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Why You Shouldn’t Panic about Tampon Ingredients

If you use tampons during your period (and 70 percent of American women do), you will go through more than 11,000 in your lifetime. So, when you hear that tampons could contain dangerous chemicals or cause toxic shock syndrome —a  rare but serious disease — it’s normal to be concerned. And, as the best advocate for your own health, it’s important to know the facts so you can make the best decision.

What IS in my tampon?

Tampons have existed for centuries, but today’s tampons look very different from the earliest versions, which were made of paper, plants and even wool. The first commercial tampon, created in the 1930s, was made from compressed cotton and had a telescoping paper tube. As recently as the 1980s, tampons were made from polyester foam and contained other resins and chemicals.

Today’s tampons are primarily composed of cotton and fiber, but because they are categorized as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they aren’t required to list their components. However, brands such as Kotex and Tampax do list their ingredients on the manufacturers’ websites.

But some women are worried about what’s actually in those ingredients. Take the chemical dioxin, for example. Until the late 1990s, tampons contained traces of dioxin, which made its way into tampons as a byproduct of the manufacturing process. Although only traces of the chemical were found in tampons, in high exposure, dioxin can cause cancer and damage to the immune system. Fortunately, the manufacturing process that resulted in dioxin as a byproduct is no longer used. Despite the change, however, tampons still contain a small amount of dioxin because residue from other manufacturing processes is still in the environment. Those amounts have decreased as th e EPA and industries have worked to decrease emissions and dioxins.

In addition to the change in materials, today’s tampons are not as absorbent as those from the previous generation — and with good reason. Manufacturers had made thicker tampons to decrease the chance of leaks. But in 1980, the first recognized cases of toxic-shock syndrome were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and were associated with using tampons, particularly high-absorbency ones. Manufacturers decreased the absorbency of tampons and between that, and a push for consumer education on tampon usage, the rate of toxic shock syndrome related to menstrual cycles has decreased.

Alternatives to tampons?

While tampons offer a discreet and convenient method to manage your period, they’re not the only way. If traditional or organic tampons aren’t for you, consider pads, pantyliners or even leakproof underwear developed especially for periods.

Tampon manufacturers have steadily improved their products to make them safer and easier to use. While tampons are not chemical-free, the dangers seem to be negligible. If you want to use tampons, be sure to follow guidelines on using them. The FDA suggests changing tampons at least every 8 hours, not wearing them overnight and using the minimum level of absorbency necessary.

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