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Feminine Hygiene Products

Boon or bust?

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Feminine Hygiene Products

Are we trading convenience for medical problems such as infections, infertility, and even cancer? One accusation levelled against these products-albeit since disproved-is that manufacturers add asbestos which causes women to bleed more, therefore requiring them to use more pads and tampons.

From pillow-sized pads to ultra-thin maximum absorbency panty liners and tampons, manufacturers have made huge improvements in commercial feminine hygiene products. Are these products the boon to women they seem? Or are we trading convenience for medical problems such as infections, infertility, and even cancer?

The Problem

One accusation levelled against these products–albeit since disproved–is that manufacturers add asbestos which causes women to bleed more, therefore requiring them to use more pads and tampons. A second accusation is that dioxin, a known carcinogen produced during the bleaching process of the wood pulp used to make rayon for tampons, can leach into a woman’s body.

Other concerns include toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by a bacterial toxin and associated with tampon use, as well as increased vaginal irritation and ulceration.

The Research

Most mainstream research does not support the more serious claims. According to Health Canada, asbestos use in products is illegal and they have no reports of asbestos contamination in feminine products.

In addition, the manufacturing processes used in the production of tampons sold in Canada are dioxin-free. While tiny amounts may be found in any product because of environmental pollution, Health Canada does not believe these trace amounts pose a health risk. Finally, Health Canada has no scientific evidence that rayon tampons pose a greater risk of TSS than cotton tampons of equal absorbency.

Research does support other claims. The risk of TSS increases with tampon use, particularly more absorbent varieties. Younger women (under the age of 30) are at greater risk because they have not yet developed antibodies to the toxin that causes TSS. These products now carry a health warning.

Tampon use has also been shown to increase the risk of vaginal dryness and ulceration, especially if the tampons used are more absorbent than needed to control menstrual flow or if tampons are used before menstruation begins. The possibility of vaginal infections increases if tampons and pads are not removed or changed regularly and with overnight tampon use.

The Alternatives

Does that mean you can relax and use these products without a care as long as you change tampons and pads frequently? Not necessarily.

Commercial one-time-use products contribute to environmental pollution. The process of growing cotton is pesticide intensive and used feminine hygiene products produce a lot of garbage in the course of a woman’s menstrual lifecycle.

If you still prefer disposable tampons, you can change to tampons made from organically grown cotton, or switch to washable menstrual pads, cups, or sponges, all often available at health stores or online. Reusable products save you money as they last for years and they also decrease the amount of garbage going to the landfill. Because alternative products don’t contain synthetic fragrances, they’re less likely to cause allergic reactions. However, menstrual cups and sponges, like all forms of internal protection, should not be left in the vagina too long.

Today women have a greater choice in feminine hygiene products. But no matter what product you choose, practise good hygiene habits to stay healthy.

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