You should know what's going in your tampons. But here's why you don't.

If you've been slinking around the interweb as of late, chances are you've seen (or heard) some noise around tampons. Specifically, what's in them. 

That's because late last week, NSW law student Christine Stephens spearheaded a campaign to ensure all ingredients are listed on product labels of feminine hygiene products.

Because, unlike the food we eat and the beauty products we put on our skin, manufacturers of tampons and pads aren't legally required to disclose what ingredients are used in their products.

Weird, huh?

Watch: Tampons and pads are hardly a luxury, but did you know they had GST? Post continues below.

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After suffering an allergic reaction, Stephens was shocked to learn how difficult it was to find out what ingredients are used in women's sanitary products.

Thanks to the Menstrual Product Right to Know Act in 2019, manufacturers of sanitary products in the United States require every menstrual product on the market to disclose its ingredients on the packaging. 

However, this is not a requirement in Australia.

The campaign, aptly named 'Not In My Knickers', is calling for new legislation for companies to disclose the chemicals and materials used to make menstrual products.

At this point in time, the petition has garnered nearly 15,000 signatures.

But what is actually in tampons?

Dr Gino Pecoraro, who is president of the National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said there are many different ingredients in tampons that we don't know about. 

"Interestingly, there may be a whole range of chemicals used in the production of pads and tampons which could potentially cause an allergic reaction the same as any other chemical when it comes into contact with skin," he said.


"Because the skin of the vulva is sensitive and not always easily visible, some women can suffer quite profound discomfort before they realise that it is an allergy to the product that is causing her symptoms."

Image: Getty

"Another chemical that has been found in tampons, particularly, is dioxin - which is sometimes contained in the bleachers used to give that whiter than white look to tampons," explains Dr Pecoraro.

Dr Pecoraro warns that high dioxin levels in tampons and other sanitary menstrual products may pose some health risks, according to recent evidence.

"In animal studies, dioxin has been linked to increased rates of endometriosis and for this reason, apart from any other one, it may be advisable to avoid products known to have dioxin used in the manufacture."

"The coverings over tampons to make them glide more easily, packaging the products are housed in as well as the bleachers used could all be implicated in causing an allergic response."

How concerned should we be?

According to Dr Pecoraro, there's not much to go off when it comes to how many women are adversely affected by sanitary products. 


However, he says this may be due to the fact women will just switch products, rather than seek medical help.

"In my practice, I have not heard of many women with allergic reactions to menstrual products, but I suspect the reason for this is that there is such a large variety of products available." 

"If a woman found herself to have an uncomfortable reaction, she would merely change products rather than presenting to her general practitioner or gynaecologist - and in this way, we may never hear of her problem."

Dr Pecoraro warns that with time, exposure to allergens can cause painful skin infections - so it's always best to check in with a GP if this is something you're dealing with on the regular.

"If unchecked, allergic reactions may in time get worse. This can lead to splitting, cracking and blistering of the skin, which can also become secondarily infected with bacteria, causing painful infections and even long-term painful scarring."

What are some signs of allergic reaction?

Dr Pecoraro said to look out for things like "raised itchy bumps on the skin", "incessant itching" as well as "flaking and sometimes crusting."

Sound familiar? 

"If this is occurring during your period and you think it may be related to your pad or tampon, is worthwhile either getting checked by your GP or trying a different menstrual product."

Why are there no ingredients listed on tampons?

With all of this in mind, transparency with sanitary products will obviously allow women to make more informed choices, especially if they know they are allergic to certain ingredients.

Many people who have signed the petition have argued that it’s a fundamental right for a woman to know what kind of ingredients she's putting in her body.

One person commented on the petition, "I have previously developed dermatitis from women’s hygiene products from the product ingredients and layers, with subsequent referral to a dermatologist. This requirement should also extend to continence products."



Another comment reads: "I've had uncomfortable experiences with menstrual products and have the right to be informed of ingredients so I can make an informed choice. So do ALL who menstruate." (Larisa Barnes, Lismore, NSW).

Dr Pecoraro agrees that the demands for more transparency should be answered.

"It is interesting that the ingredients contained in most products are listed on the pack and I am unable to see a sensible reason why this is not also included in pads and tampons," he said. 

"It would appear to me, to be a relatively easy situation to resolve. NASOG certainly supports increased information available to consumers so that if they are known to be allergic to a particular chemical, they can specifically avoid products that contain it."

"If this requires specific government action, intervention or legislation, then I cannot see any reason why this is not introduced."

"There might be some competitive commercial reasons why manufacturers choose not to list the ingredients, but it may also become an advantage to some companies if they are able, for example, to advertise dioxin-free products."

With the average woman using around 10,000 to 12,000 tampons in her lifetime, it would only make sense that we are informed of what chemicals we're putting in our bodies - right?

Have you ever had an allergic reaction to your tampons or pads? Share with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty; Mamamia.

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