It's easy to get spooked out by the mention of a tampon these days, considering how much people are talking about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and the amount of chemicals that are put in traditional tampons. Speaking with Alyssa Dweck, MD, gynecologist in New York, author of The Complete A to Z For Your V: A Woman's Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vaginaand the latest spokesperson for Monistat, because she's more than qualified to set the record straight when it comes to using this popular feminine hygiene product.
Dr. Dweck said right off the bat, "The truth of the matter is, tampons are not harmful if they're used in a responsible way." You've probably heard your fair share of horror stories, where a women contracts TSS and tragically dies, and Dr. Dweck admits that "there has been concern about TSS." However, she says this is due to "a matter of use and absorbency, not due to a tampon."
If you leave your tampon in for too much time (more than eight hours), this could lead to TSS, which is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus in your body. The major symptoms include vomiting, sudden high fever, rash, muscle aches, low blood pressure, and even seizure. In some rare cases, TSS leads to death. But keep in mind that this only happens when the tampon is misused, not because the tampon itself is dangerous.
Although TSS isn't something to be taken lightly, it's not a particularly common occurrence among women. Recent studies show that four in every 100,000 women will suffer from TSS in their lifetimes, and while we'd like that number to be zero, it really isn't that high if you think about it. Dr. Dweck insists TSS can be avoided if you use the right tampon for your flow and change it often.
There's also the issue of the chemicals used in conventional tampons. Many people and some experts have said that the use of dioxins and chemical additives in tampons may cause harm to the body. For example, the World Health Organization has officially named dioxins as a "known human carcinogen." This sounds scary, but Dr. Dweck reminded us that "tampons that are made by traditional companies are checked and regulated by the FDA, so they're checked for safety."
Furthermore, the minuscule amounts of chemicals and toxins that are used in tampons are probably less than what you would encounter in your everyday life. In fact, the FDA reported that the detected levels of dioxin in tampons and pads are way lower than the tolerable monthly intake set by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). Their research shows that we encounter more dioxins through food and the environment on a daily basis than we do in our monthly tampon use, so in the grand scheme of things, it's really not something to worry about.
"Environmentally conscious people may want to use other [tampons]," Dr. Dweck added. "That's not really a safety issue; it's individual preference." There are several organic tampon companies that claim their product is more environmentally friendly and doesn't add waste to landfill, which makes it much more attractive to many consumers.
At the end of the day, though, Dr. Dweck (and many other experts in her field) are here to reassure you that tampons are safe — as long as you use them the way they were intended to be used. If you're still not 100 percent comfortable with the idea of using tampons, you can also explore period cups as a zero-waste alternative.