Novel Idea: What If We Actually Researched Whether Menstrual Products Are Safe to Use

Think about your favorite — or not so favorite — menstrual hygiene product commercial. Usually some racially ambiguous person who presumably menstruates floats across the screen in a lily white dress, enjoying their life until “Mother Nature” ruins everything. The protagonist loses all hope in ever smiling again now that their period has arrived. Luckily, some Playtex™, Kotex™, Always™, or Stayfree™ product saves the day with a promise of “incredible protection and all-around comfort.” Oh yeah!

Menstruation products are a big deal with respect to the U.S economy, with over $2 million spent on menstrual hygiene products every year. The average person who menstruates uses about 300 to 420 tampons and/or pads a year, spending anywhere between $100 and $225 solely on their period. That’s a lot of money and a lot of hygiene merchandise! However, the welfare of people who menstruate has proven less important to the companies who profit from these goods and to the government given that little research has been done to determine how safe menstruation products really are. Even though so many people in the United States use menstrual hygiene products, the businesses profiting from this population does very little to inform menstruating consumers about what they are putting into their bodies.

At the end of May, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced a new version of proposed legislation that would require further research into the health effects of menstrual hygiene products. The bill, named The Robin Danielson Act of 2014, “would require the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research whether menstrual hygiene products that contain dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other chemical additives like chlorine and fragrances, pose health risks,” according to a press release issued by Maloney’s campaign. The Robin Danielson Act would also demand that the FDA publicly disclose the list of contaminants in menstrual hygiene products. This latter portion of the legislation is really important because many of these companies that sell menstruation products keep the public unaware of the chemicals used in the bleaching and fragrances of pads and tampons. Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research for Women’s Voices for the Earth and author of the report Chem Fatale, explained the importance of knowing what elements are used in menstruation products. Scranton insists, “A number of different chemicals of concern may be found in feminine care products, but there simply has not been sufficient research to determine the effects of these chemicals on one of the most sensitive and absorptive areas of a woman’s body.” Given that little research has been done on these potential toxins, we have no way of knowing if there is any connection between menstruation products and cervical cancer, or any vaginal/uterine health issues. That type of scientific ignorance is medically and socially irresponsible towards people who have periods and rely on hygiene products like pads, tampons, cups, liners, and sponges.

For people to make informed choices about their health and hygiene, there must be more information about menstruation products. People who have periods have already been down this road of insubstantial research and unsafe marketing. In 1979, Proctor and Gamble released Rely, marketed as a super absorbent tampon made with compressed beads of polyester and carboxymethyl cellulose that could absorb up to 20 times its weight in fluid. Rely entered the menstrual hygiene product scene although there were no federal guidelines as to what materials were safe to insert into a vagina. Because Rely could hold so much moisture — more moisture than what is generally present in a vagina — if the product remained inside the body for long enough, it would dry the vaginal walls and lacerate the user’s vagina as it was removed. Furthermore, when researchers finally looked into Rely, the product was found to filter the bacteria that causes toxic shock syndrome and many people were ill or died because capitalistic ventures took precedence over people’s vaginal health.

I like my menstruation products. But, do you know what I like even better? I like the idea that what I put inside, outside, or anywhere near my vagina is safe enough to be in the immediate vicinity of my uterus. The blatant disregard that the government and consequently scientific research has demonstrated towards people who menstruate is but an extension of our society’s institutionalized misogyny. For example, a few groups have been doing studies on how Viagra affects people with penises, even though the pill was approved by the FDA in 1998, but Congresswoman Maloney is proposing her legislation for the government to step up its menstrual hygiene product regulations for the sixth time. Since 1999, the United States government has rejected attempts to make better provisions for menstrual hygiene management. The government and sanitary products companies’ attitudes suggest that when the health of people who have periods is at stake, their wellbeing is less than a major priority. We should not have to beg the government to make the necessary provisions to keep our bodies safe. People who menstruate cannot afford unsafe standards or provisions for hygiene products.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Helen McDonald is a 20-something Black lesbian feminist living off of pizza, social justice and a lil snark. By day, she's a community educator, teaching young people about healthy relationships. She also discusses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality on her personal blog and is a contributing writer at

Helen has written 40 articles for us.


  1. Re: that Rely thing–NO. Nonono. No. :(

    …While we’re on the subject, is this an okay place to ask if anyone has noticed a difference in the adhesive used on Always pads lately/within the last four months or so? It seems stronger all of a sudden–to the extent that removing the pad sometimes tears it open (ew) and always leaves an adhesive remnant on my underwear. The adhesive stain doesn’t wash out in a normal cycle on the washing machine, either. :/ At first, I thought I’d just gotten a bad bag of ’em, but I just bought some new ones and it’s still happening.

    Has this been happening to anyone else??

    • That has totally happened to me! Not every time, but a handful of times in the last few months. It’s annoying.

    • Rachel, the same happened with my pads, but it’s been going on for longer than a month. I’m tired of it, but I’ve heavy flow and Always has the biggest pads I’ve found :c
      I also notice that the latest pads I bought were extremely big and uncomfortable.

    • This was actually happening to me several years ago when I was using that brand.

    • The same thing has been happening to me. I also feel like they’ve gotten less absorbent? (like it takes more time for them to soak everything up).

      • Yeah, my girlfriend has recently had this problem. I use the non-name brand version of the same thing and haven’t had this problem.

  2. Concern over the lack of research in this area and the cost effectiveness of continuing to buy these products for the next 30 years or so led to me deciding to make my own cloth pads. I tried them this month and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. They’re more comfy, absorbent, and fun looking (I used fire truck fabric!). It only cost me $40 for enough materials to make ~40-50 pads.

  3. I need my sister to read this and switch to a fucking moon cup already. I tried telling her that she’s gonna poison her bits with bleach but she doesn’t wanna hear it because I’m just being a feminist kill joy appaz.

    • *snickers* Yes, because sticking a bunch of bleached cotton up your hoohah is so joyful 9_9. In fact, it’s so fun I wanna do it even when it’s not shark week. Hehe. ;)Your sister sounds a lot like my little sister.

  4. Personally, I am shocked that there hasn’t been any conclusive research yet. How is it possible that “health” items that many of us are putting into our bodies in a relatively standard way have not been thoroughly examined and regulated? I’m sure I shouldn’t be surprised, but this one is getting me particularly angry.

  5. There’s a great documentary from the late ’90s put out by the National Film Board of Canada called “Under Wraps: A Film About Going with the Flow” that delves into the whole TSS thing, as well as other period-related stuff, in great detail. I watched the doc with my legs crossed super tightly.

  6. Ugggh that whole Rely thing is horrifying.

    On another note as a non-binary trans person who menstruates it was awesome to read an article about menstruation that uses inclusive language. So thanks for that!

    • Yeah! It really bums me out how most of the nicer companies like Diva Cup, because a menstrual equipment company owned and run by people who actually menstruating is, ridiculously, a noteworthy exception, tend to be all like “Mothers! Daughters! Pink! Daisies! WOMEEENNNN!”

      • It’s sad. They probably tried very hard not to market it as some “hippie nonsense” so they didn’t want to play up the nature-friendly aspect of it, which connects to peoples’ fear of looking like they care about the environment but whatever. So they went with the flowers and daisies and I couldn’t have been happier when I finally lost the pink carrying bag mine came in, and made my own.

        I think they need a more creative marketing team.

    • So much this. Also, am I the only person who just rolls up toilet paper and makes their own? Cuz, screw spending money on something that’s just going to get flushed. Works just as well… IMHO tampons are just as much industry telling us we “need” a product as the razor companies are who tell people it’s “gross” to have the hair they’re born with, to the point where somebody’s profits have determined an entire culture.

  7. I’ve been concerned about the super absorption of the Always pads I’ve been buying recently. I’m always super dry after I use them, but in a bad way. I’m strongly considering switching to a cup.

  8. I started using cloth pads and sea sponges in college around 10 years ago and have spent about $100 total on menstrual products in that time. When I discovered Luna Pads I was practically jumping up and down in my seat.
    My biggest concerns to switching were leaks from the sea sponge and being able to clean it when it became full. Turns out, you can leave sea sponges in all day without any risk to your body (they won’t dry you out like tampons) in case you can’t get to a private restroom, and wearing a backup cloth pad took care of my worries about leaks.
    After 3 years of talking about how great it is to always have pads available, never needing to spend money, and knowing I’m not being poisoned, one of my friends just tried out cloth pads and doesn’t see herself going back.

    Sometimes I want to stand on a street corner and preach to the public about this issue. I hate the idea of women wasting money on products that are going to (mostly) rich, white men who use that money to make women feel bad about their bodies.

    • Things like this are definitely pushing me towards making my own cloth pads! But I’ve never heard of using sea sponges as a tampon. That’s a really cool idea.

  9. “Lacerate” is not a word I EVER want to read in an article related to vaginas.

  10. Any of you who are thinking about trying a menstrual cup, but hesitating… Go for it! I have only spent $80 in the last four years (because I own 2 cups) if you care for them properly they last forever… also after the first few cycles you totally get used to your body’s flow and how often you need to empty it. I feel like I learned about myself :) Also, when I first started using mine I would talk to complete strangers in the grocery store about the awesomeness of using the cup, haha ~ that’s how exciting it is!

    If you are still unsure, there is an amazing woman on youtube (I think she calls herself “TheCupGuru”) she collects and reviews menstrual cups, and has many helpful videos about using and caring for the cups. Her vlogs totally helped me decide to finally take the plunge :)

    Last but not least, I feel like with the cup, my body can really release ALL of the stuff that it needs to, my period is shorter, because it all freely falls into the cup! I feel like tampons were just plugging it up (sorry for the gross visual!) and pads were too messy… with the cup I feel like I get the best of both worlds free flow minus the mess! And of course the added bonus of no mystery chemicals :D /end psa ;)

    • I think I’ve officially been converted. Next paycheck is being spent on a cup. Thanks for letting me know about that vlogger!

    • I so want to buy a menstrual cup… but, I don’t know,I’ve never put anything bigger than my finger in there so it freaks me out a little ><

      • From what I understand, a vagina has sort of a rim of tighter muscles at the front and then opens up into a wider cavity; a cup folds up really small (I think Lunette and others have detailed online instructions for different folds you can make) to get past that rim and then sits in the cavity. What you said there also applies to me and the one problem I’ve had (besides some hassle with maintenance) is that sometimes the cup is too lang and the base sinks into that tighter part, which is mildly uncomfortable. Maybe it could be solved by more practice inserting or using a shorter cup or diaphragm; anyway it’s still much better than tampons which were constantly uncomfortable for me.

        • i definitely suggest practicing and maybe trying a different kind of fold to get it up there. sometimes i don’t put my cup far enough up and i can feel it hanging weird. that’s when you should reinsert it. :)
          i’m sure a different style cup would be good for that problem if you still feel uncomfortable!

      • Jumping in to say that I’m a lesbian who doesn’t like/do penetration at all, so I’m in a similar boat, but I haven’t had any problems. It does take a little bit of getting used to, but read all the instructions (and do some research) and stick with it and you’ll be totally fine.

      • it takes some getting used to, especially when you add in the blood factor, but really practice is the best way to get comfortable. i second the suggestion that you should read tutorials because i think that will help. and don’t worry about the size of the cup because it will be rolled up when you insert it so it won’t be bigger than a finger would. you could always put a dab of lubricant on to help ease it in if you are nervous or especially dry when using the cup. relax and take your time and it should work out well <3

        • I agree cups are amazing. I especially find it super convenient that once I put my cup in at the start of my cycle, I don’t have to worry about making sure to bring menstrual products with me in my bag/backpack/pocket/etc. or worry about packing enough stuff if I go traveling b/c I can carry the only menstrual product I need inside of me.

          Also, I had fairly limited experience with penetration when I started using my cup, and yes, there is a little bit of a learning process the first month or two, but then it gets easy. (I first practiced not during my period. I think it just hurt slightly the first few times I removed it b/c I was scared it would get stuck in there and was therefore very forceful pulling it out.)

          Another source I found helpful when learning about them was a livejournal page:

  11. I switched to Diva cups and bacterial infections became inevitable. Some friends of mine were purchasing reusable cloth pads… I’m commenting to tell everyone that you can cut up an old t-shirt into scraps, fold, and use that! LITERALLY, “THE RAG.” Though much safer than other products on the market, even those pre-made cloth pads are a way to get money out of us, and they’re much more difficult to clean than a single piece of fabric you unfold and run water through. Just throwing it out there!

    • I’ve gotten BV from my Lunette, but I don’t think it was inevitable.

      If you boil them, clean them with alcohol or even hand sanitizer, and make sure to always insert them with clean hands, bacterial infections shouldn’t be inevitable. A little extra caution goes a long way.

      • Can’t alcohol damage silicone? I’ve read that you shouldn’t clean silicone toys with it.

        • Alcohol + silicone = okay! Unless you’re adding other chemicals, plain alcohol will definitely not break down your menstrual cup.

  12. After my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer I became obsessed/outraged over the lack of knowledge and standards for menstrual products.
    The experience also morphed me into, like, the vaginal health police for all of my friends. So basically I’m forwarding this to every vagina owning person I know.


      I’ve got mad pelvic pain issues and I’ve got to be extra careful about putting chemicals near my vagina, and I realized that the Always pads and almost every other pad I’d been using irritated the heck outta me (yay chlorine?), so I had to go to Kotex and Lunapads because I can’t put anything up there for hours like a DivaCup without a big ouch.

      I totally agree that having lady health issues totally opens your eyes to the utter lack of research and even willingness to research women’s health issues in the medical field. It seems we have to be our own advocates entirely. So frustrating.

  13. SO GUYS I went and read the menstrual cups article on Scarleteen and tho it was unnecessarily gendered I did pick up the tip thay apparently you can substitute a diaphragm for a menstrual cup, which sounds great for those of us who find cups too long to be comfortable/ already have a diaphragm and don’t want to spend more money on a cup/ would like to engage in penetration shenanigans sans blood. Has anybody in these parts tried this?

    • i’ve never tried a diaphragm before, but if you’re worried about penetrative sex and cups then i’d suggest trying softcups! they come in disposable and reusable and they allow you to have penetrative sex fairly easily and without any mess :D

    • Audrey, and anyone else who has had problems with the size of the Diva Cup:
      There are LOTS of cup options out there! When I first got the diva cup I was like, “hell no, that’s way too big and long”. So I ended up trying out the Meluna (small, or xtra small, can’t remember), which is much shorter than the diva and is really nice!

      Here’s a great website that lists a comparison chart of different manufacturers and the dimensions and softness of material and all that. There are other comparison charts too, just google menstrual cup comparison chart but these are pretty good. Mostly the other manufactures are outside of the states but ordering is not a problem.

      Menstrual Cup Size charts

      There’s also a great livejournal group if you have questions or concerns about menstural cups:

      And here’s where I ordered my Meluna. As I say, ordering from the UK (I’m in the US) was not a problem at all.

  14. Menstrual products are also a massive problem in some developing countries where women often a) don’t have the means to purchase products, and b) no way of disposing of them in a sanitary way. Teenage girls regularly miss up to 20% of their education as they don’t attend school when they are menstruating, and often they use things like dirty rags, leaves or sand, which obviously has it’s own health risks.

    Camps International and Good For Girls run this amazing project where they are donating old Singer-style manual sewing machines to women’s groups in the Kwale District of Kenya where they operate and training them to make their own reusable washable cloth pads. This is the first blog about it…

    …and this is what they are up to now:

  15. I have pcos, and my periods are infrequent, heavy, and painful. So I’m into a safer product, but I don’t really wanna shell out extra money for something I won’t use that much.

    • Yeah, menstrual cups are a little like binders- I know there’s one out there that would fit me just right, by the cost makes it unrealistic to buy several to try. My period is also really infrequent (like once every 3-4 months maybe) and unpredictable, and for me reusable doodads have been a good solution because I’m never caught without supplies. They’re also nice for heavy flow (I hate the gross wet feeling of pads and big tampons hurt) especially overnight. I’ve also heard they can reduce cramps and pain for some people. Not to proselytize or anything, just my experience.

    • I don’t have PCOS but I have irregular heavy periods, and here are the advantages to reusable products:
      –When I use my Lunette and a reusable pad it will last for hours. When I used to use a tampon + a pad, I would have to change them both every 2 hours (not even kidding!).
      –Because of how irregular I am, I can’t really predict when my period will come. When traveling, instead of hunting around for pads/tampons or packing a ton with me, I always have a small pouch with all my period essentials in case it strikes unexpectedly.
      –A heavy flow with disposable protection was incredibly uncomfortable and I got chafing and redness; now I am much more comfortable.

      That’s just my plug (ha) for the reusable stuff over the disposable for irregular or heavy periods.

    • have you thought about trying out SoftCups?
      they come in packs of 8 and are disposable and they also have some that are reusable for a few times. they are cheaper than buying a more expensive cup. that’s what i used before i decided to upgrade to a lunette cup.

    • Thanks for all the suggestions :) I’ll have to do some research and see what works best for me :)

  16. I’ve tried sea sponges, a menstural cup, and cloth pads. I found that I preferred cloth pads the most, and I’ve never looked back since switching away from disposable products. Cloth pads are far more comfortable for me than the disposable pads. For me, comfort factor alone makes it worth switching to cloth pads. I don’t even feel inconvenienced because I use cloth pads. I just needed to adjust my habits a bit and it didn’t change my daily life that much. Despite the initially high start-up cost for the cloth pads, it’s saved me a lot of money over the years.

  17. This is making me never want to use tampons again.

    Not that I do now (unless my flow is really heavy), but there’s always been something about shoving things up myself that I just can’t get behind.

    And it’s making me -for once- grateful that I have hypothyroidism, which tends to make my periods irregular, light, or both.

  18. For everyone who’s considering making the switch from pads/tampons to cups:

    I received a SoftCup sample at my college about a year ago and ended up getting my period the next day. I decided that it was a sign to try them out for sure instead of keeping it in a bathroom drawer forever. At first it it was odd and slightly uncomfortable, but I learned how to best insert it. I fell in love with the product pretty quickly because there wasn’t a cotton string hanging between my legs. I also noticed that I felt less smelly, icky, and dry when I stopped using tampons. Another plus was that I could enjoy penetrative sex/masturbation since the softcup is shallow [unlike other cups]. disposing of these is basically as easy as disposing of a tampon or pad. One thing that was a downside is that my fingers get a little bloody when inserting, and of course you have to be comfortable with pushing the cup into your vagina. unlike a tampon you need to get in there to insert a cup properly.

    My girlfriend ended up buying herself a Divacup after my great experience with a cup and our discussion about us both wanting to move away from tampons. She really loved it.
    This and the fact that I was still spending a lot of money every month on menstruation things led me to research reusable cups.

    After some research, I ended up buying myself a Lunette cup. Again it took some time getting used to inserting this new product. I now love it even more than the softcups! the downside to this cup is the same as the other where you have to get slightly dirty when inserting and removing. I also am still a little sad that I can’t enjoy penetrative sexual acts, but that’s when I bust out my softcups ;D

    Lunette and other similar cups are easy to clean and care for, which is a definite plus. DivaCup sells a cleaner that they made, and I usually use that to clean my Lunette cup after I’m done with it.

    I personally feel a lot better with my period now that I’ve switched to cups. The reusable cups end up being a lot more cost effective and they’re better for you and the environment.
    I’ve tried getting all of my friends and family to switch, and I’m going to be sending them a link to this post as well as the vlog that another commenter suggested.

    I hope my long comment helps for anyone that is on the fence about trying out cups.

    • I wanted to second what you wrote about getting adjusted to the cup. At first it was really uncomfortable for me. I’ve never had children and don’t have penetrative experiences, so I think that’s why. After a while my body got adjusted, maybe two cycles and now it feels fine. I’m glad I stuck with it and didn’t just reject it right away!

      • sure, not sexy, but a hell of a lot better than getting covered in blood or accidentally knocking a divacup out of your partner’s vagina~~~

  19. I wonder if cups increase cramps like tampons do? Regardless, there’s no way in hell I’d use them, because I don’t really find the whole idea of shoving something up my vagina all that natural. I don’t even think I could get behind cloth pads, because it does sort of sound unsanitary to me, but then again, I use pads and there’s a lot of shame surrounding that in girl world.
    I mean, it doesn’t really surprise me that not a lot of thought/funding is put into feminine hygiene products, because, you know, sexism, and women will buy whatever anyway, because they literally have to. But it is infuriating. If only they could experience what it’s like to have a period, even for, like, six months. I think there would be change ASAP.

    • I’m in the same boat. Tampons give me unbearable cramps, but no one ever believes me. The couple hours in a tampon to swim or whatever is not worth it.

      Also, I can’t get behind the idea of cloth pads because I don’t own a washing machine.

    • As far as I know, one of the main reasons that increase cramps is that they dry you out so much-the entire purpose is just, absorb anything in the vagina, and figure that the blood will get absorbed too. Cups don’t absorb, they just hold, so they don’t really make cramps any worse than they are already.

  20. I suffer from contact/irritant dermatitis which presents itself when I use common drug store pads and tampons like Always or Tampax. I have tried a Diva Cup but wasn’t able to get used to it, or find it 100% reliable. What I find frustrating is the lack of healthy product options found in common drug stores and grocery stores. When I am in a pinch, I am totally out of luck because I can’t find organic 100% cotton pads/tampons in Shoppers or Rexall or the grocery store, but must visit specialty health and food stores instead, which are harder to come by.

    • Have you tried Natracare? They’re cotton, unbleached and the pads are even latex free. Plus if you can’t find them locally, you can buy them online. Their website, sadly, isn’t too helpful for finding local stores but it does have a listing of the online places to buy their stuff. Between not liking bleach and having a latex allergy, it’s what I use.

      BTW, maybe I’m lucky because of where I live, but I’ve found it in some of the stores belonging to the parent company Kroger but it may vary by which particular chain or even the individual location. Still, it’s worth a try. Maybe also try putting in a request card if your local stores of any sort have those – for whatever product(s) you like.

    • Hey Abbie, You’re not alone. Our Maxim brand hypoallergenic tampons and pads are particulary made for women like you and it’s our number one joy to provide a solution to those with such sensitive conditions. We are working on making them available at regular drugstores. In the meantime, email us at [email protected] for a coupon and cost effective ways to get the product you need without all the hassle.

  21. I still use evil, evil disposable pads because I have very short, but very very heavy periods and I’m at school or working in a lab the majority of a day and I do not have time to leave to wash out a cloth pad or empty the cup in a public university restroom.

  22. What I wonder is what effect this legislation will have on ‘alternative’ menstrual products like diva/moon cups and cloth pads. The act sounds awesome – it’d be so, so great if more chemical-heavy products were tested.
    But the more alternative products should be tested too, right? It would be scientifically naive to assume that just because they are more eco-friendly, they are more body-friendly too. I should admit that I haven’t looked into testing of these products at all – to my knowledge, most cups are made of silicone which should be safe, right? And I would assume that cloth and coloured dye aren’t that bad – but I don’t actually know, and it’s not okay on a national/legislative level to have assumptions about that kind of thing.
    So, there should be some minimum level of testing for ‘alternative’ products as well.
    My worry is that they might have to undergo the same rigorous testing as the chemical-heavy products: which, of course, costs money. Most of these products (esp. cloth pads) are sold by small companies or individuals (like the loba loca who wrote a very popular AS post a while ago).
    Does anyone know how these smaller/alternative/eco menstrual products might be affected by such a law?

    • I feel like if they’re being sold in the US, they would be subject to testing, but not nearly the same rigorous testing. For the most part, the alternative products just make more sense as safe things. For example, most cups are made from medical-grade silicone. We’ve established that we consider that a safe thing to be around bodies, because obviously, it’s used for medical things. Just prove that smooth silicone isn’t going to grow bacteria or is easy to disinfect. And cloth pads, we wear cloth in that area all the time, when we wear underwear. That one honestly seems like it’d be silly to make it go through any kind of real testing, but if they did, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the same kind of tough tests that bleached pads and tampons and such would be subject to.

      Also, I’m unsure if the small business/individuals would even be subject to this law in the first place. As far as I know, only the Softcup and (I think) the Divacup are certified to be sold in the US. I had to purchase my Ladycup (pretty colors!!) online from another country, and I’m pretty sure that’s standard. I know the Lunette is made in another country. So I don’t know if things that aren’t certified in the US would be subject to this. And it’s the equivalent of how someone who makes cosmetics or cookies or such in their own kitchen and sells them online isn’t really subjected to inspectors coming by and making sure there’s no contamination. They don’t exist, for the purposes of inspections.

    • Menstrual cups are already subject to FDA approval, and as someone who works in the medical device industry, I can tell you that you can’t slouch your way through that one… :)

  23. and to think, a lot of us have used these products for years and years :(. Gawd. Like previous commenters stated, shouldn’t be surprised about these products not being properly regulated and yet I am. Thanks for this eye-opening and informative piece.

  24. I’m not super great at tracking legislative action but…is this essentially the same bill she’s been trying to pass since 1997?

  25. [Content note: passing mention of Hollywood-style violence]

    Let’s talk for a minute about product regulation and chemical-phobia.

    First of all, one thing that’d be really nice is if the people writing the legislation had some basic scientific understanding and didn’t write sentences with phrases like “dioxin and synthetic fibers”. That actually made me spit coffee all over my monitor. Google those things. For the non- chemically-inclined, that’s kind of like having an article talking about crime reduction that includes the phrase “grotesque chainsaw murder and tax evasion.” It doesn’t inspire within me a lot of confidence that the people writing the law know the first thing about the issue, which is important because this kind of products safety is a tall order.

    Figuring out whether a menstrual product is safe requires a lot more testing than just “are all these constituent components low-toxicity” (which is a pretty tricky thing to figure out by itself). Take that Rely tampon. Carboxymethylcellulose? Modified wood pulp. It’s a food additive. You can eat it. Polyester? One of the most common and low-concern synthetic fibers out there. You could probably also eat it, but it wouldn’t be very tasty.

    The issue with neither of those components is toxicity. The issue is what happens when you put them- together, in a formulated product- in a warm, wet environment with human bacterial flora and tissue walls of a specific range of diameter. For specific lengths of time. Could this be noticed with the proper testing protocol? Probably. It’d have to be super specialized, pretty expensive, and very well-designed. *and* not discoverable at all simply by looking at nebulous “safety” or “toxicity” of constituents.

    • The science behind this article is questionable, but the point is that given the safety record of menstrual products (w/r/t TSS, for example), there should be more studies done on them. I wouldn’t go as far as to connect these chemicals to cancer, but I would go as far as to say that it might not be super safe to insert a synthetic substance into the vagina for hours, and we need to at least increase regulation of these products.

      • And my point is that the question is more complicated than “more studies and more regulation.” Extending the crime metaphor, that’s like saying, “we have a crime problem. To fix it, we should convince people to commit less crime, and also increase law enforcement.” It *sounds* nice, and it’s a great applause light, but without very fine-grained, specific ideas it’s useless. Possibly worse than useless. Plus it makes anyone who’s been working on anything related to crime reduction for awhile want to rip all their hair out in frustration.

        Useful ideas? Let’s talk about disclosure of ingredients on product labels (or at least somewhere searchable), but combined with better public education about chemicals and personal risk assessment. Let’s talk about the naturalistic fallacy. Let’s talk about incentivizing safety studies (free market or otherwise), about checks and balances in conflict of interest, and about how patent and copyright makes safe product innovation more and less difficult simultaneously. That list is by no means exhaustive. TL;DR: it’s a problem with solutions, but the solutions need to be more specific and more informed.

  26. HORRIFYINGLY OFFENSIVE ARTICLE. “Racially ambiguous person” ? ? What is this, a NeoNazi site? What in God’s earth does racially ambiguous have to do with what presumably is the topic of this article???

    • I think the point is that the ads for menstrual products tend to pick people who don’t look white so they won’t be accused of whitewashing, but also don’t pick someone of a particular minority so as not to isolate white women. It’s a weird trend I have noticed in a lot of advertising; as if as soon as you show someone who isn’t blonde but isn’t identifiable as a particular race, you instantly get street cred with a bunch of groups and nobody can yell at you. I don’t think she was intentionally being offensive, just pointing out this awkward/questionable marketing technique.

    • I’m pretty sure that the African American author of the article is not a neo-nazi. I interpreted it in the same way as Tam. Of course, there is nothing wrong with casting mixed race women in advertisements (it’s great actually), but it can be problematic if members of other groups are excluded for being “too Black” or “too Asian”, etc., to appeal to a broad audience.

  27. A friend of mine was once interning at Cottons (a brand that makes bleach- and chemical-free cotton pads and tampons). Her boss took a regular brand synthetic tampon, set fire to it in front of her, and they both watched as toxic-looking goo dripped off it.

    Needless to say, we’re now both pretty fucking careful about what we put inside ourselves every month.

  28. I vote the next Make A Thing article should be on how to make your own cloth pads.

    I made my – unashamedly rainbow – own and haven’t looked back!

  29. Adding my voice to all the ‘cup’ lovers – a thousand times yes. My mooncup (UK people!) is 100% awesome, I’ve used nothing else for years and evangelise about it any chance I get. £20 and you’re sorted literally for life.

    I also have a super cute milk pan like this which I use to boil it after each period, which makes it that little bit more cute and fun :-)

  30. I freaking LOVE AS where we can be having simultaneous conversations about menstrual cups/cloth pads AND masculine of center clothing!!!

    • True! Sometimes my period arrives when i’m in an MOC phase, and I find that kinda hard. I tend to prefer pads? Just ’cause it’s less fussing and interacting with my own vag, but sometimes cups are better ’cause you don’t have to look at them and can still wear boxer shorts.

      I realise this is such a butch issue.

  31. This is why I switched to reusable products. The amount of chemicals in disposables (including pads, tampons, and diapers) is ridiculous. And don’t get me started on the rashes those things cause – ouch! TMI perhaps, I apologize. :)

    Now I use and sell cloth pads and menstrual cups (the store is for anyone interested). The off chance that I do use a disposable product I always opt for Organic. :) Love it all.

  32. The nonprofit Women’s Voices for the Earth has been doing some great research on this topic including the Chem Fatale report. Their spoof of Justin Timberlake’s Dick in a Box, called Detox the Box, targeting Tampax and Always products.

  33. I really want to try some sort of menstrual cup but am scared. The one time I accidentally grabbed a different kind of tampon I got cysts on my ovaries. Also if I use natural toilet paper I get yeast infections. Sorry if that was TMI but when dealing with your menstrual cycle a lot of things are.

    • Jane, I would be extremely surprised if you had a bad reaction to a cup as long as it is properly sanitized. Toilet paper can leave bits of fiber on your body that you can have a reaction to. Tampons also leave fiber behind as well as chemicals. Cups however do not leave any fiber, or chemicals, or anything in your body. Good ones, and the only kind you should buy, are made of medical grade silicon which is totally inert as far as the body is concerned. To properly sanitize it boil it for 10-15 minutes before initial use and before each period. You can wash it with soap and water after emptying it during your period. I use a Diva cup and the Diva wash. I also wash it off after boiling to get any mineral residue from the water off.

    • Caitlin, this is not are not alone and thanks for being brave enough to share here. Menstruation has been a taboo topic for way too long. We’re breaking that cycle to support a healthier cycle with Maxim organic and natural chlorine free 100% cotton tampons and pads. visit us at for more info

  34. The fight’s still not over…a year later and we’re still knocking on Congress’ door. Don’t give up! We’re an organic tampon company and we support you fully because we hear from women about their menstrual complaints all the time and the solutions our products are able to provide them. Unless Congress gets its act together, join us with healthier menstrual care options at

Comments are closed.