Are Organic Tampons Better for You?
Efforts are underway everywhere to make the world a more environmentally friendly place, and that’s a good thing.
More states are requiring reusable grocery bags, Styrofoam containers are on the outs, and some food establishments are even banning plastic straws.
What’s next? The products millions of women use during their periods.
Yep, more women are making the switch to more sustainable and organic menstrual products.
But unlike some of the other changes we’ve had to get used to, this one isn’t inconvenient and doesn’t require you to do anything drastic like stop using menstrual products altogether.
Products like organic cotton tampons are being recommended by environmentalists. And the good news is that they are virtually the same as the tampons you have always used, only healthier for you and better for planet earth.
What Are Organic Tampons?
Wait a minute, haven’t most women already switched to other environmentally-friendly feminine hygiene products like menstrual cups?
Not at all. Roughly 70% of menstruating women still use tampons at one time or another, and the average American woman will use as many as 16,000 tampons during her lifetime.
Let’s compare the ingredients of organic and non-organic tampons:
- Conventional tampons are made from a combination of non-organic cotton (often grown in fields where pesticides are used) and synthetic fibers such as rayon, which helps increase absorbency and reduce odor.
- Organic tampons are simply made from organic cotton and usually nothing more — no insecticides, pesticides, and no artificial fragrances or dyes.
- Non-organic tampons use plastic applicators, which often contain unsafe substances like dioxin, linked to cancer, and phthalates, a known endocrine disruptor.
- Organic applicator tampons usually use BPA-free plastic applicators, such as the plant-derived polymers used by The Honest Company, or the 95% plant-based cardboard applicators used by Seventh Generation. Natracare even offers a 100% biodegradable and compostable cardboard applicator.
- Some companies — like Rael and o.b. — offer organic non-applicator alternatives. Even Tampax has begun offering an organic applicator-free products (yes, really!).
How about the comfort and safety of the tampon itself?
- Organic options are similar in size to traditional tampons, width-wise.
- Organic tampons have to be switched out more frequently than non-organic ones, but some organic brands do offer super-absorbency and super-plus options.
- Switching tampons more frequently and avoiding less absorbent tampons may not be a bad thing, since this practice protects against Toxic Shock Syndrome.
- Most experts agree that the risk in general from TSS is negligible as long as proper safety and hygiene principles are followed, including using fewer super-absorbency tampons.
- Tampons are not the only menstrual product that can cause TSS. Cases have been reported by women using other feminine products like menstrual cups, or birth control products prescribed by an OB-GYN like diaphragms or contraceptive cups.
FDA Regulations and Recommendations
Just like synthetic tampons, organic tampons need to pass U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] standards that require demonstration of these two qualities:
1. Absorbency Range
Manufacturers need to prove their tampons are absorbent by having the product undergo “syngyna testing.” During this process, the testers use a condom and temperature-regulated water to simulate blood dripping onto the tampon.
The FDA also mandates that tampon product description and packaging list one of these absorbency ranges and terms:
- 6 grams and under = light
- 6 to 9 grams = regular
- 6 to 12 grams = super
- 12 to 15 grams = super plus
- 15 to 18 grams = ultra
- above 18 (no term for this)
2. Chemical Residues
The FDA recommends that both organic and non-organic tampons are free of pesticide and herbicide residues, as well as these types of dioxin:
- 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin [TCDD]
- 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorofuran dioxin [TCDF]
Unfortunately the FDA codes do not mention all forms of dioxin, a chemical compound that pollutes the environment and can damage our bodies. Remember to check the ingredients for each product.
3 Ways to Evaluate a Tampon
The FDA “recommends” — but doesn’t require — that manufacturers demonstrate these three tampon traits:
- string strength (how much pressure the string can withstand before it rips, breaks or pulls away)
- fiber shredding (whether the fibers shred and leave behind residue in the vagina)
- tampon integrity (the components of the product stay connected rather than falling apart)
The FDA Isn’t Specific About Organic Tampons
The FDA doesn’t have a page dedicated to organic tampons, and they don’t specify what organic really means in the context of these products. They only mention organic tampons once, but all they say is: “Tampons are available in ‘organic’ and standard varieties.”
From a regulatory standpoint, in this case “organic” refers more to the cotton in organic tampons rather than the tampons themselves. That’s why it’s crucial to get 100% organic cotton tampons rather than tampons that claim to be organic but aren’t 100% organic cotton.
Benefits of Using Organic Tampons
Organic tampons offer a safer feminine hygiene product option, both for the women who use them, and the environment.
Benefits To Users
- Organic cotton tampons are free of chemical additives, don’t contain harmful deodorants, and are chlorine-free, pesticide-free, and fragrance-free.
- Applicators are better for you; they’re free of phthalates, whose byproducts contribute to hormone disruption.
- Organic tampons offer comfort and peace of mind — they’re breathable and hypoallergenic, too.
- Organic tampons are a cleaner and easier choice than other environmentally-friendly menstrual products such as cloth pads or menstrual cups.
- Many women report less irritation with use, and most products are vegan.
- Organic cotton farmers don’t use pesticides, so the production of organic tampons is healthier for farmers, their farmland, and those who live near the farms.
- Many organic cotton tampons are compostable, which means fewer tampons clogging up sewers and sitting in landfills.
- Organic tampons use biodegradable applicators — or no applicator at all — and are environmentally-friendly and sustainable.
Buying Organic Tampons
Ready to dive right in and pick up a supply of organic tampons?
They aren’t as hard to get as the used to be. Formerly a “boutique” item or only available for online purchase, organic tampons have gone more mainstream recently. You can buy them in most drugstores, or on your favorite website that sells feminine care products.
What To Know About Purchasing Organic Tampons
- Many suppliers offer a subscription service and will deliver your organic tampons to you monthly, so you can make sure your tampon-needs never take you by surprise.
- When you make your purchase, make sure to pick organic tampons made from GOTS-certified organic cotton.
- Check that they’re free of all synthetic ingredients, and use BPA-free plastic applicators, cardboard applicators, or no applicators at all, if you prefer.
- The FDA considers tampons “medical devices,” so manufacturers aren’t strictly required to list all ingredients on the package. Keep in mind that reputable sellers will list ingredients.
The best part of purchasing organic tampons? Many companies are women-owned (awesome!) and companies like Cora and and Lola donate menstrual products to women in need in developing countries.
Organic, environmentally-friendly tampons that have a positive impact on women everywhere? Sign me up.
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