Women in South Korea were shocked recently to discover that bestselling tampons tested positive for carcinogenic and reprotoxic substances, and skin irritants. So we decided to investigate.
A recent publication on toxic substance emissions by the NGO Korea Women’s Environmental Network (KWEN) tested bestselling sanitary pads in South Korea and looked for the presence of carcinogenic, reprotoxic substances and skin irritants in the form of 22 volatile organic compounds (VOCs). KWEN tested ten brands of sanitary pads and found that all contained toxic substances in varying quantities. All 22 VOCs were found in one product or another. These ‘regular’ sanitary pads are now to undergo a government safety inspection as consumer fears over carcinogens emitted by women’s hygiene products increase. KWEN’s initiative was inspired by the US-based campaign group Women’s Voices for the Earth, which produced a scathing report on VOCs emission tests on P&G sanitary pads in 2014. There has been a panic rush in South Korea to swap to organic sanitary-wear and this message is now reaching the rest of the world.
When we set up the NatureDoc Shop in March 2017, we decided on a no-compromise approach to sanitary products, so we have been stocking TOTM Products since then, which are organic cotton, pure and simple. But we asked them more about their approach for this post.
They told us that they had recently commissioned an independent survey of 2,000 women aged 18-40 in the UK. Only 12% stated they knew what their tampons were made from. Unfortunately, there is no regulatory requirement to provide a full list of ingredients, and most mainstream brands don’t, so this figure is not at all surprising.
Leading brands often find their way into shopping baskets because they are trusted, easy accessible and have a recognisable name. But if they don’t put the ingredients on the label, it is doubtful how long this trust will last. Maybe this is another reason why women are rapidly swapping to organic cotton tampons.
Your vagina is one of the most absorbent and sensitive parts of your body and with most brands of tampons being made from a mix of rayon and non-organic cotton, it’s important to be aware of what you’re putting in your body.
- Rayon is a highly absorbent man-made material that has been used since the 1930s which does rapidly absorb menstrual blood but at the same time can also dry out the natural protective mucous lining of the vagina. Independent research, conducted at New York University Medical School, suggests that the use of 100% organic cotton tampons may reduce the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome compared with tampons that contain rayon.
- Conventional cotton is farmed using pesticides and insecticides. In 2015, a preliminary study by the University of La Plata found 85% of tampons tested contained Glyphosate - the active ingredient in weed killer, and classified as ‘probably carcinogenic’ by the World Health Organisation.
- Sanitary towels and tampons are often made with materials that create dioxins (a known hormone disruptor), which has also been linked to immune system repression and reproductive issues. Dioxins are persistent and once in the body, they remain there indefinitely, building up with each new exposure. These conventional products are also commonly bleached with chlorine which can disrupt the fine balance of your vaginal flora.
The quality of research varies for these issues, and steps have certainly been made to make sanitary products safer, but concerns remain. This reminds me of how my late mother-in-law, when asked how she was, used to say “better, thank you”.
Non-organic tampons and towels are also often wrapped in a plastic outer and are not biodegradable, thereby can cause damage to the environment when disposed of. Organic cotton respects the natural environment and organic agriculture aims to protect wildlife, farmer’s health, and biodiversity, making every effort to respect the future of the planet.
You can see why there are many reasons to choose organic cotton sanitary products. By using only 100% organic cotton and nothing else, you know exactly what you’re putting into your body, so it’s always worth making sure you’ve got some handy.