What Tampon Ingredients Should You Be Avoiding?

As much as we want to believe that what we put in our bodies is regulated by the government, when it comes to certain items, that's not always the case. The U.S Food and Drug Administration has a wide variety of classifications for products, meaning that some products don't require the same extensive ingredient labels as others. Tampons are classified as Class II medical devices which means that brands that market these items don't need to list everything that's in them (via Time). Of course, they can choose to list all ingredients, but because they don't have to, why would they? It's not as though big corporations like to hold themselves accountable until they find themselves in court, as Thinx period underwear recently did, per the Washington Post.

It can't be disputed that there's a lot of unnecessary ingredients in tampons. Fragrances, for example, are never a good idea. Not only can scented tampons cause possible irritation, but a vagina isn't supposed to smell like flowers. It's supposed to smell like a vagina, no matter where you are in your menstrual cycle. But while fragrance can be irritating, some ingredients can actually be dangerous. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and dioxins are two such ingredients and, sadly, over the last few years, they've been detected in feminine hygiene products.

Although you should always be aware of what your tampons contain, it's these chemicals in particular that you should be avoiding for your own health.


PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," don't break down like other substances. So once they're in your body, they're going to hang around for years, with some research suggesting it can take as many as nine years for them to leave (via Up North Live). These chemicals are human-made and pretty much everywhere — including in our drinking water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, at least 45% of the tap water in the U.S. could be contaminated with PFAS.

But what makes PFAS even more of an issue is that they're being found in tampons that have been labeled as "non-toxic" despite being anything but that, and the concentration of them is even higher than what's being found in tap water, per Time. This makes them even more problematic because of the sensitive terrain of the vagina and how easily vaginal walls absorb such things. Research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that PFAS could increase risks of certain cancers, negatively affect fertility, increase cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and interfere with the body's immune system. And that's just what science has uncovered so far.


Because "forever chemicals" wasn't a daunting enough term, dioxins are known as "endocrine disruptors," which means once they're in your body, they interfere with how your hormones are supposed to behave (via National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, disruption to the endocrine system can lead to increased risk of cancers and interfere with how the immune, nervous, and reproduction systems are supposed to function. Such disruptions can also cause development malformation like birth defects, spina bifida, and a myriad of other possible congenital issues, per Government of Western Australia.

"The amount of dioxin in tampons is low today in comparison to when manufacturers used different bleaching methods," professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University Philip Tierno tells Time. "But it's still present, and its effect is cumulative." If you consider that the average menstruating person will use roughly 11,000 tampons in their lifetime, that's a lot of accumulating and something that should raise concern and a lot of awareness (via The Guardian).

What you can do?

First and foremost, always read the ingredients. There are actually some companies that are willing to be transparent about what's in their products. Secondly, seek out other feminine hygiene options. 

"I wouldn't worry about using a conventional tampon every once in a while when nothing else is available," co-director of the Women's Clinic at the Akasha Center Dr. Maggie Ney tells Goop. "But, when you have the opportunity, buy organic cotton tampons or pads ... The best option here would be an organic, chlorine-free, non-applicator tampon or organic, chlorine free pad." Ney adds, "Organic cloth pads are reusable and made from organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo. There are a number of different types of menstrual cups available, too. Menstrual cups are soft, flexible, and made from silicone ... Sea sponges are also free of additives and are reusable."

The fact is that living a 100% dioxin- and PFAS-free life is going to be fairly impossible. But as long as you know what you should avoid and do so as often as you can, then at least you're making an effort and choosing the healthiest options for your body.