Are tampons made with organic cotton better for the environment? Sure. Are they more expensive? Yes. (At the NYC drugstore INSIDER visited, an organic brand cost 47% more per tampon compared to store brand.) But are they better for your body? A lot of wellness bloggers, websites, and organic tampon sellers certainly think so.
Tons of online sources (including Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop) claim that conventional tampons are loaded with harmful chemicals that might disrupt your health. Organic tampons, they argue, are safer and better for you.
But gynecologists say that's not necessarily true.
"For the majority of people [conventional tampons] are fine, and have been used for years and years without issue," gynecologist Dr. Alyssa Dweck, author of "The Complete A to Z for your V," told INSIDER.
Here's why you probably shouldn't worry about buying organic tampons.
Organic isn't better for preventing toxic shock syndrome.
Toxic shock syndrome can happen with organic tampons, too.
If you're a tampon wearer, you've likely heard of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), the rare but life-threatening infection that's linked to tampons. But risk for TSS has nothing to do with whether your tampon is organic or not.
"[TSS] has more to do with the absorbability and the length of use of one singular tampon," Dweck said. "So that doesn't make much of a difference when it comes to organic versus not."
To protect yourself against TSS, Dweck said you should "never leave a tampon in for more than eight hours, make sure the tampon packaging is intact before you put it in, and [use] the lowest absorbency that's reasonable for your flow."
Fears of tampon toxins are overblown.
Some natural and "wellness" bloggers warn about the dangers of dioxins. These are man-made environmental pollutants that can cause cancer, reproductive problems, and damage to the immune system at high enough doses, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
CNN reports that normal tampons are typically made out of both cotton and rayon, a fiber that comes from wood pulp. In the past, the wood pulp used to make rayon was purified with chlorine gas. That process created dioxins as an unwanted byproduct.
Consumer fears once prompted FDA to test several brands of tampons for dioxins. They found only one brand had significant levels of the chemicals — and even if a woman used 24 of those tampons in a month, she'd still be exposed to less than 0.2% of the tolerable limit set World Health Organization (WHO).
The FDA also noted that today, tampon manufacturers use purification methods that drastically reduce the formation of dioxins to trace or undetectable levels. Additionally, dioxins are found throughout our environment, and humans get 90% of their exposure from diet, according to the WHO. Switching to organic tampons won't change that.
The one tampon additive you should really be concerned about is fragrance.
"I think the biggest issue that I see is with fragrant tampons," Dweck said. "That truly does cause irritation for lots of women." Luckily, plenty of non-organic tampons are fragrance free.
You shouldn't worry about herbicides in tampons, either.
Another popular concern is that tampons made from conventional cotton contain glyphosate, a weed killer that's sprayed on many conventional crops, including cotton. It's not allowed for organic crops, though. Hum are mostly exposed to glyphosate through food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Goop notes that glyphosate was classified as "probably carcinogenic" — a.k.a. cancer-causing — by the WHO.
But in a post on her women's health blog, gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter took a closer look at the WHO's actual ruling on glyphosate: In 2016, the agency reviewed all the available evidence and "concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic in rats but could not exclude the possibility that it is carcinogenic in mice at very high doses [...] glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet."
Of course, tampons are not in your diet and, unfortunately, there are hardly any studies on how much glyphosate (if any) actually makes it into tampons. But in 2015, one scientist reported that he found glyphosate in a sample of menstrual products at the very low concentration of 0.004 micrograms per gram.
Using that data point, Gunter determined that even "a lifetime of heavy tampon use" isn't likely to get you anywhere close to the upper limit of glyphosate exposure that's considered safe by the FDA.
"If glyphosate is a concern for any woman it is far better for her to think about her food choices than tampons," Gunter wrote.
If you want to buy them for environmental reasons, go for it!
Supporting organic farming is a great thing. That said, a reusable menstrual cup is probably even more environmentally friendly than disposable tampons — even organic ones.
Additionally, Dweck said that some women with very sensitive vulvas or vaginas might be irritated by ingredients in conventional tampons, and organic varieties could work better for them.
But the bottom line is still the same: Don't feel like you're in imminent danger if you use non-organic tampons.