harmful chemicals in period products

About CHEM Trust

CHEM Trust is an organisation working at UK and EU levels to prevent synthetic chemicals from causing long term damage to wildlife or humans, by ensuring that chemicals which cause such harm are substituted with safer alternatives.
We have recently launched a new website all about EDCs and how to reduce your risk of exposure to them. For more information on harmful chemicals in menstrual products, toiletries and cosmetics, see this page.
The website also has information on harmful chemicals in: food and food packaging; furniture, clothing and textiles; till receipts; cleaning products; and children’s products.
Environmenstrual Week highlighted a range of worrying impacts related to menstrual products, such as the pollution of beaches from the discarded plastic waste and period poverty. It also shined a light on the impact of menstrual products on health, specifically the presence of harmful synthetic chemicals within the products.
Harmful chemicals can be present in conventional menstrual product items. The use of these chemicals in menstrual products is particularly concerning as they are used in a delicate and sensitive area of the body, for hours at a time for several days. Some of the chemicals used have hormone disrupting properties (these chemicals are often known as endocrine disrupting chemicals – EDCs).

Harmful chemicals in menstrual products

Conventional menstrual products may contain harmful chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenols and pesticides. Some of these chemicals are intentionally added, and others are unwanted contaminants. Brands don’t currently have to list ingredients so it’s hard to know which chemicals are in a product.
Some menstrual products have added fragrances or scents, which can contain allergens, sensitizers, phthalates, neurotoxins and synthetic musks. Synthetic musks can have endocrine disrupting properties.
Pesticide residues may be present in some menstrual products that are made with non-organic cotton.
Some products are bleached with chlorine, a process that produces a by-product called dioxins. Dioxins are one of the most toxic groups of chemicals known to humans, are known EDCs, and have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems.
An example of unwanted contamination is shown in a 2019 investigation by a French consumer organisation 60 Millions de consommateurs, which found residues of hazardous chemicals in tampons, including the controversial pesticide glyphosate and a widely banned phthalate called DEHP.

What are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)?

We’ve mentioned that some of the chemicals that may be in menstrual products have endocrine disrupting properties. These are known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But what are EDCs, and why are we concerned about them?
EDCs affect hormones and their role in how the body develops and functions. They can do this in variety of ways: some can mimic our natural hormones and others can block our hormones from doing their job; they can change the amount of hormones in our blood, or change our sensitivity to particular hormones.
A range of health concerns have been linked to exposure to EDCs, including reproductive and fertility problems, endometriosis, early puberty, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, and certain hormonal cancers. Our hormone system is closely linked to our neurological and immune systems, and so there are also concerns that EDCs can impact children’s brain development and our ability to fight disease.
Exposure to EDCs is particularly concerning at key stages of development, such as early years development, puberty, pregnancy and menopause. As the use of menstrual products starts during puberty, it is worrying that some of these products could contain EDCs.

Alternative menstrual products

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to reduce your risk of exposure to EDCs and other harmful chemicals from menstrual products.
There are a wide range of alternatives to conventional menstrual products, including organic cotton tampons and pads (look for an organic certification logo), period underwear and reusable fabric pads. Wen has put together a list of discount codes for plastic-free period products.
You can choose tampons and pads with the EU Ecolabel – the use of some chemicals are restricted in these products. For example, adhesives should not contain formaldehyde and certain phthalates, and tampons with the ecolabel are not allowed to contain fragrances. Any cotton in the products must be organic and so should not have been treated with pesticides.
You can also look for products without fragrances (these might be labelled as unscented), and products labelled ‘Totally chlorine free’ or ‘TCF’ – these products are less likely to be contaminated with harmful dioxins.
Find out more about Environmenstrual Week
Environmenstrual Campaign
Seeing Red Briefing 

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