Are Tampons Safe to Use?

stack of tampons
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Tampons are popular menstrual products, but they bring up questions and rumors about how to use them safely. When used as recommended, tampons are safe. Learn the facts about reducing any risks and dispelling rumors that are unfounded.

Preventing Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare condition that can occur if a high absorbency tampon is left in too long. TSS can happen as a result of tampon use, but it is not caused by tampons.

TSS is caused by a bacterial infection of either Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. These bacteria already live on your skin and are in most cases harmless. However, they can invade the body's bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection.

Choosing the proper tampon absorbency may help reduce the risk of TSS and vaginal discomfort. Tampon sizes are standardized across brands in the U.S. by a method that labels all tampon products as regular, super, super plus, or junior to describe the range of tampon absorbency.

The FDA requires all tampon manufacturers to provide packaging information on all tampons sold in the U.S. that describes the symptoms of TSS and how to reduce your risk. Pick the size tampon that is appropriate for your flow. It is better to use a less-absorbent tampon and change it frequently than to use a larger tampon and have it in all day. Read the inserts in the tampon product you use and discuss any symptoms or concerns with your healthcare provider.

Dispelling the Rumors About Tampons

The following rumors about tampons have been disproven by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health regulates the safety and efficacy of medical devices, including tampons. In an older report, the FDA strongly disputed the following claims.

 

  • Claims that asbestos-containing tampons cause excessive bleeding, and increase the manufacturer's profit. According to the FDA, "asbestos is not, and never has been associated with the fibers used in making tampons." Factories that manufacture tampons are subject to inspection to ensure that required manufacturing standards are being met.
  • Concerns about the rayon used in tampons. Tampons sold in the U.S. may contain cotton, rayon, or blends of cotton and rayon. A bleaching process is required to purify wood pulp and retrieve the cellulose fibers which make rayon.
  • Fear that cancer-causing dioxin is an ingredient in tampons that may also cause endometriosis. Major U.S. tampon manufacturers tested their products for dioxin levels using an analytical method provided by the FDA. The results showed that dioxin levels ranged from non-detectable to one 1 part in 3 trillion. "FDA has determined that dioxin at this extremely low level does not pose a health risk."
  • Skepticism about the bleaching process that whitens the raw ingredients used to make tampons. Many of the claims of dioxin-related risks are based on elemental chlorine bleaching of cellulose, which uses a process that can lead to a dioxin byproduct. According to the FDA report, no U.S. manufacturer uses this process.
  • Assertions that rayon fibers cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS), and vaginal dryness or ulcerations. High absorbency tampons may be associated with an increased risk of TSS. Vaginal dryness and ulcerations can occur when women use a tampon that is too absorbent for their menstrual flow.

Sources:

Dioxin in Tampons. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/scienceresearch/specialtopics/womenshealthresearch/ucm134825.htm.

Dudley S, Nassar S, Hartman E, Wang S. Tampon Safety. National Center for Health Research. http://www.center4research.org/tampon-safety/.

Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin, & Toxic Shock Syndrome; FDA, CDRH