Tampons, pads, and menstrual cups are examples of feminine hygiene products used by women during a menstrual period. A tampon is a tampon. However, there is a rising trend in switching to organic products, and the world of tampon use is no exception. Organic or regular tampons; this all-important question has become the topic of discussion, especially when there is evidence to show that an average woman will use about 11400 tampons or pads in her life.
Does it make a difference whether your tampon is organic or not? Are regular or conventional tampons that bad? To help with these issues, here are a few arguments and thoughts to address some of the vital questions and concerns regarding the use of these products.
Disclaimer: This piece is written for informational purposes and not to serve as medical advice.
What Does It Mean to be Organic?
A dictionary definition of organic food and other products states that organic products are grown in an environment free from artificial agrochemicals and possibly certified by a regulatory body. Simply put, an organic product is anything comprising of animal or plant products that are developed naturally. This definition applies to organic tampons and pads. Regular pads consist of a combination of rayon and a small amount of cotton, further bleached with chlorine to give it a clean look.
Despite the makeup of both product versions, both are FDA approved and readily available for use; however, before you decide on which type of tampon or pad (organic or regular) that is best for you, consider the following points carefully:
- Preference on the physical feel of tampons or pads.
- Do you feel comfortable about wearing a tampon?
- How heavy is your flow?
- Your daily activity.
Based on this list, the next task is to consider whether to go organic or not. Here are a couple of reasons why some women opt for organic products.
In the best case, tampons or pads are made of 100% organic cotton that is non-bleached and is devoid of environmentally threatening chemicals. However, regular tampons may contain cotton, but the cotton isn’t organic and contains additives and bleaching agents. The type of cotton used in standard pads is grown with the help of pesticides.
Chemical fragrances are in regular pads, causing skin irritations and allergic reactions on women with sensitive skin. Chlorine bleaches the rayon and cotton used on the product. No matter how small the quantity, it is not unusual for women to fear chlorine or rayon absorption into the vagina. Overall using organic tampons help to avoid this exposure.
Natural Feel From Organic
The use of cotton gives the tampons a smooth, natural feel. Compared to other options, cotton is breathable and comfortable for everyday use. Regular pads are made with plastic content with perforations causing it to look and feel smooth. According to Dr. Suruchi Desai, consulting Gynecologist and Obstetrician at Nanarati Super Specialty Hospital, organic tampons and pads contain an absorbent cellulose core, which locks away menstrual fluid to keep you dry with a soft organic cover that allows your skin to breathe.
Also, organic tampons have a better effect on the body with some brands like Nannopad, which has features like a unique technology that may help with menstrual discomfort naturally without drugs or medication.
Since organic tampons and pads make no use of pesticides, herbicides, and bleaches, chemicals don’t leach into waterways, and soil life is protected. Also, organic tampons and pads are plastic-free, whereby the average pack of regular pads contains nearly the same amount of plastic as five carrier bags. Organic is biodegradable and will disappear over a few months into compost. On the other hand, regular tampons and pads use smooth plastic applicators to make insertion easier. In contrast, organic applicators contain biodegradable materials such as cardboard.
As discussed, regular tampons and pads have been frowned upon because they contain chemicals like dioxins, fragments of chlorine, and other harmful additives harmful to human health. Scientists have described the vagina as an internalized sponge, highly porous, that rapidly absorbs substances it contacts. It is considered a potential route for systematic drug delivery. Dioxins, for example, are known cancer-causing chemicals that increase the risk factor of any user.
No Fiber Shedding
There is a video by Clementine which shows different reactions of an organic tampon and that of the conventional one in water. As seen in the demonstration, regular tampons shed small cotton fibers, while organic doesn’t.
Organic tampons include denser and longer fibers allowing it to maintain its original form. These shredded fibers can quickly get into the vagina and may cause hygienic problems that lead to infections and bacterial colonization in extreme cases. This information further supports the argument that Organic pads are superior to regular ones.
Transparency of Ingredients
Unlike skincare products and food, which makes it mandatory for manufacturers to list all ingredients for public safety and knowledge, feminine hygiene product manufacturers are not legally required to do so in the United States except New York.
However, organic tampon users have no such worry, because ‘what you see is what you get.’ Organic labels indicate 100% organic cotton, nothing more, nothing less with no fragrances or other chemical additives to worry about.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
A primary reason for comparing organic and regular tampons and pads is the life-threatening Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
This syndrome occurs from a bacteria known as the Staphylococcus aureus (Staph). With symptoms ranging from fever, sore throat, a widespread sunburn-like rash, and dizziness, to mention a few.
According to Dr. Jen Gunter, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist in the San Francisco Bay area, associate professor of clinical obstetrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, TSS in extreme cases can cause organ damage, shock, and death.
Dr. Gunter points out that there is no definitive evidence associating the use of regular tampons to developing TSS. And also, no proven statistics to show that organic tampons are safer than regular tampons. However, the National Organization for Rare Disorders reports the rate of occurrence for TSS related to tampon use is 1 per every 100000 menstruating women.
In contrast, a recent study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology examined 11 types of tampons and four types of menstrual cups. The material used, whether organic, regular cotton, rayon, or a blend, made no difference in bacteria growth. The choice of tampons and pads isn’t solely to blame for the risk of developing TSS; however, both studies did attribute that duration of use, of either organic or regular products, for more than 8 hours as a contributing factor.
Expert Opinions Matter
Devices like pregnancy test kits, contact lenses, tampons, and pads are considered class II medical devices. There are three classes of devices, classes I, II, and III, with class I devices considered the lowest risk devices, e.g., dental floss. Class II is a higher risk than I and requires rigorous testing and approval to assure the device’s safety and efficacy. With this in mind, regular tampons, irrespective of its chemical makeup, follow the necessary measures and standards needed to be approved by the FDA and made available on the market for commercial use.
Nonetheless, concerns arise related to disease caused by chemicals identified in regular tampons. Apart from dioxins and chlorine, phthalates are in plastic applicators as well.
According to the National Institute of Health, phthalates can leach primarily from plastics when they are heated. That said, if you are still concerned about phthalates in your tampon applicator, try using a cardboard applicator like the ones available in organic products or go for a tampon without an applicator at all. There are certain brands like Cora, which use plastic applicators that are BPA-free.
For regular tampons, it’s composition is widely known as a blend of rayon, a cellulose fiber derived from wood pulp and cotton. The wood pulp until recently was bleached, according to the FDA, and this was the potential source of trace amounts of dioxin in tampons. Rayon quality has improved because the rayon raw material used in the U.S uses a chlorine-free process.
As a bleaching agent, hydrogen peroxide is the chosen alternative to traditionally more harmful bleaching techniques. Ironically, even 100% cotton may contain small trace amounts of dioxin, usually found in the air, water, and soil, that is exposed to cotton while it is grown
Situations of irritation experienced by some women who use regular tampons are subject to placebo effects, according to Dr. Gunter. Since there are many brands available to users, if you experience such a problem, it is recommended to switch brands immediately. You always have the option to change for your comfort and health.
Although there may be claims of organic tampons shortening the periods of some users, according to Dr. Daniel M. Breitkopf, an Ob/Gyn at the Mayo Clinic, it is probably not true. He explained that the amount of uterine lining your body sheds determines your flow; therefore, external factors like tampon organic or not isn’t likely to change your flow.
Things To Consider When Switching To Organic
First and foremost, organic tampons and pads don’t eliminate the risk of TSS. What is essential is to change tampons every 3-5 hours and not wear one overnight.
It is vital to choose the right tampon for you. To avoid leakages and irritations, you can opt for scented free tampons/pads.
Also, keep an eye out for brands that have Global Organic Standard (GOT) certification on them. This certification proves that your choice of product was grown, manufactured, and treated organically.
According to a study conducted at an NYC drugstore, organic brands costs 47% more per tampon compared to store brands. Only 0.1% of the world’s cotton is organic, and farming without pesticides is difficult, so the cost of eco-friendly agriculture is higher, which is why buying organic cotton tampons typically cost more. Be sure to consider the price tag to see if you can afford it in the long run.
100% Cotton vs. Organic cotton tampon users think a product labeled ‘100% cotton’ is a healthy choice, but ‘100 % cotton‘ is not the same as organic cotton. Processed cotton has a known carcinogen called glyphosate. ‘Certified organic cotton‘ means no pesticides. No data is available supporting the validity of the 100% cotton claim.
Tampon sizing refers to absorbency (more material = more absorption). Most tampons hold about six to eight grams of menstrual fluid, and the size depends on your flow. Sizing can impact your degree of tampon usage and should factor when choosing a device.
Want to know which tampon to choose? Consider the production process, regulations, price, and availability. Remember that you do have options like sanitary towels and menstrual cups when looking for alternatives.
Consult your gynecologist with any concerns you may have. It is best to use whichever product makes you most comfortable.
We recommend organic products as the right choice when seeking natural options that are less toxic.