Pads and Tampons Contain Endocrine Disruptors

Tampons and other menstrual products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can potentially cause gynecological conditions like endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

A menstruating person will use an average of 11,000 tampons or sanitary pads in their lifetime. Vaginal and vulvar tissue that touches menstrual products is highly permeable, absorbing chemicals without metabolizing them first.

A study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology gives new insights into which chemicals are present in the commonly used products.

Researchers reviewed 15 studies since 2013 measuring chemicals in menstrual products, including tampons, pads, and liners, and human biomarkers of chemical exposure.

They found that menstrual products contain a variety of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), including phthalates, volatile organic compounds, parabens, environmental phenols, fragrance chemicals, dioxins, and dioxin-like compounds.

"Identifying chemicals in menstrual products that menstruators regularly use is important because exposure through these products can impact menstruators' reproductive health," said Joanna Marroquin, a Mason Ph.D. in Public Health student, the paper's first author, in a statement.

What are the risks of EDC exposure?

EDCs are natural or human-made chemicals that may mimic, block, or interfere with the body's hormones, which are part of the endocrine system.

Exposure to these chemicals is linked to numerous health issues in both men and women, including changes in sperm quality and fertility, abnormalities in sex organs, and endometriosis. EDCs mimicking hormones estrogen or androgen can promote breast and prostate cancer growth.

Harmful EDCs' effects go beyond reproductive health, as the chemicals can impair the function of nervous and immune systems and play a role in developing diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular problems.

For instance, the harmful effects of parabens, EDCs identified in the study, vary from skin irritation to an increased risk of breast cancer. Meanwhile, dioxins, other chemicals found in menstrual products, can lead to reproductive and infertility problems and cause miscarriages.

Efforts to protect consumers

An earlier 2023 study found perfluorinated substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals," in menstrual underwear, some disposable and reusable pads, tampon applicators, and plastic wrappers.

PFAS refers to over 12,000 compounds used for their stick- and water-resistant properties. As they don’t break down easily, they cause environmental and health concerns and are linked to some cancers and immune suppression.

In response to emerging evidence of harmful chemicals in menstrual products, the Robin Danielson Menstrual Product and Intimate Care Product Safety Act 2023 was introduced in the House of Representatives in October.

The legislation aims to establish a research program focusing on the risks associated with the presence of dioxins, phthalates, and other chemicals in menstrual and intimate care products.

Further studies are necessary to ensure that products used by millions of menstruating people around the world are safe.

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