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The Organic Tampon Debate: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

“Our tampons have one ingredient. Others . . . you’ll need a longer train ride” that run everywhere from social media to the New York City subway...


By Mackenzie Wagoner, VOGUE

Last week, Lena Dunham Instagrammed an illustrated story about the first time she got her period, outlining the embarrassment, the fear, and the learning curve that accompanied the moment on a mountain when her hiking shorts soaked with blood and her father told her she had become “a woman.” In the caption, she hashtagged #LolaMoments, acknowledging the menstrual hygiene company Lola’s initiative to “make the tampon dialogue more open.” The company (in which Dunham is an investor) is stoking a conversation around the once-taboo topic, starting by questioning what exactly is in conventional tampons and using campaign slogans including, “Our tampons have one ingredient. Others . . . you’ll need a longer train ride” that run everywhere from social media to the New York City subway.
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Lola leads the charge among a growing number of brands and individual health advocates who are calling attention to the industry, from protesting the so-called tampon tax on products used to stop a woman’s menstrual flow (while men don’t pay a penalty on vanity products such as Rogaine) to demanding to know what our tampons are made of. Last month, New York representative Grace Meng introduced a bill called the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, which, if passed, would require the makers of tampons, pads, and menstrual cups to list ingredients on their packaging. As of now, menstrual hygiene products, classified as medical devices by the FDA, are merely encouraged to provide general information about their composition. Most drugstore brands have labels stating that the product “may contain” cotton and rayon, the latter being a point of contention because of its bleaching process, which can create a byproduct of dioxins, toxic chemical compounds that the EPA has flagged for their ability to cause cancer, disrupt hormones, damage the immune system, and cause reproductive and developmental issues.

[post_ads]“That word, may, felt so unsettling,” says Lola cofounder Jordana Kier, about the brand’s decision to design straightforward cotton products. “Does it or does it not contain it? I’m putting this in my vagina.” Her reasoning seems simple enough: If we’re guarded about the food we put into our mouths, why have we never questioned the contents of something we hold inside of one of the most absorbent parts of our bodies for a full week every single month? The choice to go organic was even more straightforward. Because cotton is not a food product, it can legally be treated with pesticides much more liberally than produce—meaning conventionally grown cotton has the potential to contain a significantly higher concentration of pesticides than, say, a conventionally grown strawberry.

“It’s good to know what substances you may be exposed to,” agrees UCLA ob-gyn Dr. Leena Nathan, who sees the organic tampon movement as a great choice for women seeking more natural, transparent options for their menstrual health—but not a mandatory one. “Women have been using conventional tampons for decades and we haven’t seen a huge increase in the issues women are concerned about—abnormal tissue growth, hormone issues, immune system issues.” Nor have studies been done linking drugstore tampons to the aforementioned concerns, which Nathan simultaneously chalks up to tampons being low on the totem pole in terms of modern health concerns (even trace presence of dioxins in rayon are negligible to the amount of dioxins we encounter in our everyday environment, she says), but also a historical lack of interest in the products themselves. “I think people are just starting to have more awareness. It would be interesting to [see targeted studies] on the long-term effects.”
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Until then, Nathan suggests her patients protect themselves from possible issues by “changing their tampons every two to three hours for a heavy flow, and three to four hours for a lighter flow, unless you’re sleeping.” And also avoid fragranced feminine hygiene products, which can cause inflammation and allergic reactions. The most important factor is that people start talking about menstrual health. “[Periods are] something that happens to almost half of the population,” says Kier. “This isn’t something that we should be embarrassed [to discuss]. Women should be empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies.” And that’s something everyone can buy into.
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Health Magazine: The Organic Tampon Debate: Here’s Everything You Need to Know
The Organic Tampon Debate: Here’s Everything You Need to Know
“Our tampons have one ingredient. Others . . . you’ll need a longer train ride” that run everywhere from social media to the New York City subway...
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Health Magazine
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