Always Discreet…Not Always Safe

By Isabella Brady

Carcinogens, phthalates, toxic chemicals—although the world has distinguished all three as dangerous, they are nonetheless found in pads, tampons and disposable diapers. Menstruating individuals use hygiene products an average of 1,800 days in their lifetime; children, the first 18-30 months of their lives. By constructing hygiene products and diapers with cheap synthetic plastics, the industry has overtly chosen profit over generations of customer welfare.

Admitting “as sanitary pads and diapers are in direct contact with external genitalia for an extended period, there is a probability that a considerable amount of VOCs or phthalates could be absorbed into the reproductive system,” the new study published under the Reproductive Toxicology Journal found “sanitary pads and diapers contain higher phthalate contents than those in common commercial products.” 34.1 million women used tampons in 2020, 57.43 million used pads the same year—leaving a culmination of over a billion menstruators and millions of babies at risk for illness, disease, and chronic conditions that will last a lifetime.

Phthalates are plasticizers used in a variety of products to promote longevity of use, yet, the volatile substance is correlated with “endocrine disruption, impacts to the heart and reproductive systems, diabetes, some cancers, and birth defects.” While many studies do not name brands, one, collecting hygiene products in the United States, Japan, Korea, Finland, France and Greece discovered several VOCs—or Volatile Organic Compounds—in the form of methylene chloride, toluene and xylene in addition to four additional phthalates. VOC exposure puts users at risk for “brain impairment, asthma, disabilities, certain cancers and proper reproductive functioning,” yet, companies continue employing them without the consent or awareness of the public. 

With distinguished, ongoing studies reaping the same disturbing results, many question how avarice companies survive the public gaze. Yet, these distinguished “medical devices,” as recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), receive little to no scrutiny before being advertised before a massive market. Therefore, a full list of ingredients is rarely publicly available, and when vaguely stated, drafts a possibility instead of reality through language such as “may contain [insert scientifically proven hazardous chemicals here].” Likewise, the market, consisting of over half the global population hears ceaseless news about global issues, never as intimate as their own health. With large companies’ money on the line, unfortunately few studies ever receive the public audience they desperately require to inspire change.

Containing dangerous chemicals, and unanswered threats to how the long term effects will manifest, companies must be held accountable for endangering the lives of billions—in the lives of developing children, and menstruating individuals—and the public must be made aware of how an object as seemingly trivial as a tampon can endanger their health.