Organic tampons have entered the market as the ‘all-natural’ cousins of conventional tampons. Here’s what you need to know before you make the switch.
Next to the usual offerings of tampons, maxi pads, menstrual cups and other feminine health products on the shelves, you can now find organic and all-natural versions of tampons. What makes organic tampons different from traditional tampons is that they’re often made with 100% organic cotton, and they tend to be manufactured without bleach, dye, fragrance, deodorant, synthetic absorbents, phthalates (plasticizers) or cotton treated by pesticides or chlorine, although the exact list varies by brand. But does organic mean that these products are better or healthier for you?
Rigorous testing to make it to the shelf
Organic or not, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers tampons to be a medical device, meaning the agency reviews any product labeled as a tampon before it’s marketed and sold to consumers. In this review process, the FDA considers three major factors, among other information:
- Results of safety tests of the materials used to manufacture the tampon and its applicator;
- Whether the tampon alters the growth of normal bacteria or promotes the growth of harmful bacteria in the vagina; and
- How strong, absorbent and sound it is
All tampons need to pass the FDA’s review to be legally marketed as tampons.
It’s also worth noting that the FDA addresses concerns about the bleaching process. Because using chlorine in the bleaching process can create dioxin, a highly toxic chemical compound, the FDA requires that the bleaching process is free from elemental chlorine — eliminating that risk.
The chances of toxic shock syndrome
To date, studies haven’t established that organic tampons reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, compared to other types of tampons. In fact, a recent study that compared different types of tampons found that cotton tampons promoted the growth of bacteria that can lead to TSS more than tampons made from a rayon/cotton mix or a viscose/cotton mix.
TSS is a rare, but serious, disease that can develop when Staphylococcus aureus bacteria produce a toxin that may lead to various forms of organ damage, including kidney or liver failure, as well as shock and death. Using tampons with a higher absorbency than necessary and leaving tampons in for longer than eight hours are associated with a higher risk of TSS. To reduce the risk of TSS, the FDA recommends changing tampons every four to eight hours or using a maxi pad, if you need absorbency for a longer period of time.
Ultimately, no conclusions have been reached as to whether organic tampons are safer or healthier than the traditional kind. At this point, opting for organic feminine products is a matter of personal preference.