Pals with periods, I've got some terrifying news for you: tampons might be way more dangerous than we knew. You might be rethinking your next period product purchase by the time you're done reading this.

New research studied the presence of metals in tampons

A new research article, published in Environment International, offered a study of the presence of metals in tampon products. The team tested non-organic and organic tampons, from 14 different tampon brands and 18 different product lines, for the presence of 16 different metals and metalloids.

The result? All 16 metals were detected in the tampon samples, with 12 of the 16 being present in all the tampon samples.

Tampons on pink background with a table showing all metals tested in study

Tests were done for arsenic, barium, calcium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, mercury, nickel, lead, selenium, strontium, vanadium, and zinc. Of these, zinc had the highest concentration; lead was highest in non-organic tampons and arsenic was highest in organic tampons.

We don't know exactly how these metals got into the tampons, but there are plenty of opportunities in the production process - from the growth of the materials used to the processing and manufacturing of the tampon - where metal could contaminate the product.

Why does it matter if metals are in tampons?

Tampons are products placed in the vagina in order to absorb menstrual blood and are usually left in for several hours at a time. The vagina is a highly sensitive organ with a high surface area. It can absorb chemicals more quickly into the bloodstream than if they were swallowed, and those chemicals can enter the system more swiftly as they bypass organs like the liver.

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What that means is that if you're inserting a toxin into your vagina, you're giving it an easy-access pass to your bloodstream. This is the very reason why toxic shock syndrome was an issue decades ago with tampon use.

What we don't know yet: the health implications of this study

As indicated in Newsweek, there is no indication yet of whether "metals detected by this study contribute to any negative health effects." The study is limited in its current scope, but it proves that more research - and more regulation - is needed.

But don't take that as a sign that you can relax when buying tampons. As the researchers note, for example, lead (Pb) has no safe exposure level. The paper's discussion explains:

... any proportion of Pb that may leach out of a tampon and reach systemic circulation might contribute to negative health outcomes. . . Pb is associated with numerous adverse neurological, renal, cardiovascular, hematological, immunological, reproductive, and developmental effects. . . even low-level exposure to Pb (10 µg/dL in blood) can result in neurobehavioral impacts in adults and children, including decreased cognitive function such as impaired attention, memory, and learning ability.

The researchers also note that arsenic and cadmium are also known to be linked to health issues, including cardiovascular disease, dermatitis, respiratory disease, neurological disease, and kidney damage.

As is the case with many health issues surrounding biological female anatomy, not enough studies have been done on issues surrounding the ability or risk of the vagina to absorb metals or chemicals. Even though we know it is a real risk due to toxic shock syndrome, research remains limited.

Hopefully, this new study will spark discussion and interest in continuing to find answers - before we find ourselves sick from a product we trusted to be safe.

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Gallery Credit: Kat Mykals

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