Unless you're buying all-natch period products, you might not know what's really in your tampons. One state is taking steps to change that. On International Day of the Girl 2019, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed long overdue legislation that will require ingredient labels on menstrual products so people who experience periods can make informed decisions about the products they use. The law will go into effect in about 6 months, though manufacturers will have 18 months to update product packaging.
"Practically every product on the market today is required to list its ingredients, yet these items have inexplicably evaded this basic consumer protection," Gov. Cuomo said in a statement released by his office. "It's part of the pervasive culture of inequality in our society that has gone on for too long, and that injustice ends today as we become the first state in the nation to mandate ingredient disclosure."
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, menstrual products are regulated as medical devices and the bleaching process is, "free from elemental chlorine, which also prevents products from having dangerous levels of dioxin (a type of pollutant found in the environment)." Until the late '90s, the bleaching process used chlorine bleach, which left behind traces of dioxin.
Full disclosure, I didn't know that ingredients weren't listed on boxes of tampons. I just pulled mine out from under the bathroom sink and saw that there is a "may contain" section that lists about four things. This wording makes it seem like what's in the tampons is anyone's guess. In addition, not requiring companies to list ingredients can increase the chances of an allergic reaction, Cuomo's office said.
Linda Rosenthal, the assembly member who sponsored the bill, said everyone has a right to know what's in their menstrual products. "Now that my bill to require menstrual product ingredient disclosure on packaging has become law, every single New Yorker who uses tampons and pads will know exactly what's in the products they use in and on some of the most sensitive parts of their bodies for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, one week out of the year for as many as 40 years," she said in the statement from Gov. Cuomo's office.
In 2018, in support of the period product disclosure bill, the group Women's Voices for the Earth sent six top U.S. tampon brands to an independent lab to test for chemicals. What they found was troubling not because the chemicals they found are dangerous but because there's not enough research to determine if the chemicals are dangerous after repeated exposure.
"It is important to note that there is no available research on potential health impacts from vaginal exposure to these chemicals," the group said on its website, urging people to support the bill Cuomo just signed. "These results confirm neither a known level of danger, nor do they establish a threshold of safety for these exposures."
If you're curious, many tampon makers have ingredients sections on their websites. In addition, you can also check out the FDA's guidance document for menstrual product companies. Menstrual products go through FDA testing and approval and are required to come with literature about potential risks like toxic shock syndrome, a rare but serious infection.
Whether or not disclosing the ingredients in tampons and other menstrual products provides new information for consumers, the larger issue is that people who have periods have a right to know exactly what they're putting in their bodies. That information accompanies most products that go inside of human bodies, and there's no reason it shouldn't accompany tampons and pads too. What tampon or menstrual product you decide to use, if any, is a personal choice. And you should have all the information available to make it.