The Sad Truth About Tampons

It’s good to be wary of what enters your vagina. The dicks, the fingers, the toys … but do you think twice when putting a tampon up there? Probably not. Every human born with a uterus remembers their first period and the tampon terror that ensued. It was probably a surprise and definitely the start of many changes that occur when growing into an adult womban (also the beginning of a lifelong battle to keep white underwear white.) But back to tampons. How does it get up there? Can someone help me but also not look at me or go anywhere near my private parts but like, help me?

We’re taught to trust these instruments and not question their effect on our health because you know, gotta do your best to ensure no one has to talk about the fact that periods are a thing that happen to half the world every month.

Turns out, tampons are f u c k e d u p. Not only is it virtually impossible to find out what exactly is in them, the few confirmed ingredients should not be hanging out inside a vagina — or have any internal human bodily contact in general. Tampons are another capitalist lure that allow a select few to profit from arguably the most annoying week of the month for women.

Tampons used to be made from 100% cotton, until women started to complain about leaking. Manufacturers began combining the cotton with synthetic fibres in order to increase absorbency. This seems to be the beginning of the industry’s focus on absorbency levels and disinterest in ingredients. In the U.S., the FDA categorizes feminine hygiene products as ‘medical devices.’ This means that manufacturers aren’t obligated to list all the ingredients and side effects. They are not tied to the same labeling regulations as manufacturers of food, drugs or cosmetics. So, of course, tampon manufacturers refuse to make any of the data and information they collect regarding tampon ingredients and their effect on a woman’s body available to the public: “the scientists researching whether or not tampons are safe are getting their paychecks from the people who make and sell tampons.” But they promise their products will absorb your flow so let’s not worry about how.

So what ingredients are we talkin’ here? Well fuck if I know. Just kidding, I kind of do.

Non-organic cotton

Canada’s climate isn’t ideal for growing cotton but the U.S. grows a whole bunch. And how does one grow mass amounts of cotton? With pesticides! One herbicide (a pesticide used to kill unwanted plants) used on cotton is diuron. Scientists have found that diuron is a possible human carcinogen. Think about that. Do you want anything that’s been exposed to pesticides touching your most sacred, life-giving, pleasure-bearing body part? Granted, we eat food that’s been exposed to pesticides and goddess knows how many harmful chemicals we inhale on a daily basis. But to use this reasoning to justify the use of chemicals to grow materials that will eventually be in contact with a highly absorbent mucus membrane for extended periods of time is bullshit.

Viscose Rayon

I’m no scientist but thanks to some badass women on the internet (Meghan Telpner, Ilya Sandra Perlingieri and Vikki Kratz), I have managed to gain a better understanding of what finds its way into tampons. But this shit’s confusing so bear with me. Also, the following information comes from investigations of Tampax tampons specifically, but has been related to the entire industry.

Viscose rayon is a synthetic fibre. It is produced from cellulose fibres that are derived from bleached wood pulp. K cool. The bleaching of wood pulp allows us to deduct this fibre. This process involves a whole bunch of chemicals that produce by-products including dioxins. Dioxins are TOXIC. The World Health Organization says that dioxins are also a probable human carcinogen.

Until the 1980s, manufacturers used chlorine bleach to produce viscose rayon. After 55 women died from Toxic Shock Syndrome in the U.S. between 1979 and 1980, and 1,066 had non-fatal cases, women protested and demanded that tampons be made using less harmful materials.

So, manufacturers changed the bleaching method from chlorine bleach to chlorine dioxide. This process is referred to as “elemental chlorine free” bleaching, which means there is no pure chlorine involved. This should result in a dioxin-free product. But chemical reactions that occur during elemental chlorine free bleaching still release dioxins. The FDA website states, “some elemental chlorine-free bleaching processes can theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels, and dioxins are occasionally detected in trace amounts.”


Here’s what dioxins can do

  • Supress immune system
  • Cause reproductive problems
  • Cause cancer

Also, the human body is unable to absorb dioxins; they cannot be broken down and stay in ones body forever.

We tend to be complacent to this issue. Like the type of complacency experienced when Stephen Harper interfered with the voting process or proved he has no heart. But because it hardly affects the lives of the privileged, we throw our hands in the air and say ‘Oh well, it’s Canada we’re still a democracy’ when really we should have been outraged that a power hungry nutter was running the country. We should be outraged that information about tampons and hygiene products used by half the population hasn’t been made clear and available to the public. That feminine hygiene products are still considered a luxury. This isn’t ok. This is our health and wellbeing we’re taking about. Take. This. In.

90% of human exposure to dioxins happens through diet as they can be found in fatty animal tissue. But repeated contact with materials that contain traces of dioxins is not chill.


It’s up to manufacturers to do something about this, and the World Health Organization agrees: “Prevention or reduction of human exposure is best done via source-directed measures, i.e. strict control of industrial processes to reduce formation of dioxins.”

If you aren’t already fuming, here’s the kicker. The U.S. congress explored the risks posed by feminine hygiene products in bill from 2007-2008. It states:

“While bleaching processes that do not produce dioxin in any amount are available, most wood pulp manufacturers, currently use elemental-chlorine free bleaching processes. This process uses chlorine dioxide as a bleaching agent and still produces dioxins.”

BLEACHING PROCESSES THAT DON’T PRODUCE ANY DIOXINS EXIST. That’s mental. How is it not a priority to find a way to incorporate these processes into the manufacturing of tampons?

We rely on manufactures to monitor the harmful chemical levels in their final products. Yet this information is never released to us, cos duh. They want our money and seeing as half the world deals with a menstrual cycle, of course we’re going to spend money on products that make it as comfortable as possible.

Money over human health and wellbeing. Money over love. Money over everything. Capitalism.

As well, artificial fragrances and plastic applicators often contain phthalates (the stuff that creates the shiny finish) and phthalates disrupt normal endocrine function.

K, I’m done. My intention is not to scare you but we should be aware that the risks of use on side of a tampon box aren’t the whole story and we should be educating each other about alternative options that pose a much lower risk to your body and future health.

Below, we’ve listed a few of the options available. Diva Cups can stay in for up to 12 hours and be reused! Natracare makes tampons and pads with organic cotton that is perfume and chlorine free. And Lunapads are cloth pads that can be rinsed out and reused. Happy bleeding!



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