Tampons: The Dioxin Glyphosate Vagina Cocktail

Health Hazards of Tampons

Several years ago, when this little blog was just getting rolling, I wrote a 3-part series on tampons. The title was aptly named Tampax Tampons: Toxic Sticks of Death.

Seven years later, sad but true, this topic needs to be revisited. I wish I was revisiting it with good news to share. I wish we could celebrate that dioxins and other bleaching agents and synthetic fibers have been removed from tampons, leaving us ladies to live a life that includes a happy vagina. Unfortunately, it seems the situation has gotten worse.

When chemical lobbyists and the government approval boards talk about chemicals, they often describe them in parts per million or parts per billion with the common statement that the average exposure of the average consumer isn’t enough to cause issue. Here’s the thing though: it is enough and it is an issue. A big one.

The average woman menstruating for five days a month for 38 years will use approximately 11,400 tampons in a lifetime, with direct contact to the chemicals in tampons for 2,200 days. And pads. Pads too. Oh, and also baby diapers. Yes, these chemicals are in diapers, ear swabs, cotton pads and toilet paper, too.

The average woman is using tampons or pads for 2,200 days of her life.

Tampons require contact over an extended period of time with one of the body’s most porous and highly absorbent mucous membranes. They are categorized by the FDA as a ‘medical device’, which means that manufacturers aren’t required to adhere to the same chemical regulations or labeling regulations as foods, drugs or cosmetics. Testing on chemical levels in tampons is done by the manufacturer or private researcher with findings presented to regulating bodies for review.  When we consider that North American women spend an average of two billion dollars per year on these commercial brands of sanitary napkins and tampons, and few are asking questions, brands like Proctor & Gamble – the makers of Tampax – have no incentive to fix what is very, very broken.

Tampon Use

What I didn’t know when I wrote my first series of posts on tampons back in 2008 was that Monsanto had pulled up a chaise lounge in my vagina and was serving up a chemical cocktail of glyphosate, dioxin and chlorine. If my vagina could talk, it would likely have said, “What the f— are you doing here?!?!”

If my vagina could talk, it would likely have said, “What the f— are you doing here?!?!”

Let’s back up a minute and go through this in an orderly manner.

What Are Tampons Made Of

Originally tampons were made of 100% cotton, and if you are still using them, this is what you want to look for: 100% organic cotton. Current conventional tampons may include:

  • Conventional Cotton: Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world. More below.
  • Polyester: Polyester is a plastic derived from crude oil. We often see this in clothing when it is drawn out in long thin fibers and woven together. It also doesn’t hold liquid well, making it an interesting choice for a tampon.
  • Viscose Rayon: A plant-derived fiber of regenerated cellulose. It can be produced from a variety of plants. In north america, rayon is most commonly produced by wood pulp, sugar cane and soy. Remember that in North America 93% of soy is genetically modified. Overseas you’ll find bamboo-derived rayon.

Polyacrylate Rayon and Carboxymehtylcellulose were both required to be removed from tampons by law due to their association with Toxic Shock Syndrome. In private testing, these synthetic materials were attracting the bacteria that lead to TSS.  The lesser of the evil synthetics was the Viscose Rayon blend and this is what remains in conventional tampons.

Additional ingredients typically include:

Each of these chemicals carry their own list of ingredients but under the labelling laws for medical devices do not need to be disclosed.

The Pearly White Tampons + Dioxin

The pearly white tampons used in commercials sure look pretty, don’t they? But why? Why do they have to be so white? We all know what’s going to happen when they get used. None of us are filling a glass with blue water and watching how pretty it looks as tampons suck up all that liquid. No. They are being inserted into the dark nethers of our vagina to absorb menstrual blood. They are white for the thirty seconds between taking them out of the package and inserting them.

The chlorine bleaching of tampons is where we used to think the greatest danger was. The bleaching process creates chlorinated hydrocarbons, a hazardous group of chemicals with byproducts that includes dioxins, some of the most toxic substances known. According to the Environment Protection Agency [EPA], no safe level for dioxin exposure exists. Dioxins are what we call persistent organic pollutants – they do not break down, and instead accumulate in our tissue with repeated exposure. Tampon use would be a rather perfect example of repeated exposure.

This causes something called toxic accumulation and one of the most powerful ways a woman detoxes these chemicals is through the umbilical cord into her fetus.

Responding to protests from consumers, the tampon industry changed its bleaching method to Elemental Chlorine Free (EFC) bleaching. This method replaces chlorine gas with chlorine dioxide, recognized for its disinfectant properties. Chlorine dioxide kills microorganisms by disrupting the transport of nutrients across the cell membrane.

As I wrote in my original post:
“The makers use the theory that chlorine dioxide is far less reactive with organic materials than the previously used chlorine bleach. With no pure chlorine involved, EFC bleaching should theoretically result in a dioxin free product. This, however, is not the case. Studies have shown that the manufacturing of chlorine dioxide does not produce a pure product, as chemical reactions that take place during the bleaching process free elemental chlorine atoms, therefore releasing dioxin. The Worldwatch Institute has referred to ECF bleaching as a ‘low-tar cigarette’ strategy’, lowering the amount of dioxins, not eliminating them.”

According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are “highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”

The vaginal wall contains moist and highly absorbent fatty tissue and toxins have an affinity to fat cells. One of the diseases most directly linked to the endocrine-disrupting effect of dioxin released from tampons is endometriosis, and there is an accumulating body of evidence connecting dioxin levels with infertility. Dioxin induces an increase in estrogen levels, which is linked to sex-hormone related cancers of the breast and reproductive organs.

In addition to cancer and endometriosis the enzyme, hormonal and growth disruption caused by dioxin exposure has been linked to:

And the list continues.

Given that the ECF bleaching also acts as an anti-microbial agent, it also serves to imbalance the vaginal ecosystem, making it a prime environment for yeast infections.  

But wait, there’s more.

Glyphosate In Tampons

Glyphosate is known to cause severe damage in the body and has even been implicated in the rise of gluten sensitivity. One of the many concerning areas of research I found when I was doing research for The UnDiet Cookbook was how glyphosate impairs the body’s natural ability to detoxify itself.

A 2013 study showed the connection between glyphosate, an active ingredient in [Monsanto’s] herbicide, and the impairment of cytochrome P450, an enzyme that helps the body detoxify environmental toxins. The study states, “Characteristics of celiac disease point to impairment in many cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are involved with detoxifying environmental toxins, activating vitamin D3, catabolizing vitamin A, and maintaining bile acid production and sulfate supplies to the gut.” The connection between the introduction and increased intake of other GMO foods and increased levels of stress and toxins, coupled with gluten-induced intestinal damage, creates the perfect storm for gluten-sensitivity and celiac disease to blow in and leave a wake of damage, indigestion, and nutrient malabsorption.” – The UnDiet Cookbook, page 20

While Monsanto is busy suing independent farmers and demanding that the World Health Organization retract its classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen, it’s being used widely in both genetically modified crops as well as in the common herbicide Roundup that is sprayed on conventional crops, including cotton. In fact, Monsanto also makes a genetically modified cotton called Roundup Ready Flex Cotton.

According to the report, Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years, by Charles Benbrook, “In cotton, the average rate of glyphosate rose from 0.63 pounds in 1996 to 1.89 pounds in 2007 — clearly good news for the manufacturers of glyphosate herbicides, but bad news for farmers and the environment. Most of this increase was driven by the need to make additional Roundup applications. One application of glyphosate brought about adequate control in 1996 on most cotton farms. Just two years later, 1.5 applications were necessary. By 2003, an average of two applications were made, and by 2007, 2.4 applications. During this time period, the average one-time rate of application went up by 25%, from 0.63 to 0.79 pounds per cotton acre. Glyphosate use on cotton per crop year rose 18.2% per year from 1996 to 2007 as a result of the introduction of RR cotton.”

Conventional farmers in North America have been using glyphosate increasingly since Monsanto introduced genetically modified crops into the food supply in the mid-90’s.  The concept being that these crops are genetically engineered to withstand being sprayed with Roundup herbicide – allowing the bugs to be killed, not the plant. The cute part here is that nature is wiser than greedy corporations and “Roundup Ready” corn, soybeans and other crops have developed resistance to glyphosate, leading farmers to use even more of the herbicide.

In 2003, 84 million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on 14.4 million acres of US conventional cotton. These chemicals are some of the most toxic used in agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency has declared seven of the top 15 to be ‘possible’, ‘likely’, ‘probable’, or ‘known’ human carcinogens. In India where over one third of the world’s cotton comes from, cotton accounts for 54% of all pesticides used annually while occupying just 5% of cropland. One of these chemicals is glyphosate.

According to a study released in late 2015, an Argentinian research lab reportedly found glyphosate in eighty-five percent of the tampons, and other cotton sanitary products that were tested. Further, 62% of the samples tested positive for AMPA, glyphosate’s metabolite, according to the study conducted by researchers at the Socio-Environmental Interaction Space (EMISA) of the University of La Plata in Argentina. The brands tested included the American brands, Kotex and O.B.

In 2012, it was estimated that 80% of the cotton grown in the US was Roundup Ready. Herbicide tolerant cotton was approved in Canada in March of 2015 under a table referred to as “Novel Food Decision”. Novel is one word for it.

Tampon Ingredients

Additional pesticides found in tampons include:

  • Malaoxon & Malathion
  • Dichlofluanid
  • Mecarbam
  • Procymidone
  • Methidathion
  • Fensulfothion
  • Pyrethrum
  • Piperonyl Butoxide

What Can We Do To Keep The Chemicals Out

  • Add Your Name: When you see those petitions come your way, or there is a vote in your local election, opt to have GMOs labelled so we at least get to choose what we eat and insert.
  • Vote With Your Dollar: Buy from the brands you want to support. Leave the rest on the shelf. If we stop buying toxic products, companies are going to change how they’re making them.
  • Share this post: Share this on your social media channels to help get the word out that something has to change.
  • Send Letters To The Makers: There are humans behind these products. Lots of them. You can find brand managers for products like Tampax, Pampers, QTip and more very quickly on LinkedIn. Or simply post to the Facebook pages of these brands.

– Tampax
– Kotex
– Q-Tips
– Huggies
– Pampers

You can come up with your own creative message, or share this simple one:

Over 84 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on cotton crops every year in the United States. You are part of this problem. It’s time to ditch the endocrine disrupting, carcinogenic chemicals in your products. The health of your farmers, suppliers, and customers matter. http://undiet.me/toxictampons

Thankfully There Are Options

To help you vote with your dollar and reduce your toxic load, try these wonderful options by these great companies:

Organic Cotton Pads and Tampons

The Menstrual Cup

This is my preferred option. I find it comfortable, low maintenance, reliable and works with my lifestyle.

Reusable Pads

Please help ensure the health and safety of the people who menstruate in your life.

All of this matters and though I know people will argue about the technicalities and safety levels, at the end of the day, our bodies are being overwhelmed by chemicals. There are currently 80,000 chemicals approved for use and 60,000 of these were grandfathered in, assumed safe but never tested. We don’t know for sure what’s causing the increasing numbers of cancers and other diseases, but the chemical load we carry is not part of the solution. When in doubt, get it out. There are many things we can’t choose and can’t control, but this is one of the things we very easily can choose.

This instead of that and it just might make all the difference in your world.


  1. Hi Meghan,
    Great article about scary stuff! I wish our government would aid abet these companies. I am wondering about incontinent pads such as Poise, Always, etc. I assume they are just as bad & am wondering about a replacement for them.

  2. I love your article on Tampons, I am not a Tampon freak, I am glad someone has brought this information forward, I do know you can purchase 100% cotton Pads at Whole foods, As a nurse for 16 years of a gyn office, The forbidden discussion of Tampons and Pads, You can make your own Tampons, But I doubt to many people will take the time to do this, but Another fact we found was Always products were the worst, the barrier causes no air circulation, like a band aide and the chemicals they use cause major infections, rashes ect. We always advised our patients to not use any always products, it was the common denominator with infection. Another issue that causes a lot of Vaginal issues in lubrication products, they are filled with chemicals, so we always recommended Olive oil, coconut oil and I believe Ky has come out with a natural one, but I have yet to see it. So between soaps, tampons, pads, using dryer sheets on undergarments and lubrication we are doing nothing positive for our femail genitalia. Sorry Just had to share.

  3. I really appreciate your attention to women’s health with regard to cosmetics and hygiene products. This stuff is so important! Learning about the chemicals that go into everything, right down to our bleached, GMO tampons–it’s no wonder a brand new baby can be exposed to hundreds of toxic chemicals before they’ve even breathed their first breath.

    Thank you for keeping us all informed!

  4. OK, so I’ve been trying to warm to the idea of using a cup instead of tampons. After reading this article I realize just how uneducated I am! I had no idea how harmful the chemicals in tampons, pads, diapers, and even q-tips are to our health. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Looks like I have plenty of choices to look at when it comes to alternatives. Whew!

  5. Great article Meghan! I’ve been following you for a while and I’m always sharing your articles about stuff like this. We really do not think about what is used to create these conveniences for us. I hope more people spread this message!

  6. As a toxic shock survivor, thank you for using your platform to educate women about the risks of tampon use. I learned the hard way, that despite using as directed, tampons can quite literally be toxic sticks of death. Sadly, there are so many misconceptions about TSS, even amongst those in the medical community. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for continuing this dialogue.

  7. Thanks so much for this article. It is vindication for me, for I have NEVER used tampons. I’ve been a pad gal all my life.

  8. Thanks for starting a dialogue about this! We just had a girl in SW Michigan area where I live get put on life support due to TSS, and it was an open door to start this discussion with many women in my life. I use a Skoon Cup – menstrual cup and won’t ever go back. From cost to non toxic make up, such a great alternative!

  9. Thanks for compiling this information for the public! I wasn’t even aware of the details when I opted years ago to “go natural” with use of a silicone cup and reusable cloth pads. Some people have asked me if I found my cloth pads gross, but I absolutely love them and find them more comfortable and earth-friendly than disposable pads. Most recently I have started using underwear designed for use during my period. I am loving them! Is this something you have tried or explored? Any thoughts on this?

  10. I highly commend you for talking about tampons! Yay YOU! I design and make cotton pads – for 25 years now. It’s all we use in this household. I send kits to Haiti for the schoolgirls. Because I hardly sell any otherwise. So I am really glad to have you blogging about this. I have your book from the library – using the recipes. Loving them!
    Many thanks, Coreyanna, Padcologist,
    Moon Blossom Pads

  11. Thank you for sharing this pertinent information!
    I landed here by accident reading up on glyphosate due to my gluten intolerance.
    I am immediately sharing this with women that I know.

  12. Amazing article, Meghan! I sent it to my daughter! I stumbled upon it when researching glyphosate after getting the horrible news that the farmer across the way is planning to spray three times with that chemical this year!

    Thank you!

  13. Great article on tampons – I recently saw that now there are these special undies – absorbable – doesn’t sound nice – but apparently work as an alternative – would like to see your research into these.

  14. Thanks for passing on this important information. I noticed the chemicals were said to be pesticides that killed bugs, but I am pretty sure they are only herbicides. I wish everyone would stop using roundup.

  15. Meghan, I’ve just discovered your website and I love it. Thank you for this very important article. I plan on sharing it far and wide, with every woman I know. I am having trouble determining when this was written but it looks like early 2017 maybe?

    I was using Organyc panty liners for awhile but read somewhere that some were recalled a few years back due to traces of glyphosate found but not sure where (just Europe?) or if it was remedied or made to look like it was remedied. There’s so much detective work that needs to be done just to live somewhat healthy normal lives. Isn’t it sad? Because of this, sites like yours are crucial for so many.

    Since things are changing and there are many new brands (way too many to mention here) such as Cora, Lola, Kali, Lunapads, Yoni, Tampon Tribe, Purganics, etc. it’s becoming more of a buyer’s market for the aspiring healthy woman. Would you therefore consider doing an update/follow up on this article? Several of the brands I just listed claim to be GOTS certified so my question to you would be, assuming GOTS certified organic is the highest standard of organic cotton, once you’re using a GOTS certified brand, do you have anything else to worry about as far as the product ingredients go?

    For anyone interested, I just received my first order of Cora panty liners and they are very comfortable and durable. I am very happy with the switch so far.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you :)

  16. Thank you so much for your information about this! I will be sharing this with all the women I know! It’s truly horrible to think about, I am happy that there are alternative items that we can use. There is so much going on in the media that something so important as this gets over thrown so happy I read this

  17. I am sure all of what you say is true. I used tampons and sanitary products for many years due to very heavy periods in my 40s. I also suffered with fibroids which I am now convinced the cocktail laced tampons/towels were the cause as they are clearly hormone disrupters.

  18. Is this issue also true for incontinence products? I assume so. The toxic chemicals in our world are insidiously sneaky.

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