioxin. They are also free of the synthetic components common in high-absorbency tampons, which increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Be sure to buy unscented and unbleached versions.
Photo: tipstimes/menstrual (via Flickr)