There’s no argument against it, we know “going organic” is better for our health. It’s why we shop at farmers markets, scrub our fruit and vegetables and shy away from the dirty dozen whenever we can. As a society, we’re so concerned with what we put down our bodies … why not what we put up them too?
On average, a woman will use over 11,000 tampons over the course of her menstruating lifetime. According to gynaecologist Dr Nunns, the skin of the vulva is the most sensitive on a woman’s body. It’s easily irritated by polypropylene, perfume and bleach—common ingredients in sanitary ranges. So it begs the question: should we not be more conscious with what we’re inserting into our hoo-haa. Every. Month.?
Historically, we were. Tampons were a major health concern in the 1980s and 90s when cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)—a rare but serious condition that can result in loss of limbs, organ failure, and even death—peaked. TSS is an overwhelming infection where bacteria streptococcus or staphylococcus (aka “Staph”)—bacteria that naturally live harmlessly on the skin, mouth and vagina—manage to invade the bloodstream, releasing toxins, which essentially poisons the body. It was believed that the highly absorbent synthetic materials in tampons were causing TSS.
Today, tampons are more regulated. According to CNN, they’re generally made from a blend of cotton and rayon and TSS—while present—is rare. But it seems with the dismissal of TSS, we’ve dismissed tampon safety altogether. And yet, if unwanted substances entering the bloodstream via the vagina caused TSS, are the unnatural by-products on non-organic tampons not cause for the same alarm?
The jury’s still out.
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration is responsible for the regulation of tampons. They assess their compliance with industry standards based on materials, absorbency, microbial content, package labelling and patient information leaflets. That being said, there is little available information about what those standards actually are. Sure, you can access public summaries of the products on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, but guess what information isn’t readily accessible? The ingredients.
The lack of transparency problem lies in the fact that feminine hygiene products are considered “medical devices”. This is true also of the US, where companies test tampons before submitting them to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they’re allowed on the market. But even after they’ve been approved, companies are not legally required to disclose their ingredients.
So, as consumers, we need to be savvy. But does this mean we should throw out all our rocket launchers and opt for their slightly less-refined cousin, the menstrual cup? Not yet.
If you don’t have any issues perhaps it’s not cause for alarm; the industry is regulated after all. That being said, if you’d prefer to be safe, it could be worth choosing organic tampons. Dr Philip Tierno, professor of microbiology at New York University Medical School, who spent 23 years doing independent research into TSS and its link to tampons, recommends them. “The bottom line is that you can get TSS with synthetic tampons but not with an all-cotton tampon,” he told the guardian. And TSS aside, if you regularly suffer from irritation, inflammation or thrush-like symptoms, going organic could be the answer. Dr Tierno also suggests choosing lower absorbencies and never leaving your tampon in longer than eight hours.
In essence, we hope our rocket launchers are primarily cotton but in reality, we can’t be too sure. So if you’d rather err on the side of caution, choose 100% certified organic tampons. Some great brands include TOM Organic, Cottons and a personal favourite, Gift Box—for every box sold, a box is donated to a homeless woman in Australia.