As a women’s health clinician and mother of three menstruators, I am a freak about natural, clean and nontoxic tampons and pads - I only want the best organic tampons that are bleach-free, toxin-free, and dye-free. Yes, I’m the mom that stops in the aisle to read the back of boxes, to check the labels, to look up a product on Environmental Working Group. It’s a no-brainer, right?!
The shocking thing is that I didn’t learn about endocrine disruptors (toxic chemicals that affect our body’s hormone function), ingredient transparency, or greenwashing from my nursing program at Vanderbilt University, I learned it from a lipstick!
I first heard about clean and nontoxic personal care after meeting the early leaders of Beautycounter, a clean beauty brand leading the charge in legislative advocacy for cosmetics regulation (who makes a fabulous lipstick) way back in 2015. Those women, Nicole Acevedo PhD, and Mia Davis are now with different companies (Dr. Acevedo as founder of Elavo Mundi consultancy and Ms. Davis in leadership at Credo Beauty), and I’m forever grateful that they opened my eyes to chemical safety in the products I put on my body and, most importantly, on my daughters’ bodies every day.
It’s as appalling now as it was then how impossible it is for me, even as a women’s health nurse practitioner, to know exactly what is in the period products I use. Companies are legally not required to disclose exactly what ingredients they use - many companies don’t even know. The problem is that brands are so far removed, both geographically and philosophically, from the people and companies that actually make their products … there is little accountability for those brands to tell the truth to us.
Did you know that period products are not required to tell you what ingredients are in their products except in New York and California, and that became state law only in 2020?! For instance, many natural period product companies sell organic cotton tampons that still contain plastic!
Yes, that’s right - period products and tampons that are called natural, nontoxic, dye-free, chlorine-free, and organic cotton often have a plastic wrap over the tampon that goes inside of your body. This polypropylene and polyethylene (both plastics) wrap is really hard to see without taking apart the tampon itself–but it IS there and it’s the part that is actually touching your vaginal mucosa (the lining of your vagina, a highly absorbent tissue like the inside of your mouth).
To me, this is absolutely unacceptable, especially for a product that goes inside my vagina.
This is a consent issue.
How can I consent to put something INSIDE of my body, my most sacred part of myself, without knowing what that something actually is? Food labels are required to be very detailed and explain exactly what I am putting in my body; why then, aren’t period products? I know more about a Bumble swipe-right than I do about my tampon!
If I care about my lipstick (and I’m not alone - Beautycounter is now valued at $400 million dollars), you better believe I care even more about my tampons! And I believe we deserve to know what’s in our vaginas AND how it got there - again, a no brainer, right?!
Even as we begin to see some brands including “ingredients” on their labels to comply with new laws, there are MULTIPLE stumbling blocks, intentionally made vague to confuse or mislead me as a consumer. For example, I looked at a popular organic cotton tampon brand, and it listed: “Polyester- fiber that wicks away moisture”. This doesn’t include that polyester is made from petroleum. It also doesn’t list where or how it is used in the tampon. Another ingredient on the label: “Titanium Dioxide-makes material look white, naturally occurring”. This leaves out that the ingredient hasn’t been researched on mucous membranes (vaginas, mouths) to see if it gets absorbed into the body. Adding insult to injury, saying “naturally occurring” is a marketing gimmick that is meant to make me feel better. Poison ivy is naturally occurring-and I don’t want that anywhere near my vagina!
All in all, we’ve got a LONG way to go in ingredient disclosure and clarity. We deserve to know exactly what is going into our bodies. I founded TRACE not only to introduce amazing new fibers (hemp and regeneratively grown cotton) into the period care world, but to make sure that I give YOU the level of transparency I want for myself and my own children. We promise to make sure to provide you multiple resources to learn exactly what is in our tampons so that you can truly make an informed decision.
Did you know that organic cotton tampons still often contain plastic?
For more reading: Safer Beauty Bill Package of 2021