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Are Organic Pads Simply A Marketing Scheme?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Organic pads have certainly caught the attention of most women with periods. After hearing about the undisclosed toxins in regular pads, especially in the media, many women switched to healthier alternatives. Personally, as soon as I heard, I immediately started purchasing organic pads. Although women, just like me, are now quickly switching over to organic pads, it may not completely be worth it. After reading a number of research articles, I am here to let you know whether organic pads are actually “organic,” and if they do have the beneficial effects for your vaginal health that we are all hearing about in comparison to other regular pads.

In a publication by Environment International, a team of researchers decided to test how many toxins were in regular brands, and in so-called “organic” brands. They decided to measure the toxins by identifying them as Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are materials found in feminine healthcare products that are used to add fragrance, adhesives, or other materialistic properties to the product; VOCs also include certain carcinogens, such as benzene, styrene, 1,4-dioxane, naphthalene, and trichloroethylene. I understand that these names may sound confusing to you, but it is important to know that these chemicals could increase one’s risk of cancer.

As you may know, the vagina and its surrounding tissues are very delicate parts of the human body. In the walls of the vagina, there are multiple types of vessels, such as arteries, lymphatic vessels, and general blood vessels. Due to the proximity of these vessels and the body’s need to circulate blood, it is easy for chemicals to seep into these vessels and get passed around the human body. In fact, there have been multiple research studies published in the last decade highlighting the negative exposure that sanitary pads and tampons may cause for the vagina. Other researchers have also noted how long-term exposure or exposure to high concentrations of VOCs are related with negative reproductive effects, and other general detrimental effects, such as damage to the liver, kidney, and respiratory system (Journal of women’s health). Although these research studies have been able to shed light on these issues, there is not much available research focusing on the quantitative levels of all these chemicals in each of the common menstrual pad brands.

In this same research study conducted by a group of researchers out of the University of Michigan, they found that product labels with words of “organic” or “all natural” on their packaging did not result in the elimination of any VOCs or even a lower concentration of VOCs (Environment international). They further went on to suggest that menstrual pads made from plants did not result in the alleviation of vaginal irritation, as it is suggested on the packaging. In fact, since these products are extracted from plants, they actually could be subject to detrimental effects from global pollution, and are thus cycling through your body (Journal of toxicology). Although we may relate the word “organic” to the “organic produce” we buy in our grocery stores, “organic” has a very different meaning in the feminine health industry; “organic” can actually be anything the brands want it to be. Terminology in feminine health is completely unregulated, which means that brands can choose any word that sounds “healthy” or better for your body, even if the product may not actually match the definition. Overall, the feminine health industry is highly unregulated, resulting in brands taking advantage of consumers.

Another concern noticed in the regulation of the feminine health industry has to do with the disclosure of ingredients used in products. Most brands fail to disclose the chemicals they are using in their products on their packaging. You would expect menstrual products to be very similar to medicines that you may pick up at a pharmacy or convenience store, as menstrual pads are recognized as FDA-approved medical devices. However, when you look at the back of most menstrual pad products, you might only see where the pads were made. When you look at the back of a pill bottle or food bought at a grocery store, you are able to read through the ingredients; this kind of detailed information continues to be left off of feminine health products.

Overall, organic pads do seem to be somewhat of a marketing scheme. Since there are no regulations in the feminine health industry, especially when it comes to disclosure of chemicals, brands have the freedom to design their packaging in a way that appeals to consumers. Even though organic brands may use some of the same toxic chemicals as regular brands in lower doses, that does not mean that other new toxic chemicals are not used as a replacement. Sadly, it looks like there just isn’t any concrete evidence showing that organic pads are better for your vaginal health compared to regular pads. If you do want to find better pads for your vagina, it is important to do your research on which brands include less VOCs like benzene, styrene, 1,4-dioxane, naphthalene, and trichloroethylene. It unfortunately does not look like we can trust the brands selling these “organic” products anymore, and have to figure out which brands are safe and truly organic ourselves.

*DISCLAIMER: This article is not medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, images and other material contained in this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.*

Sources

  1. Ding, Ning et al. “Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds and Use of Feminine Hygiene Products Among Reproductive-Aged Women in the United States.” Journal of women’s health (2002) vol. 29,1 (2020): 65-73. doi:10.1089/jwh.2019.7785
  1. Lin, Nan, et al. “Volatile organic compounds in feminine hygiene products sold in the US market: A survey of products and health risks.” Environment international 144 (2020): 105740
  1. Thompson, Lesa A, and Wageh S Darwish. “Environmental Chemical Contaminants in Food: Review of a Global Problem.” Journal of toxicology vol. 2019 2345283. 1 Jan. 2019, doi:10.1155/2019/2345283
  1. Janfaza, Sajjad et al. “Digging deeper into volatile organic compounds associated with cancer.” Biology methods & protocols vol. 4,1 bpz014. 27 Nov. 2019, doi:10.1093/biomethods/bpz014
  1. https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/volatile-organic-compounds
Meghana Reddy is the Campus Correspondent for the SCU chapter of Her Campus. Currently, she is a 4th year student pursuing a Major in Neuroscience and Minor in Computer Science. Meghana is passionate about women in entrepreneurship, consulting, healthcare, women's health, and dogs! In her free time, she loves to travel, try new foods, and practice yoga!
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