The P word and the T word

Here is a math problem for you: The average woman menstruates for 40 years and uses approximately 20 tampons per menses. How many tampons will she use in her lifetime? Answer: 9,600. That’s A LOT! With the number of menstruating women in North America and the number of chemicals found in tampons and pads, the toxicity level is not just a concern for women, but also an environmental concern.

Unfortunately, determining the exact ingredients in tampons and pads is next to impossible. Manufacturers are not required to disclose ingredients like food, drug, and cosmetic manufacturers are.  This is absurd because they come in to close contact with one of the body’s most porous and highly absorbent mucous membranes for extended periods of time.

Over the years tampon and pad manufacturers have entered an amazing race to find the perfect combination of fibers and chemicals to create a comfortable, leak free, super absorbent, odour free, easily inserted tampon. Some are now scented, and some have plastic-coated cardboard or plastic applicators.

Current tampons contain a mix of rayon and cotton with paraben preservatives. Some are also scented, which means in addition to the normal chemical soup of ingredients they also have a combination of neurotoxic chemicals that happen to have a pleasant smell. Approximately 84 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on 14.4 million acres of cotton each year! Pesticides are among some of the most toxic chemicals known to man.  Seven of the top fifteen pesticides used on cotton are known human carcinogens. Cotton is also one of the most genetically modified crops in the world.

Rayon is made from wood pulp. The conversion of wood to rayon involves hundreds of chemicals including chlorine to bleach the wood. During this bleaching process chlorinated hydrocarbons are produced. Dioxin is one of these hydrocarbons. The FDA recently released as statement stating that current bleaching methods do not use chlorine gas, but chlorine dioxide along with other chlorine-free bleaching agents. The FDA then goes on to state that these chlorine-free bleaching agents can generate dioxin at lower levels. While dioxin levels have been reduced, they certainly have not been eliminated. Chemicals like these are not eliminated from the body, they are stored in fat cells and accumulate over time.

It is well known in the scientific community that dioxin disrupts multiple endocrine (hormonal) pathways and causes cancer, birth defects, immune suppression, infertility, and miscarriage to name a few. Here we are directly exposing our cervix, uterus, and vagina to this chemical. Endometriosis has been directly linked to the endocrine disrupting effect of dioxin.

Studies also show rayon to be an abrasive fiber. Insertion and removal of tampons creates micro-cuts in the vaginal wall in which fibers of the tampon embed themselves. These micro-abrasions are also a direct link to the cardiovascular system which circulate blood and absorbed chemicals through the entire body.

If negative health effects are seen with tampon use, imagine what effects it has on the environment and wildlife. Approximately 6.5 billion tampons and 13.5 billion pads PLUS their packaging and up in landfills or sewer systems every year. Thousands of tampon applicators are even collected from costal shores! It takes these products up to 25 years to breakdown! Recently many of us have switched to re-usable grocery bags, and re-useable water bottles to prevent the accumulation of plastics in the environment. Why can’t we do this with our feminine hygiene products?


There are all-natural, organic, non-GMO, 100% cotton pads and tampons available. Check out Joanne’s Health Food Store in Peterborough and Lindsey for a good selection of them. My favourite alternative is the menstrual cup! For the past 5 years I have become incredibly close with my DivaCup. I love it, and would never, EVER consider switching back to conventional tampons/pads. The Keeper, the MoonCup and the DivaCup are the more economical and environmentally friendly menstrual cups. They usually hold one ounce of fluid and can be worn for up to 12 hours, which means you only need to empty it twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. These cups leave behind no harmful residues (made of silicone) and there is no risk of infection (toxic shock syndrome). Once you get the hang of how to insert the cup properly there is no risk of leaks either! Best of all, they have a 10 year life expectancy. Have I convinced you yet? Maybe this will convince you… the last math equation for this blog involves another P word, PRICE:

$10/month on tampons x 10yrs = $1,200

$40 upfront cost of menstrual cup x 10yrs = $0.32/month!

Happy menstruating!