Most tampons are made from rayon (for absorbency) and cotton; most are bleached. Dioxin, a chemical produced in the bleaching process, can be toxic to the immune and reproductive systems. Dioxin is potentially cancer-causing, and it's been linked to endometriosis... there is no acceptable level of exposure to dioxin, given that exposure to it is cumulative, and the chemical disintegrates slowly. The real danger with dioxin comes from repeated contact.
In a lifetime, a woman may use 8,000 tampons.
Because it's very absorbent, rayon contributes to the danger of a woman being exposed to dioxin through tampon use; when rayon fibers remain in the vagina after the menstrual period (as they commonly do), so, too, does dioxin.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council,
Dioxins and furans are among the most hazardous chemicals known - extremely tiny doses have been shown to cause negative health effects. These chemicals are listed by several governmental agencies as known causes of cancer in humans. Indeed, studies have linked dioxins and furans to many types of cancer, as well as to reproductive problems, abnormalities in fetal development, immune alterations, and disruption of hormones. Because dioxins and furans are attracted to fat and are resistant to metabolism, they are notorious for accumulating in the animals humans eat, and by that route accumulating in humans. Within the human body, the highest levels of these chemicals are in fat and breast milk.
Pros and Cons of Natural Menstrual OptionsIn the 9 years since I learned about the dangers in conventional tampons and pads, I've tried out many natural menstrual alternatives. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. Currently, I use sea sponges.
Unbleached cotton tampons
I initially switched to using Natracare unbleached cotton tampons without applicators. I used these for about 8 months with no problems, then became pregnant with my daughter. I tried using these again after my daughter was born, but didn't like them because I had some scar tissue from an internal tear that made insertion particularly uncomfortable. I also used them for a few months after my son was born, when I started having problems with the Diva Cup.
- Unbleached cotton tampons don't contain dioxins or other undesirable chemicals.
- They are very convenient to use, just like conventional tampons.
- They are rather expensive, and since they are disposable, you'll keep paying the high price month after month.
- There seems to be a little bit more "friction" during insertion with these tampons than conventional tampons. So they don't insert quite as easily as conventional tampons, but they're still pretty easy to use.
- It seems like these tampons are probably more likely to leave some fibers behind. But, these fibers would just be cotton, so it seems like they wouldn't be harmful anyhow. I never noticed any fibers left behind, but these just aren't quite as smooth as conventional tampons.
- Just like conventional tampons, there is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome with cotton tampons.
I switched to the Diva Cup, which is a silicone menstrual cup, after my daughter was born when I was having problems with cotton tampons. (There is also a natural rubber version of the menstrual cup, called The Keeper.) I absolutely LOVED the Diva Cup, and used it for a year until I got pregnant with my son. After my son was born, I had problems with the Diva Cup not staying in quite the right place when I wore it. Apparently my son's quick arrival (just over two hours of labor) changed my internal landscape a bit.
- The Diva Cup is made from health-grade silicone. The Keeper is made from natural rubber.
- Menstrual cups are convenient to use. When they get full, just dump the contents, rinse the cup, and re-insert. (The rinsing can be skipped if necessary, such as in a public restroom.)
- Menstrual cups can last for years and years, so they are very cost effective.
- Menstrual cups can be worn for up to twelve hours.
- There is a little bit of a learning process in learning how to properly insert a menstrual cup. (But, once you get the hang of it, it is really quite simple.)
I started using LunaPanties all-in-one underwear with menstrual protection as backup protection in combination with the Diva Cup. Then, when I started having problems with the Diva Cup, I bought a kit of LunaPads liners and pads, and used these exclusively for a few months. But, this mostly just reminded me of why I always preferred internal menstrual methods as I don't really like the messiness of using pads alone. So now I only use cloth pads for very light days.
- Cloth pads are much more breathable than conventional pads. Breathability is great for overall vaginal health.
- Because they are breathable, I found that wearing cloth pads ensures that I never develop those unpleasant odors that can sometimes arise with conventional pads.
- Cloth pads are quite pricey initially; however, since they will last for years they are really economical in the long run.
- Cloth pads are very absorbent, and I've had any problems with them leaking.
- Because they hold onto fluids so well, it can take quite awhile to fully rinse the blood out of cloth pads. The best method I found was to put them into the bathtub while I showered and periodically step on them to squish the liquid out.
- Cloth pads don't stay in place quite as well as conventional pads (this is one reason that I prefer the Lunapanties that have built-in protection). I have found that the cloth pads often require a bit of adjustment after going to the bathroom, but then they stay in place just fine once they are positioned where you want them.
- If you need to change your pad while out-and-about, you'll need to have some way of transporting your soiled pads back home.
As recommended by a friend, I started using Jade and Pearl sea sponge tampons over 3 years ago. I really like these, and plan to use them for the foreseeable future. I bought a multipack with three different sizes, and I use only the small and medium sizes.
- Sea sponge tampons are made of natural materials.
- It is very easy to wash sea sponge tampons in the sink. They are much easier to clean than cloth pads.
- Sea sponge tampons are very absorbent.
- Sea sponge tampons are easy to insert and can be trimmed to fit if desired (although I haven't had to trim mine at all).
- Sea sponge tampons can be left in during intercourse.
- Sea sponge tampons can be sterilized using apple cider vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, sea salt, or tea tree oil.
- Just like normal tampons, sea sponge tampons can require some re-adjustment after you use the restroom.
- I have installed a Biffy bidet attachment on my toilets to spray clean after I use the bathroom. I find it best to remove my sea sponge tampons each time I use the restroom if I plan to use the Biffy; otherwise, they soak up too much water.
- Sea sponge tampons should ideally be sanitized once or twice a day (using one of the methods described above).
- If I haven't sanitized the sea sponges often enough, they tend to develop a bit of unpleasant ocean-like smell. This is only noticeable if you actually sniff the sea sponge itself, though, and can be easily remedied by a quick soak in one of the sanitizing solutions.