What’s Really In Sanitary Pads & Tampons?

What's Really In Your Sanitary Products!

If I asked you to tell me what was in your sanitary pads and tampons, could you tell me? I’m sure most have no idea and that’s pretty scary!

The sad truth is that manufacturers do not have to disclose the list of ingredients. This is because in the USA, pads and tampons fall under the ‘medical device’ category, thanks to the FDA. And in the EU, certain legislation allows non-disclosure of ingredients in pads and tampons. Doesn’t that worry you just a little? Is there something they don’t want us to know? Things like the chemical process to bleach the fibres used in tampons and pads. Or perhaps the cocktail of chemicals that cause irritation in sanitary pads, and cancer causing dioxins?

Your skin is a very permeable thing, and even more so around the vaginal area. So imagine having a pad full of chemical irritants and toxins right up against your skin? Or even worse, a tampon worn inside the vagina. Which in itself is a known risk for TSS (toxic shock syndrome).

Think about it, would you eat something that didn’t disclose the list of ingredients? I’m certain most of you would say no. The same principle then applies to pads and tampons. We have no idea what’s in most of them. But we do know that many of the chemicals known to be used in pads and tampons are linked to:

  • Cancer
  • Disruption of hormones
  • Abnormal tissue growth on the reproductive organs.

What’s Really In Your Tampons And Sanitary Towels

A recent test carried out in 2014 out by Naturally Savvy and Women’s Voices For The Earth, found the following in a pad by the brand, Always:

  • Styrene – Carginogen
  • Chloromethane – Reproductive Toxicant
  • Chloroethane – Carcinogen
  • Chloroform – Neurotoxin, Carcinogen, Reproductive Toxicant
  • Acetone – Irritant

Tampons and pads are bleached to make them look super white and ‘sanitary’ using Chlorine Dioxide, which leaves behind a dioxin. How much is left behind, we do not know. The FDA ‘claims’ the trace amounts are barely detectable. But the fact that they are detectable, a tampon or pad containing any amount of dioxin is alarming.

During 2015, a new study carried out by University of La Plata in Argentina ,discovered that most cotton balls, tampons (approx 85%) and sanitary products contain the herbicide, glyphosphate (aka roundup). An ingredient that the World Health Organization (WHO) ruled as ‘probably carcinogenic‘. You can read more here.

So What’s The Alternative?

Cloth pads, menstrual cups and sponge tampons are the way forward. They contain no nasties linked to the issues above, and as such are better for your body. They are reusable too, which makes them eco friendly. Not to mention how much more comfortable they are.

Reusable Menstrual Products are not ‘gross’ – heck, it’s YOUR body. We should be empowered and able to say ‘hey, this is my body and I am taking control of what goes in it’. I know there’s such a weird stigma attached to reuseable menstrual products but they’re not half as ‘yuck’ as some people make out.

Cloth pads do get washed but you don’t need to fiddle around with used pads or blood. Once used, you simply place them inside a wetbag or bucket, and at the end of your cycle just pop them in the washing machine. Then you hang them to dry. Pretty straightforward, right? Cloth pads are so much more comfortable, too – with a choice of different fabric toppings and absorbencies, you can be sure to find something that you will love. There’s no awful stink that you get with disposable pads. Some people that have made the switch have reported far less pain and cramping (same with switching to menstrual cups and sponges).

And as for tampon users grimacing at menstrual cups and sponges, what’s with that? You insert a tampon inside your vagina every few hours during your cycle. What’s so different about inserting a cup or a sponge? Most  cups can actually be worn the entire day for a full 12 hours and emptied before you go to bed (Depending on your flow and the cup size). So emptying the cup is more minimal than changing a tampon. There’s also only been 1 reported case of TSS* with a cup versus thousands associated with tampons. (* This report does not say that the cup caused TSS – just that the user happened to be using a cup at the time of developing TSS. Correlation does not imply causation – check out this amazing video here which explains it better).

Sponge tampons/sea sponges don’t last quite as long as a menstrual cup, and are usually very similar to tampons in useage time. But they don’t have the same issues associated with tampons such as dioxins or leaving fibres behind.


When folded for insertion, menstrual cups are actually not much bigger than a super tampon.

What About Organic Cotton Tampons & Pads?

If reusable menstrual products like cloth pads or menstrual cups aren’t your thing, I would suggest switching to a brand using organic cotton for their tampons or pads such as Natracare, Organyc and TOTM.

Organic cotton isn’t sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. The brands behind such products are pretty much completely open and honest about their ingredients. So you know you can trust them when it comes to be completely transparent.

I think we need to be far less grossed out by our bodies and take charge of what goes in or against it. Our menstrual cycles are nothing to be ashamed of and don’t we deserve to have a comfortable (as can be!) period without exposing our bodies to goodness knows what?

A fantastic article on this subject can be found here: Are feminine hygeine products slowly harming you?

I’ve blogged alot about cloth pads but a recent post about the benefits can be found here along with a more detailed post about testing of chemicals in disposables here.

Incase you haven’t noticed, I do not shy away from these subjects. I am a massive advocate for RUMPS (Reusable Menstrual Products) and I will talk right down to the nitty gritty about it. There’s no such thing as TMI in my opinion so if you need any advice to ditch those disposables, feel free to ‘Contact Me’.


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  1. Oli Peake
    24th March 2014 / 9:46 pm

    Thanks for this Tams! I’ve used tampons since I was like 11 years old, and had painful, horrible, crampy periods. I switched to a cup at 24 and had a few pain and cramp free periods which is amazing! No itching or dryness – and disposable pads give me a horrific rash – I used cloth pads as back up and no problems whatsoever! Now I’m pregnant I’m stocking up on postpartum pads as I don’t want the itching and the rash and soreness from disposable pads that I had after my other 3. Not what you need when you’ve just given birth! If it wasn’t for you I’d not even know these things existed 😉 xx

    • 2nd April 2014 / 11:27 pm

      I’m so glad I’ve been able to help rid you of the awful itchy pads! You will love your post partum pads – like sitting on soft fluffy clouds!

  2. Elisha Ruoff
    24th March 2014 / 9:50 pm

    Another interesting read, great from a factual point of view but also addressing the social aspect of using CSP. Thank you for sharing!

  3. 25th March 2014 / 11:18 am

    I use cloth nappies and feel totally guilty with my opinion of cloth pads etc. I always use tampons. It actually makes me feel more hygienic than having blood rubbing around your vagina before you manage to change it. I’ve never looked into cups. That scares me!

    • 2nd April 2014 / 11:26 pm

      The blood collects inside the cup, so actually it’s not rubbing around your vagina like a blood sodden tampon. Also another thing to consider is that there’s no TSS risk with cups unlike tampons. You should give a cup a try 🙂

  4. Amanda Jubb
    25th March 2014 / 5:46 pm

    I switched to a reusable cup… uhhh… at least 6 months ago, but less than a year?… and I have to say, I love it. I have horrible periods, in that I always bleed so much (sometimes I get hideous cramps, too–joys of PCOS–but I *always* bleed like a stuck pig). Those of you using cups will understand, if I tell you I have to empty MoonCup 3-4 times a day, on my first day riding the crimson wave (morning, once or twice during the day, and at bedtime) because it’s full or nearly full, at that point. Every other day of my period, though, I empty it in the morning when I wake up, and again before bed, and that’s it, fine, no issues with blood leaking through, and MUCH less of the hideous cramping. I expect the reduced cramping is because the cup sits so much lower in my vag than a tampon… HAHAHA, like I’d use a tampon, on the first day of my period… yeah, right. Because, what, I like having a steak knife shoved up there? NO, thank you.

    If I can respond directly to lifewithpinkprincesses: unless you sleep with a tampon inserted, a cup is more hygienic, because you can wear it overnight/for easily 8 hours at a stretch. And if you *are* sleeping with a tampon inserted, you are at increased risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can be fatal. I appreciate that you evidently have nice, relatively pain-free periods, and that must be lovely. I’m not being sarcastic–I remember those, from when I was 11 until I was about 20, and I miss them, and I’m glad you don’t have to deal with them. If, however, you ever find that inserting a tampon literally brings you to your knees in agony, please remember the option of reusable cups. And please, try not to take unnecessary health risks; I’m guessing the “pink princesses” you live with are your children, and they need you so much more than you need to never see your own menstrual blood on a cloth/in a cup.

    PS A cup you can sterilise yourself, and keep in a clean environment, is much, much more hygienic than a tampon is likely to be. Just sayin’.

  5. Amanda Jubb
    25th March 2014 / 5:52 pm

    *typo above (is it a typo when you change the sentence halfway through typing, and forget to change the end of the sentence?) = 2nd paragraph, line 6, should end, “deal with the other kind,” not “deal with them”. That ought to make more sense.

  6. Gwen Sallabank
    5th April 2014 / 2:14 pm

    “I think women need to be far less grossed out by their bodies”
    This. This so much. 🙂

  7. Adele
    7th April 2014 / 11:45 pm

    The other great thing about cloth or cups is the fact my period is so much lighter then it was before! I believe this is because there are not the nasty chemicals drawing the blood of of you! I used to dread my periods every month! They were heavy and incredibly painful. I would get painful itchy rashes from the pads (tampons didn’t work for me at all as I would just leak out of the side rather then the tampon absorbing the blood). I felt like I always smelt and hated the crinkly sound that came with walking around with a pad on, let alone the feeling of embarrassment I felt when changing it in a public toilet!
    Changing to cloth and cup was the best thing I ever did! It’s far less icky then disposables I find and far more comfortable and dare I say it enjoyable! I highly recommend them to all!

  8. 8th June 2015 / 2:01 pm

    These and more are the reasons I make and sell re-usable pads (oh and I wear them too)!
    The reason behind having less pain, shorter duration and lighter period when using cloth is because disposable’s are permeated with chemicals and hormones, the main protagonist is Oestrogen, cheeky companies do this so that you buy more!

    • Tamsin
      8th June 2015 / 2:17 pm

      Rebecca, I’ve edited your comment. I don’t allow advertising in comments, but I do have a retailer & makers list if you’d like to be added? Please contact me through my form ‘Contact Me’.

      • 9th June 2015 / 4:13 am

        Thank you Tamsin. I am sorry, I got a little excited! 😀

  9. shasha
    11th September 2015 / 10:17 pm

    thanks for your answers. am from one of the developing country and so have no idea of the alternative s you have provided. Am grateful

  10. 10th February 2016 / 5:51 pm

    I just ordered my first cup after reading your blog reviews recently. I’m so excited to try them!

  11. Katrina Mulder
    16th May 2016 / 4:42 pm

    That’s scary, good thing I’m switching to cloth!

  12. Heather Link
    20th July 2016 / 2:40 pm

    This is a great article. It makes me shudder the amount of chemicals exposed myself to with menstral products. I’m working toward building a cloth stash so when my cycle returns I won’t have to use disposables again.

  13. Tracy Castor
    4th September 2016 / 6:53 am

    Years ago I stopped using tampons and pads and switched to using “Insteads”. They are a soft plastic cup similar to a diaphragm. The best thing I ever did. They last longer between changes, they keep you from cramping and allow you to flow freely. The BEST thing about these things you can have sex with one in and you and your partner can enjoy a mess free sex life. there are many more benefits to using them They are just wonderful. .

  14. 18th September 2016 / 9:12 pm

    Nice post! I’ve been using always practically all my life, this is such an eye opener!

    The thing with tampons is that they are scarce here in Nigeria, pad is pretty much all we use

    But I will hunt and get some

    Great post

  15. annalisanuttall
    29th November 2016 / 11:26 am

    My time of the month is so thick and heavy – the only thing I will ever relies on is my trusted Always Night pad. I have heard of this before but cause of my problem I can’t switch to an alternative.
    Thank you for this post. xx

  16. 29th November 2016 / 1:33 pm

    To be honest I never checked was in my tampons because I never felt the need too.. However after so many cases of Toxic syndrome and reading this article I am rethinking my period control xx

  17. 29th November 2016 / 8:03 pm

    This isn’t a subject I have to concern myself with anymore but I have sympathy with women who are trying to make the best choices for themselves and the enviorinment.

  18. 29th November 2016 / 8:12 pm

    Oh gosh, I have never actually thought about this – it is disturbing actually – especially with tampons. Great, informative post. Kaz x

  19. 29th November 2016 / 8:15 pm

    I must confess I have played ignorance to knowing what’s in my pads. Tampons I stay away from though

  20. 30th November 2016 / 1:10 am

    This is such an interesting post! And shocking. I can’t believe all those chemicals can be found in sanitary products. How awful. Isn’t Acetone what’s in nail varnish remover?? I’ve never found tampons very comfortable at all and after reading this, I will never try them again.
    When I finally get my period back, I will definitely be looking into more vagina friendly products!

  21. 1st December 2016 / 12:08 am

    This was an interesting read! I’m still using tampons and pads, but only have my period once every 3-4 months so luckily I don’t use them too often. I’m totally planning on transitioning to the cup though.

  22. 2nd December 2016 / 11:39 am

    It really does concern me that companies don’t have to disclose the ingredients on products like this, or even worse on nappies that we use on babies skin that is even thinner. It’s one of those things that niggles me but I continue to use off the shelf products. You’ve inspired me to look into the organic version as a start

  23. 2nd December 2016 / 9:29 pm

    Thank you for this post its so interesting and im ashamed to say I actually had no idea all these things were inside and on Sanitary wear!! I am definitely going to look at other options now so thank you! x