A Study Finds Toxic Metals in Tampons, Including Organic Ones. Should We Be Alarmed?

A scientific study that will be published in the August 2024 edition of the journal Environmental International has found toxic metals in tampons purchased across the United States, England, and Greece.

It’s estimated that between 52 and 86% of Americans with a menstrual cycle use tampons during their period. The sample selection was made up of 24 different products that ranged from brand name to generic store brand, with different absorbency levels and both organic and nonorganic materials. During the study, 16 different metals were tested for (arsenic, barium, calcium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, mercury, nickel, lead, selenium, strontium, vanadium, and zinc), and all of them were found in at least one sampled tampon.

“The surprising factor is not that there are heavy metals in tampons but that we are only now aware of this fact,” says Banafsheh Bayati, MD, ob-gyn, FACOG, and medical cofounder of vitamin line Perelel.

“This study doesn’t tell us how much of the metals are absorbed into the body, but many heavy metals, like lead or arsenic, have no completely safe levels,” says Colleen Krajewski, a gynecologist and the director of the Center for Contraception and Family Planning at UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Bayati adds: “The vaginal mucosa has a large surface area that is highly vascular and permeable. As a result, the vagina allows for efficient absorption of chemicals. More importantly, this absorption enters the systemic circulation, bypassing the liver for detoxification. Given that half the population undergoes menses and the popularity of tampon use, this study once again highlights the historical lack of knowledge when considering female health in the medical world.” This concern has been supported by countless studies, which have found that medicine administered vaginally is not only absorbed faster but also more bioavailable than medication taken orally or through a tincture.

According to the study, the highest metal found in a single sample was zinc (which can cause a metallic taste in the mouth, fever, or low blood pressure), while elevated concentrations of lead were found on average across the products—including organic tampons, which have been billed as a clean alternative for period care in recent years. It should be noted that according to the World Heath Organization, all lead exposure is considered unsafe and can cause side effects, with higher levels possibly leading to permanent damage to the brain, nervous system, and kidneys. Metals chromium and mercury were found in the lowest concentrations, and interestingly, the paper states “no category had consistently lower concentrations of all or most metals.”

In the US, tampons are considered a medical device, which means they are controlled and must be evaluated by the FDA—so this news comes as a concern when the governing health body has approved the products.

Both Bayati and Krajewski also shared that while this is certainly alarming, patients should give themselves grace when it comes to finding a solution. “It can feel overwhelming, so I encourage my patients to start small,” Krajewski says. That could start with menstrual management (many birth controls cause cessation of menstruation completely), switching to a BPA-free menstrual cup or disc, and remembering there are toxic metals in many other aspects of life. Also, ask for more: “This study is incredibly important in highlighting the need to push funding for women’s health,” Bayati says. “Women’s health is historically underrepresented, understudied, and underfunded.”


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