Article at a Glance
- Your choice of menstrual product can have a big impact on your health.
- The average woman will use between 9,000 – 11,000 tampons during their lifetime.
- The tampon industry isn’t heavily regulated and most tampons contain toxins and synthetic ingredients.
- Most tampons and pads are made with Rayon or a mix of Rayon, cotton, and other materials. These products are not naturally white, so many manufacturers use a chlorine-based bleaching process to create the bright white tampons and pads we’re used to seeing in advertisements. The problem is this process creates a toxin called dioxin as a byproduct and dioxin is a known carcinogen.
- Toxic shock syndrome is perhaps the best known problem associated with tampons. This potentially fatal illness is caused by a bacterial toxin, typically Staphylococcus aureus MN8 or Streptococcus that can find its way into certain types of tampons.
- Menstrual cups and period underwear can be a nontoxic and environmentally friendly alternative to tampons and pads, but they’re not for everyone.
- In the world of tampons and pads, ‘organic’ just means made with organic cotton that has not been bleached using chlorine. Organic does not necessarily mean the products are free of perfumes, dyes, or other chemicals, and the ‘natural’ label means next to nothing in regard to tampons and pads.
- When shopping for menstrual products, look for these certifications: USDA certified organic, GOTS, ICEA, the Soil Association, SA 8,000, Nordic EcoLabel, OTCO and certified B corporation.
- NatraCare (independent) The Honest Company (independent) Seventh Generation (now owned by Unilever) Organyc (owned by Corman USA) are all good choices for eco-friendly tampons.
Whether or not a tampon is eco-friendly or riddled with toxins is rarely top of mind when you’re stocking up at the store. Most women simply look to manage menstruation as easily and inexpensively as possible. The truth, though, is that your choice of menstrual products can have a big impact on your health and the health of the environment.
The average woman spends almost six and a half years of their life bleeding. From when menses commence (typically around age 11) to menopause (around the age of 50), you’re likely to experience somewhere in the range of 450-510 periods lasting from three to seven days each (R).
The majority of women use tampons to manage their period. (R) Changing your tampon every six hours on average means you’ll likely use 20 tampons each cycle, amounting to around 9,000 to 11,000 tampons during your lifetime. Along with plastic applicators and wrappers, this could mean sending some 300 pounds of waste to landfills. (R) And, as if the waste itself wasn’t worrisome enough, the production of all these period products uses up a lot of fossil fuels, contributing to climate change. (R)
The environmental impact of tampons and pads aren’t the only area of concern. Even when you use them correctly, tampons raise your risk of toxic shock syndrome, which can be fatal. And, depending on the materials used in their construction, tampons and other menstrual products may increase your risk of cancer, endometriosis, fertility problems, yeast and bacterial infections, and other health issues.
Deciding how to handle your cycle is highly personal, and you may find it helpful to talk to your gynecologist or other health care professional about your individual needs. Often, women tend to just stick with the same brand for years and years. What if there were better, eco-friendly, heathier options that are easy to use?
Happily, there are.
We’ll discuss some of the best eco-friendly menstrual products available shortly, but let’s look first at some of the biggest issues with conventional tampons and pads and how to minimize your risk and environmental impact.
- Toxic tampons and pads – what to watch out for
- Are European tampons safer?
- Questions to ask for finding safe tampons
- Synthetic materials in tampons and pads
- Dioxins in Tampons
- Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
- What’s the Alternative? Non-toxic menstrual products
- The Environmental Impact of Period Products
- Other considerations for the eco-conscious consumer
- Top Non-Toxic Period Products
Toxic tampons and pads – what to watch out for
Period products are not easy to research, largely because regulators like the US Food and Drug Administration only require a bare minimum of information from manufacturers. Tampons and pads are not ingested (hopefully), so they don’t fall under the same regulatory guidelines as foods or medicines. This should not be taken as an indication, however, that these products are harmless.
Tampons are used in an especially permeable part of the body, often for hours at a time. As the walls of the vagina are spongy and porous, substances can quickly pass through the membranes in these walls to enter the bloodstream. Over a lifetime, this amounts to years of exposure to whatever chemicals are in tampons.
Recognizing concerns over tampon safety, largely centered on toxic shock syndrome, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced bill H.R. 889 (106th), known as the Robin Danielson Act, in 1999. It was named after a woman who died from TSS, and this bill has been reintroduced several times since, including as H.R. 2379, the Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2017. This act “directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research whether feminine hygiene products pose health risks and it encourages the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to broaden its monitoring efforts and publicly disclose a list of contaminants within the wide range of feminine hygiene products available on the market” (R).
So, what are the main concerns Maloney and others want the FDA to focus on? Well, for a start, the FDA has not yet outright banned the use of chlorine bleaching in the production of tampons and sanitary pads, and this process is known to create dioxins (a known carcinogen) as a by-product.
Some additional clues about possible concerns can be found in the FDA’s guidelines for companies applying for a 510(k) certification for period products. The FDA asks companies to address issues such as:
- Adverse tissue reaction
- Vaginal injury
- Vaginal infection
- Toxic shock syndrome (TSS)
- Chemical residues
- Fiber shedding, tampon integrity, and string strength.
While the FDA does not insist that tampons contain no traces of dioxins, it does recommend that products be free of 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)/2,3,7,8-tetrachlorofuran dioxin (TCDF) and any pesticide and herbicide residues. The FDA also recommends that companies identify any bleaching processes used, such as Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF) or Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) bleaching practices. And, they advise companies to describe how their products in their final form avoid:
- enhancing the growth of Staphylococcus aureus
- increasing the production of Toxic Shock Syndrome Toxin-1 (TSST-1)
- altering the growth of normal vaginal microflora.
Are European tampons safer?
In Europe, tampons are not supposed to contain any traces of dioxins, and safety matters relating to menstrual products are covered by Directive 2001/95/EC on general product safety. This directive requires manufacturers to ensure that only safe products are placed on the market, and the REACH Regulation bans the use of certain toxic chemicals in these products.
The European Commission has also stated that it would consider extending restrictions under REACH if further health risks were demonstrated. So far, these regulations have not been broadened, despite the broadcast of a documentary in France in April 2017 that revealed that 20-30 potentially toxic chemical components were found in six of the biggest-selling tampon brands.
Research carried out by the French magazine 60 Millions de Consommateurs revealed in 2016 that 5 of 11 products tested contained traces of dioxins, insecticides, or other undesirable chemicals. Traces of halogenated waste, a by-product of manufacturing, were found in Tampax Compak Active Regular Fresh tampons and residues of organochlorine pesticides and pyrethroid insecticides were found in some Always sanitary towels. These manufacturers said the results were a “mistake” and blamed the testing process itself. Traces of dioxins were found in o.b. and Nett brand products.
Surprisingly, the researchers also found traces of glyphosate (the chemical in Roundup weed killer) in organic cotton sanitary towels made by Organyc. The company, who noted that organic cotton should be free from this herbicide, confirmed the results through their own tests and chose to voluntarily recall a batch of 3,100 boxes of sanitary towels on sale in France and Canada. Organyc said they would initiate comprehensive testing of their raw materials from their cotton suppliers, who are primarily based in the U.S. and India.
Questions to ask for finding safe tampons
Looking at these concerns, it makes sense, then, when choosing menstrual products, to ask the following questions:
- Does the product contain synthetic petrochemical materials that may have adverse effects on personal health and comfort?
- Does the product increase the risk of vaginal microflora imbalance and toxic shock syndrome?
- Are any toxic chemicals or undesirable practices (such as bleaching) used in the manufacture of the product which could lead to contamination of the product and/or detrimental effects on the environment?
- Has a company demonstrated a good faith effort to be transparent with customers about potentially harmful chemicals in their products?
By asking these questions, we can make better informed choices for ourselves and the environment. And, if enough of us switch to eco-friendly menstrual management products, the impact would be significant.
Let’s look first at synthetic materials in tampons and pads.
Synthetic materials in tampons and pads
Because they are not subject to significant regulation in the U.S., unlike most things we ingest or put in our body, most manufacturers are not upfront about the materials they use to make tampons and sanitary pads. Instead, companies rely on vague phrases such as ‘cotton like’, or ‘smooth as silk’, to conjure up a natural image that reassures customers.
Most tampons and pads are not made with cotton, however. Instead, synthetic fibers are used that feel like cotton but are much more absorbent. So absorbent, in fact, that they led to a huge increase in cases of toxic shock syndrome. In turn, this prompted the FDA to insist that companies such as Rely (who were sued by customers) used lower absorbency materials (more on this below).
Although it’s hard to find exact materials listings for tampons and pads, some of the likely ingredients in these products include:
- Low density, highly absorbent, open-celled foam
- Hydrogel (sodium polyacrylate or polyacrylate absorbents)
- Chlorine-bleached Rayon, made from wood pulp (of which dioxin is the by-product)
- Genetically modified cotton
Wood pulp and GM cotton aren’t necessarily toxic, but they may be treated with problematic chemicals (such as chlorine and glyphosate) that are present in the final product or that create toxic by-products during manufacturing. As for the other materials, these synthetic petrochemicals can cause skin irritation and discomfort and make it hard for skin to breathe, all of which raises your risk of bacterial growth, infection, irritation and other health problems.
The healthier, more eco-friendly option is to choose organic, unbleached or naturally bleached, 100 percent cotton products that do not contain traces of pesticides, herbicides, or other undesirable chemicals such as dioxins.
Dioxins in Tampons
Instead of being made with cotton, most tampons and pads are made with Rayon or a mix of Rayon, cotton, and other materials. These products are not naturally white, so many manufacturers use a chlorine-based bleaching process to create the bright white tampons and pads we’re used to seeing in advertisements. The problem is that this bleaching process creates dioxins as a by-product, and dioxins are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a human carcinogen (R).
Dioxins are everywhere, not just in tampons and pads. They are found in our food and water, and are persistent and bioaccumulative, meaning that they don’t break down easily in the environment or in our bodies, instead building up over time. These chemicals are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of priority pollutants and are classed as a 10/10 high hazard ingredient by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), meaning that they are thought to increase the risk of cancer even at background levels. The EWG list the known health hazards of dioxins as including:
- Developmental and reproductive toxicity
- Allergies and immunotoxicity
- Endocrine disruption
- Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
- Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs).
The most toxic, and best studied, dioxin is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or simply TCDD. This chemical has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, endometriosis, early menopause, reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones, immune system disorders and abnormalities of the skin, teeth and nails (R).
The FDA has encouraged manufacturers to use an elemental chlorine-free bleaching method, but this method simply uses chlorine dioxide instead of elemental chlorine gas. The newer process is supposed to release no dioxins, but even the FDA hedges its bets by saying that “Some elemental chlorine-free bleaching processes can theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels, and dioxins are occasionally detected in trace amounts in mill effluents and pulp. In practice, however, this method is considered to be dioxin free.”
Given that the FDA’s standards for safety appear somewhat vague when it comes to tampons and pads, the smart move would be to eschew these products altogether. At least, that is, until there is solid evidence of safety when products are used over a lifetime. So far, the evidence suggests that tampons and pads, which are intended for regular use over many decades poses a risk of exposure to bioaccumulative toxins. This means that these toxins accumulate in our bodies over the years, causing untold damage.
It’s likely that dioxin exposure from tampons and pads has gone down dramatically in the last few years, but why risk any level of exposure when there is no safe level of dioxins? Making the switch to safer products also means fewer toxic products are manufactured, resulting in lower levels of dioxins entering the environment overall.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is, perhaps, the best known problem with tampons. This potentially fatal illness is caused by a bacterial toxin, typically Staphylococcus aureus MN8 or Streptococcus. These bacteria are much more likely to grow in the presence of super absorbent synthetic tampons, meaning greater production of the toxin that causes TSS. This is because when synthetic fibers absorb more bodily fluids, they concentrate menstrual proteins to a greater degree than cotton, providing the ideal environment for toxin production (R).
After rates of TSS skyrocketed in the 1970s, the U.S. FDA recognized this problem with highly absorbent tampons and introduced regulations requiring that companies withdraw these products and replace them with less absorbent tampons. The FDA also requires that companies advise users to choose the lowest absorbency tampon for their needs, to not use tampons for more than 8 hours, and to avoid using tampons overnight.
Cases of TSS have fallen since the 1980s, so much so that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control no longer bother monitoring the condition. Still, TSS occurs at a rate of 1-2 in every 100,000 individuals likely to be menstruating, and TSS is thought to be fatal in around 50-70% of cases (R, R).
The main early symptom of TSS is fever, sometimes accompanied by a rash, vomiting, and diarrhea, and symptoms related to hypotension (low blood pressure) such as dizziness and unconsciousness. Multiple organ failure can occur very quickly, within hours of the onset of fever. As such, it is essential to seek medical help immediately if you suspect you might have TSS.
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of TSS is to avoid using tampons altogether or, at the very least, switch to 100 percent cotton tampons. Researchers as far back as the 1990s showed that tampons made with rayon or a rayon/cotton mix promoted the growth of the main bacterial culprits behind TSS, as did a contraceptive sponge and diaphragms. All-cotton tampons from NatraCare and Terra Femme, as well as menstrual cups, did not appear to promote the growth of these bacteria, however. Indeed, one major researcher in this area considers cotton the best option to avoid TSS, having never seen a case with exclusive use of all-cotton tampons in several decades of research (R).
In summary, to reduce your risk of TSS from tampons, consider:
- Switching tampons for a menstrual cup or pads
- Choosing all-cotton, organic regular tampons
- Using only the minimal absorbency you need
- Changing tampons every 4-8 hours at least
- Not using tampons overnight.
One company, Imse Vimse, currently sells reusable cloth tampons, but only in the UK. These tampons, which are used like regular tampons, have not been tested for their capacity to promote bacterial growth. But, given that they are made with 100 percent organic cotton, are meant to be changed as frequently as disposable tampons, and are meant to be washed and boiled between uses, chances are that they are comparable to NatraCare and Terra Femme all-cotton tampons.
In addition to concerns about dioxins, synthetic materials, and TSS, many researchers have connected vaginal and vulval irritation to the use of conventional sanitary products. Allergic contact dermatitis from sanitary pads has been associated with ingredients such as colophonium (resin) (R), perfumes (R), Always pads (R), and methyldibromo glutaronitrile (a preservative) (R).
What’s more, tampons also pose a risk due to the presence of endocrine disruptors such as parabens (preservatives) (R), perfumes such as diethyl phthalate (R) and Galaxolide® (R), and from plastic chemicals in applicators (R).
What’s the Alternative? Non-toxic menstrual products
Always, Tampax, and o.b. are the big names in period products, but these have all been found to contain undesirable chemicals and have a significant environmental impact. Given that menstrual management products aren’t something you can simply choose not to use, what’s the alternative?
For many women, menstrual cups are the simplest solution. Often paired with reusable or disposable pantiliners for back-up support, menstrual cups come in all shapes and sizes and are simple to use, once you get the hang of it. Made from silicon or latex, these reusable cups sit in the vaginal canal where they collect menstrual fluid instead of absorbing it. Non-toxic and comfortable to use, for most people, menstrual cups are a great option. They typically last two to five years, making them more eco-friendly, healthier, and inexpensive way to manage periods. With proper care, a single menstrual cup could last you decades. This means cleaning it thoroughly after each period by putting it in a pot of rapidly boiling water for 5-10 minutes, making sure the holes near the top of the cup are clear of gunk (use a toothpick if necessary), and letting it air-dry in a sunny spot before storing it in a breathable bag. If your cup starts to look discolored, smell funny, feel sticky, or has a powdery film, it’s time to replace it.
For decades, Diva Cup have been the go-to for menstrual cups, with an impressive record on sustainability. Many other brands now offer menstrual cups, with innovations in design helping even more people use this method of menstrual management.
Period underwear is another great option, especially for those who don’t want to use internal period products. Made with absorbent natural fibers, period underwear can be worn with or without inserts for extra support and simply need rinsing in cold water and washing with your regular laundry after use. As with menstrual cups, period underwear costs more upfront than disposable tampons and pads but saves you money in the long-run, is arguably healthier, and is better for the environment.
Reusable pads are also a great choice for eco-friendly period management. Available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns, reusable pads and inserts are made with cotton and, sometimes, a thin leak-proof layer of polyurethane laminated polyester (PUL). While PUL is a type of plastic, it is often certified non-toxic and safe for use. And, as these products are used time and again, the environmental impact is a lot lower than that of conventional plastic pads and synthetic tampons, as well as all-cotton disposable tampons and pads.
Reusable tampons are not currently available in the U.S., but Imse Vimse sell these in the UK. Made with organic cotton, these reusable tampons work like regular tampons and need to be rinsed, washed, and boiled between uses.
If reusables simply aren’t your thing, disposable all-cotton organic tampons and pads are available. These typically limit your exposure to pesticides, dyes, perfumes, and toxins and have been around since the 1980s, when NatraCare introduced their first line of all-cotton organic tampons and pads.
A note on “organic” cotton tampons
It’s worth noting, though, that when it comes to tampons and pads, ‘organic’ just means made with organic cotton that has not been bleached using chlorine. Products are not necessarily free of perfumes, dyes, or other chemicals, and the ‘natural’ label means next to nothing in regard to tampons and pads. As such, it’s important to check with the manufacturer that products are free from dyes, bleached using hydrogen peroxide (or unbleached), and have USDA-recognized organic certification. Other certifications are also important here, such as Quality Assurance International (QAI) and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) (see more on certifications below).
All cotton tampons and TSS prevention
In one study, all-cotton tampons and menstrual cups were the only products tested that did not appear to promote the growth of Staphylococcus aureus MN8, the bacteria responsible for TSS. All of the other tampons (and diaphragms and contraceptive sponge) promoted the growth of the bacteria. One other interesting finding from this study was the apparent breakdown of an older type of tampon (Rely), which suggests that it’s best to avoid using older synthetic tampons (R).
Whichever type of tampon you use, they should be changed at least every 4-8 hours. Even organic all-cotton tampons and reusable tampons pose a risk of TSS. Always use the lowest absorbency level to meet your needs, and don’t use a single tampon for more than 8 hours or when you’re not actively menstruating.
Other options for non-toxic menstrual products include disposable menstrual discs. Currently only available as SoftDisc or SoftCup in the U.S., menstrual discs are similar to menstrual cups in that they collect blood internally. However, these discs are made of thinner material, sit higher in the body (closer to the cervix), and are discarded after each use.
The Environmental Impact of Period Products
Just as menstrual management products can affect your personal health, they can also have a significant environmental impact.
To reiterate some figures mentioned above, the average person who menstruates will do so for around four decades of their life and will use somewhere around 9,000-10,000 tampons to manage menstruation. In North America alone, close to 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons and applicators are sent to landfills every year (R). According to the book Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation, the average person who has periods throws away up to 300 pounds of period-related products in a lifetime. These products can take centuries to biodegrade, and disposal is not the only problem.
The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm carried out a Life Cycle Assessment of tampons to determine their entire ecological footprint. Data showed that the largest impact came from the production of plastic tampon applicators and the plastic strip on the back of sanitary pads. These are made from LDPE (low-density polyethylene, a thermoplastic) (R).
Production of these plastic components of pads and tampons requires massive amounts of fossil fuel. Indeed, a year’s worth of period products was estimated by a Harvard researcher to have a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalents (R). In comparison, the carbon footprint from comparable use of Natracare products was estimated at 3.4 kg CO2 equivalents a year; roughly a 35 percent reduction in impact (R). As yet, there has been no solid research examining the carbon footprint of menstrual cups and/or reusable pads, but the likelihood is that this would be lower given the years of reuse for these products.
Reusable pads can also be repurposed as cleaning rags or other items once they start to fray, and will also biodegrade faster than plastics. Menstrual cups cannot be recycled, but the difference in sheer volume of waste between these and disposable pads and tampons is striking. Demonstrating this point all too well, The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup reported collecting almost 18,000 used tampons and applicators from beaches around the world in a single day in 2004, and that number has likely increased along with the world’s population in the last decade and a half (R).
How do these items end up on beaches? Well, despite knowing not to, many people flush tampons and applicators, meaning that they end up in sewers and waterways. Putting them in the garbage to go to landfill is not much better, but it is the best option, given that the plastics and chemicals in these products can injure wildlife and accumulate in the ecosystem, eventually increasing our own exposure to lingering dioxins, phthalates, and so forth.
Happily, organic all-cotton tampons and pads are often compostable, although usually only in municipal composting facilities (not at home). Some do feature plastic components, though, so check with the manufacturer to be sure. Cardboard applicators can also be recycled, and some wrappers may also be compostable if made with cornstarch or other biodegradable materials. And, Dame, a company in the UK, is set to launch a silicon-based reusable tampon applicator that fits any disposable tampon, further helping to cut down the number of disposable plastic applicators that end up in landfill or in the oceans.
In general, organic all-cotton tampons are preferable to pads and other types of tampon in terms of carbon footprint, but these are likely not the greenest, healthiest, or most affordable option overall. Menstrual cups, period underwear, and reusable pads and tampons are all better options in terms of the environmental impact, health, and affordability. Used, cleaned, and stored correctly, menstrual cups can last for many years (estimates vary from two to ten, or longer), making them the more cost-efficient choice as well.
Consider the following calculations:
Two years of tampons and pads – $270:
$5 for a box of 20 tampons x 13 cycles a year – $130
$7 for a box of pantiliners or pads x 10 per year – $140
XO Flo Period Kit Plus from GladRags (menstrual cup plus reusable pads and extras): $90.
Basically, after just eight months of using a menstrual cup and pads, you’ll start saving money you would otherwise be spending on tampons and disposable pantiliners. And, chances are, these reusable options will last you for many years.
Yes, reusable pads and period underwear require rinsing and washing, and menstrual cups can’t be recycled, but the water consumption and energy use related to these products is negligible compared to what goes into producing, transporting, and disposing of disposable period products.
Other considerations for the eco-conscious consumer
There are plenty of period products on the market that claim to be eco-friendly because they’re reusable, but the truth is that many of the companies producing these products pay little or no attention to things such as dyes, packaging, and how the products are made. The best of the best pay attention to all of these things by using vegetable-based dies, minimal packaging (which can be recycled), and off-setting carbon costs of production by supporting sustainability projects.
Certifications for Menstrual Products
Menstrual products are not subject to particularly stringent regulation in the U.S., meaning that the onus is on individual companies to seek out certifications for safety and sustainability. Thankfully, many companies do just that.
When looking for disposable period products that are made with cotton, look for the following certifications:
USDA-certified organic – This means the cotton used in the product has been grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides. If it just says ‘organic’ or ‘natural’, this is not certified organic and is more likely to contain these toxins.
GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certified – As many menstrual products are made with 100 percent cotton, they are classified as organic textiles. GOTS is the leading organization for organic textiles and is the label to look out for as a marker of quality. GOTS also protects workers’ rights and ensure that employment is voluntary, working conditions are safe, fair wages are paid, and no child labor is ever used.
The following certifications are a little more obscure, but worth looking for:
ICEA (The Ethical and Environmental Certification Institute) certification – the ICEA inspects and certifies firms respectful of the environment, workers’ dignity and collective rights. This organization is one of the most prominent inspection and certification bodies in the field of sustainable development.
The SOIL ASSOCIATION – the UK’s leading organic certification organization, the Soil Association promotes sustainable food and farming through the use of local, seasonal and organic systems.
SA 8000 (Social Accountability Certification) – SA8000 is a social accountability standard for decent working conditions, based on global workplace norms of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Nordic Ecolabel – promotes a more sustainable consumerism with the goal of creating a sustainable society.
Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) – Established in 1974, this is a leading non-profit organic certifier in the U.S. They helped shape the standards for the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act, launch sustainability programs, and help promote innovation in organic standards and practices.
Certified B Corporation – B Corps are companies certified as using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. It is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to corn. Certification helps demonstrate an adherence to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, including how a company’s practices and products impact employees, community, the environment, and customers.
A note on ISO certifications in U.S. tampons
Some reusable products sold in the U.S. state that they are ISO-certified, which is misleading at worst and incorrect at best. There is no ISO certification as such. Rather, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) creates standards which are then used by other organizations to confer certification. ISO management systems are recognized and practiced in over 160 countries around the world.
Relevant standards for reusable menstrual management products include:
ISO-10993, Biological Evaluation of Medical Devices Part-1: Evaluation and Testing (for repeat use devices–30 days or more– in contact with skin/mucosal membrane surface)
ISO 13485:2003 Certification, the Quality Standard Management System for medical devices – required by Health Canada for all medical device manufacturers worldwide.
ISO-10993 certification is not necessary for a product to get FDA approval. Companies producing menstrual cups, for example, often use medical-grade silicone that has already been certified. So, while ‘ISO-certified’ can sound good, it doesn’t always mean much, although it is nice to have.
Top Non-Toxic Period Products
Many companies claim to offer eco-friendly products for menstrual management, but while their products may sound good, it’s important to note the provenance, certifications, and company history. For instance, many of the same companies that promote toxic household and personal care products have either acquired smaller, previously independent companies (such as Seventh Generation) or now offer greenwashed period products under the own brand, albeit half-heartedly. Other companies promote bamboo-based reusable pads that may have a significant environmental impact even while appearing outwardly eco-friendly. (Find out more here about why bamboo can be a problematic fiber.)
The following companies offer the best options for eco-friendly and body-friendly menstrual management:
- Pads and panty liners:
- Reusable pads:
- Menstrual cups:
- Dame – reusable applicator for tampons
If you’re in the UK, Draper’s Organic is a great option for reusable pads, TOTM are excellent for almost all your menstrual needs, and Imse Vimse are an option for reusable tampons. If you’re in New Zealand, OI are, hands down, the company to go with for tampons, pads, pantyliners, and menstrual cups.
Other companies with decent eco credentials include L Organic, although they use (BPA-free) plastic applicators for their tampons. The same is true for The Honest Company, Cora and Lola, the latter two being subscription services that provide pads and tampons with and without plastic applicators. The Honest Company applicators are 90 percent plant-based at least, and are phthalate-free, and the company has excellent credentials and a good, albeit short, track record otherwise, which is why they made the cut for the eco-home directory.
Cora are a little less transparent about their ingredients, but at least note that they’re looking into creating “a bio-material applicator” to help neutralize their environmental impact. Given that such applicators have been around for decades, it seems odd, though, that it’s taking them (and other companies) this long. If you’re a fan of applicators and want to buy from these companies, a more eco-friendly option would be to purchase their applicator-free tampons and use the Dame reusable applicator.
Well, there you have it, a complete tour through the murky world of tampons and menstrual products.
Tampons might not be first on your list when thinking of ways to reduce the toxins that go in your body, but perhaps now you’re reevaluating?
Due to the sheer volume of tampons women use over their lifetimes, the toxins in these tiny products can really add up. And with illnesses like toxic shock syndrome out there, it’s not a bad ideas to have a strategy in place to make sure the products you choose are good for your body and the environment.
Have you had experiences with menstrual products you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.