When it comes to menstrual hygiene products like period underwear, pads and tampons, you'd probably presume you're not intentionally being exposed to known carcinogens – but recent research unearthed dire findings. Here’s what it means for your health.
In recent years, concerns have arisen about the presence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), commonly referred to as "forever chemicals," in our household staples. But recent research has unveiled a shocking amount of period products are harbouring these dangerous chemicals. Researchers conducted a comprehensive examination of over 100 menstrual hygiene products, along with their packaging and employed particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy to analyse these items. This all sounds very jargon-y, but it simply means they were able to take a closer look at what's actually going on inside these products. In cases where there were multiple layers, like in disposable pads and reusable period underwear, each layer was examined individually. Among various types of period products, some showed minimal or no presence of PFAS, while others were teeming with the stuff.
Dr. Alyssa Wicks, one of the researchers, said, "In general, tampons appeared to be free of fluorine, as did menstrual cups and the layers of pads that come into direct contact with a person's skin."
Nevertheless, the researchers made a concerning discovery. They found that the highest concentrations of total organic fluorine, a crucial indicator for PFAS, were present in the packaging of many pads and some tampons. Additionally, some period underwear exhibited elevated levels of PFAS in their outer layers. The researchers speculate that PFAS may be used in these instances to prevent moisture from infiltrating single-use products before use and to avert blood leakage from the inner layers of the underwear onto clothing. The team's next phase of research will involve testing these high-fluorine samples for the presence of 40 different PFAS compounds – all of which are carcinogens.
What Are PFAS and Forever Chemicals?
PFAS are a class of synthetic chemicals that have been widely used in various industrial and consumer products for decades, from paper cups to raincoats and tents.
They earned the nickname "forever chemicals" because they are highly persistent in the environment and do not break down easily – they also have a habit of building up in your body over time, so every exposure is an added threat.
Recent studies and investigations have revealed that PFAS are present in some period products, including period underwear, pads, and tampons. These chemicals can be introduced during the manufacturing process or through the use of water-repellent coatings on these products. The concern lies in the potential for these chemicals to come into contact with the intimate and highly absorbent areas of the body.
The Dangers of PFAS in Period Products
Exposure to PFAS has been associated with a range of health problems, including hormonal disruptions, immune system dysfunction, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Given the direct contact between period products and sensitive genital areas, this exposure is particularly concerning – and we’ve got documented research linking these chemicals to a number of diseases:
- Organ damage
- Heart disease
The environmental persistence of PFAS is a significant concern. Once these chemicals are released into the environment, they can contaminate water sources, soil, and wildlife. This poses long-term ecological risks – not to mention the health risks of contaminated water sources that come back to haunt us as the ghost of forever chemicals past.
Lack of Transparency from Companies
One of the key issues surrounding PFAS in period products is the lack of transparency from manufacturers. Many companies do not disclose the presence of these chemicals in their products, leaving consumers unaware of potential risks; I mean, when was the last time you saw a warning label for forever chemicals on the back of the box? This lack of transparency hinders consumers' ability to make informed choices about the products they use – when researchers unveiled their findings, brands like Thinx didn’t pass the test, with PFAS found in their period underwear back in a 2020 independent investigation, despite their claims of selling an “organic”, “sustainable”, “non-toxic” product.
“This is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing”, read a Thinx statement, adding that forever chemicals had “never been a part of its product design, and that it will continue to take measures to help ensure that PFAS are not intentionally added to Thinx Period Underwear at any stage of production.”
Well, it’s a nice ambition, but still not what you want in any product that touches your skin!
But Australian period underwear brand ModiBodi managed to meet the mark – so there are options out there for those of you who prefer this revolutionary period product.
“Modibodi does not design products that require the functionality of PFAS", the company shared in a statement.
The point is, be sure to shop around. These findings don’t mean you have to skip out on period underwear, after all it’s been a lifesaver for many, but it’s vital that you look into your brand to ensure they’re taking measures to prevent PFAS in their products. And remember, just because a brand hasn’t disclosed any PFAS content, doesn’t mean it’s not there! Take a close look at what the product is made out of and take a look into the production process.
What You Can Do
- Advocacy: Join or support advocacy groups and campaigns that are working to raise awareness about the presence of PFAS in period products and calling for increased transparency and regulation in the industry.
- Product Research: Research brands and products that prioritise transparency and disclose their ingredients. Look for products that are certified free from harmful chemicals.
- Contact Manufacturers: Reach out to the manufacturers of your preferred period products and inquire about the presence of PFAS in their products. Encourage them to take action to address this issue.
- Regulation and Legislation: Support initiatives and legislation that seek to regulate the use of PFAS in consumer products, including period products.
- Consider Alternatives: Explore alternative period products, such as organic cotton pads or menstrual cups, which may have a lower risk of containing harmful chemicals.
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