Are Tampons Safe to Use?

Safe When Used Properly

stack of tampons
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Whether you have just got your period or have been menstruating for decades, chances are you have come across a box of tampons – or perhaps even used them yourself. You have also probably heard a horror story about tampons or toxic shock syndrome, a rare condition that can occur if a high absorbency tampon is left in too long. 

While toxic shock syndrome (TSS) can happen, it is incredibly rare. There were only 337 recorded cases in the United States in 2015.

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 our skin and are in most cases harmless. However, they can invade the body's bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection. 

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 a 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. "Cellulose used in U.S. tampons is now produced using elemental chlorine-free bleaching." Many of the claims of dioxin-related risks are based on elemental chlorine bleaching 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.

Preventing Toxic Shock Syndrome

Choosing the proper tampon absorbency may help reduce the risk of TSS, and vaginal discomforts. 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 US 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 thinner tampons and change frequently than 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 health care provider.


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

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