The Blog

Do You Know What's in Your Tampons and Pads? Congress Is Considering Letting Us Know

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

In February of 2013 I posted a blog on The Huffington Post titled "50 Shades of Vegetables." It focused on what I called "the most important relationship of your life" -- the one you have with what you eat and how that relates to your overall health. Just as it is important to be aware of the food you put in your body, any materials you put in or on your body for long periods -- month after month, year after year -- matter, too. And they may matter big time.

Up until now, American women -- and their daughters -- have had no idea what is in their tampons and menstrual pads. In the U.S. the details remain unclear because the FDA does not require companies that make menstrual hygiene products to disclose their ingredients. Tampons and pads are considered a "medical device." As a result, companies are not required to share their ingredients.

In May 2014 Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) reintroduced legislation, petitioned by the Society of Menstrual Cycle Research (and other groups). Five versions of the bill have been introduced in Congress from 1999-2011. It has yet to pass. That legislation is the Robin Danielson Act, named after Robin Danielson, a victim of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Toxic Shock Syndrome is a serious health condition caused by bacterial infections that is often linked to the use of super-absorbent tampons. Manufacturers designate a tampon's absorbency as regular, super or super plus. The risks of TSS increase when using super-absorbent tampons for long periods of time.

A little history may help, especially for those who may be too young to remember the many news reports regarding Toxic Shock Syndrome that came out in the early 1980s. In 1980, TSS grew to 812 cases including the deaths of 38 women. [1] During that same period, one well-known tampon brand's manufacturer lost a lawsuit, the first successful lawsuit against a major tampon manufacturer for wrongful death, and the brand was pulled from the market. [2]

In the 1980s the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that one out of every 100,000 women between the ages of 15-44 years old was diagnosed with TSS each year. Based on a 2000-2006 study on TSS in Minnesota, the last time a population assessment occurred was in 1986. That assessment suggested the rates of the disease may be on the rise. Women still experience serious health issues from TSS that can damage their muscular and gastrointestinal functioning and vital organs. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some of the symptoms of TSS are a high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, mental confusion, a rash that includes skin peeling, and in severe cases, kidney and liver impairment.

The Robin Danielson Act asks for the following: 1) That the National Institutes of Health be required to do research into whether menstrual hygiene products pose health risks for women; and, additionally, to increase awareness of TSS; and 2) That information on potential contaminants be made public.

Approximately 73 million women use tampons made of cotton and rayon, and during a woman's lifetime, she may use close to 16,000. Many common tampons and pads are made from rayon, a synthetic fiber, produced from bleached wood pulp. When bleaching wood pulp, dioxin is created. Wood pulp manufacturers use elemental chlorine-free bleaching, which continues to produce dioxin, although chlorine-free bleaching processes are available. In 2013 the FDA provided feedback on TSS and dioxin; they don't consider the amounts of dioxin from elemental chlorine-free processing to pose a serious health risk. However, a report by the National Institute of Environmental Sciences notes dioxin as a known cancer-causing agent. It also describes that because dioxin is stored in fat cells, the toxin accumulates over time, and is also linked to serious health conditions, including infertility and pregnancy issues, and developmental problems.

Menstrual pads and tampons are positioned in or on a vascular channel of a woman's body -- meaning the area is highly absorbable. In my holistic healing practice, I share with my client's information about ingredients that might affect their female reproductive organs, hormonal balance, and/or overall health. In 2013, Andrea Donsky, founder of Naturally, and co-author of Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart, highlights concerns about substances related to female hygiene products. If there's growing awareness of the negative health impact of ingesting foods linked to chemicals -- pesticides, phthalates, and chlorine to name just a few -- women should also have a clear understanding of the impact of toxins and chemicals in products that they use intimately and regularly in and around their reproductive organs.

Let's take advantage of the opportunity that the Robin Danielson Act of 2014 offers women and future generations. Women deserve accurate information about products that could possibly be linked to cancer and other health risks in order to make empowered choices regarding their personal health.


1. Dudley, Susan, PhD, Salwa Nassar, BA, and Emily Hartman, BA. "Tampon Safety." National Center for Health Research. Modified July 1, 2009. Accessed March 1, 2015.

2. Vostra, Sharra L., PhD, "Rely and Toxic Shock Syndrome: A Technological Health Crisis." Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 84(4) (2011): 447-59. Accessed March 2, 2015.