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The Tampon Debate

Tampon Safety and Your Health

By

Updated May 12, 2014

Women have used tampons for thousands of years. However, it seems there is no end to the rumors about tampon safety. Do tampons pose health risks?

The Rumors About Tampons

  • Claims that asbestos containing tampons cause excessive bleeding, and increase the manufacturer's profit.
  • Worry about the rayon used in tampons.
  • Fear that cancer-causing dioxin is an ingredient in tampons that may also cause endometriosis.
  • Skepticism about the bleaching process that whitens the raw ingredients used to make tampons.
  • Assertions that rayon fibers cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS), and vaginal dryness or ulcerations.

Is there any truth to these claims?

The FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health regulates the safety and efficacy of medical devices--including tampons. In a report, the FDA strongly disputes these claims:
  • "Asbestos is not, and never has been associated with the fibers used in making tampons." Factories that manufacture tampons are subject to inspection to ensure that required manufacturing standards are being met.
  • Tampons sold in the U.S. may contain cotton, rayon, or blends of cotton and rayon. A bleaching process is required to purify wood pulp and retrieve the cellulose fibers which make rayon.
  • "Cellulose used in U.S. tampons is now produced using elemental chlorine-free bleaching." Many of the claims of dioxin-related risks are based on elemental chlorine bleaching which uses a process that can lead to a dioxin byproduct. According to the FDA report, no U.S. manufacturer uses this process.
  • Major U.S. tampon manufacturers tested their products for dioxin levels using an analytical method provided by the FDA. The results showed that dioxin levels ranged from non-detectable to one 1 part in 3 trillion. "FDA has determined that dioxin at this extremely low level does not pose a health risk."
  • Toxic shock syndrome is rare, in fact, only 5 menstrual-related cases reported were reported in 1997. Scientists agree that there is a connection between tampon use and TSS, however, they remain unsure of the exact connection.
  • High absorbency tampons may be associated with an increased risk of TSS. Vaginal dryness and ulcerations can occur when women use a tampon that is too absorbent for their menstrual flow.

Choosing the proper tampon absorbency may help reduce the risk of TSS, and vaginal discomforts. Tampon sizes are standardized across brands, in the U.S. by a method that labels all tampon products as regular, super, super plus, or junior to describe the range of tampon absorbency.

The FDA requires all tampon manufacturers to provide packaging information on all tampons sold in the US that describes the symptoms of TSS and how to reduce your risk. Read the inserts in the tampon product you use and discuss any symptoms or concerns with your health care provider.

How To Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome

Source:

Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin,& Toxic Shock Syndrome; FDA, CDRH; http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/PatientAlerts/ucm070003.htm; accessed 09/08/09

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