If you use tampons but have never given a second thought to what's in them, read on. Most are probably packed with toxic chemicals—from the pesticides present in the cotton, the most sprayed crop in the world, to the dioxins created from the chlorine bleaching process and the phthalates and other fragrance chemicals that might be hiding in scented varieties.1
Carbon disulfide, a chemical commonly used in the production of rayon—a synthetic fiber found in tampons—may also be contaminating your tampons.2 All of these chemicals have been linked with adverse health effects, including hormone disruption and cancer.
Although vaginal exposures have generally been overlooked in the research world, a recent study pointed out just how important this route of exposure may be, given how absorptive the vagina is and the number of tampons a women may be exposed to during her lifetime. Not to mention the irritating effect the chemicals can have on this highly sensitive area.1
The good news is that a growing number of health- and eco-conscious companies are doing things differently—ditching synthetic and chemical-laden materials for natural and organic ingredients that are better for your body and the planet.
These five brands all make their tampons from 100 percent cotton—unlike conventional tampons, which are usually a blend of cotton, rayon and plastic—and they're all certified organic too. None of the brands use chlorine bleaching, and all products are free of dyes, fragrances and other added chemicals. The companies also offer a range of organic sanitary pads (which are also usually chock-full of potentially harmful chemicals if you go for a standard product) for those who prefer not to use tampons at all.
What about TSS?
Toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, is a rare but potentially fatal illness linked to tampon use—caused by toxins produced by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.
Although one study suggested that using all-cotton tampons rather than tampons made of rayon or rayon/cotton blends may reduce the risk of tampon-associated TSS,1 a more recent study disagrees.2
To be safe, always follow the instructions on the pack before using tampons, use the lowest absorbency rating that you can for your flow and change your tampon regularly—every four to six hours.
Never use a tampon when you don't have your period, and use pads overnight or on light flow days. Also remember to wash your hands before putting a tampon in or taking one out.
If you notice any sudden flu-like symptoms when using tampons, or diarrhea, dizziness or fainting, take your tampon out and see a doctor straight away.
Eco by Naty
100% Certified Organic Cotton Tampons, from $5.49 for 18
An eco-friendly diaper maker since 1994, Swedish company Eco By Naty now offers a range of feminine hygiene products including 100 percent organic cotton tampons certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), recognized as the world's leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. They come in regular, super and super plus absorbencies, with or without an applicator, and are biodegradable, compostable and totally chlorine free.
100% Organic Cotton Tampons, from $5.31 for 18
Established in 2016 by three women on a mission to provide natural and organic feminine care products that don't sacrifice comfort or functionality, Rael is a California-based brand offering tampons, sanitary pads and liners made from USDA-certified organic cotton from Texas. The tampons are available with or without a cardboard applicator in regular and super absorbencies and are free of chlorine and other harmful chemicals. Plus, you can make periods even more worry-free by opting for Rael's 'subscribe and save' option.
Organic Cotton Tampons, from $4.99 for 16
Available with two types of applicator—one made from carboard and a 'compact' version made from 90 percent plant-based materials—or applicator-free, Organyc's tampons are 100 percent certified organic cotton that have been bleached using the natural disinfectant hydrogen peroxide. You can choose from regular, super and super plus absorbencies, and all have no nasties added whatsoever. Also check out Organyc's brilliant range of pads and panty liners.
Organic Cotton Tampons, from $5.61 for 20
Established in 1989, Natracare is the world's first organic period product brand. Committed to using only natural and organic materials, and upholding the highest ethical standards, Natracare's tampons are made of non-chlorine-bleached, 100 percent GOTS-certified organic cotton and nothing else—no plastics, perfumes, dyes or other additives. They're available in three absorbencies—regular, super and super plus—with or without a biodegradable cardboard applicator. A variety of sanitary pads and liners are also available.
Organic Cotton Tampons, from $8 for 12
The only brand in our selection to offer a light absorbency option, Cora offers a subscription service for their 100 percent GOTS-certified organic cotton tampons and other feminine care products, but you can also purchase them on a one-off basis from Amazon. Although the light option tampons are only available with an applicator (a BPA-free, fully recyclable one), the other absorbency levels—medium, super and super plus—are all available with or without an applicator. All the tampons are non-chlorine bleached, hypoallergenic and come in recyclable packaging. They're more expensive than the other products featured, but with every box sold, Cora donates pads worldwide to women and girls in need.