Period pants and additives

Once again period pants are in the news and have been found wanting. While celebrating the big campaign win of getting VAT removed from period pants, a huge victory in terms of accessibility, we are shocked by the results of recent tests for harmful additives in period pants. 

The tests were conducted by the UK and Italian-based consumer organisations Which and Altroconsumo who tested a range of period pants and found “unnecessary high levels of silver which could have unknown health implications for wearers and damage the environment”.  

Silver has been used for centuries because of its antimicrobial properties. It’s widely used in healthcare equipment and consumer items like keyboards, sports clothing, and socks. But recently we’ve seen a huge increase in its use in period products as an anti-odour and anti-microbial substance – a chemical solution for a social problem.


The type of silver found in period pants is not the elemental silver used to make jewellery but can be in the form of nanosilver (tiny weeny pieces of silver so small you can’t even see them). Or in the form of silver chloride or silver zeolite. Antimicrobial silver like this is classified as a biocide.  The Which tests couldn’t determine which type of silver was found in the period pants, but regardless, all are bad news for our health and the environment.  

Alexandra Scranton, who has done considerable work on this with WVE (Women’s Voices for the Earth), concluded that: “There is even less evidence that period products emit noticeable odours, or that silver-containing ones emit less. There is no research indicating that period products such as menstrual underwear or pads are likely to transmit harmful bacteria to your body”.

How have we got here, again, with questionable substances found in period products which can harm health? Sadly, a complete lack of regulation and transparency means our vaginas have once again become the testing ground for substantial amounts of unnecessary and potentially harmful additives and we as consumers have no choice in the matter. 

There are no legal limits in the UK about how much silver can be added to period pants. Manufacturers do not have to declare the presence of silver on their packaging or website. And textile certifiers such as Nordic Swan and Oeko Tex allow the use of silver.  


The ironic thing here is there are a number of ironic things to choose from:   

  • Silver additives wash out after several washes anyway. Up to 72% reduction after the first 10 washes. Making the anti-odour pledges more of a consumer selling point.  
  • The synthetic materials (essential plastic like polyester) used to make many period pants tend to hold onto odours more than cotton fabric. So, facilitates the need to add something else to reduce these odours. 

But the most ironic issue is the construct of menstrual odour. 

Leaving aside odour from infections and certain vaginal diseases, menstrual odour is a construct. A construct heightened by the period product producers to sell us products for a problem we didn’t even know we had. It feeds into an archaic notion that period blood and periods smell bad and need to be sanitised and deodorised. This does not address but only reinforces the taboos and stigma around menstruation. Adding potentially harmful additives to reusable period products to mitigate the ‘smells’ feels like a repetition of the sins of the past. Even menstrual cups aren’t safe from the additive addicts.  


Coming down in favour or against waste-reducing and reusable period products is like walking a knife edge. What is good for the environment in terms of reducing plastic and single-use waste can harm our health when it comes to recycling post-consumer plastic waste or using additives to mitigate any fears that these reusable products won’t function the same as the single-use ones we are used to.  

We don’t seem to have learned anything from our use and subsequent banning of substances thought to have magic anti-microbial properties such as tributyl tins or triclosan. They were similarly stuck into consumer products as an anti-microbial only to discover too late that they harmed health, wildlife and our environment.  

“A problem which will never be solved by additives because menstrual odour is an age-old social construct which served to make women and those who menstruate feel bad about themselves, hide the fact they were bleeding and purchase various odour-reducing products to chemically treat a social issue”. Alexandra Scranton from WVE.  

Silver is classified as a biocide i.e. a toxic substance. Nanosilver exposure can lead to changes in the activity of the immune system, and an accumulation of silver in the spleen, liver, and testes. 

We know that synthetic clothing like sports clothing can leach to toxic chemicals – sports bras and leggings leaching up to 40 times the safe levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) linked to breast and other cancers. Brominated flame retardants linked to thyroid disease, hormonal disruption and neurological issues are found in sports clothing, the very clothes we wear to get fit and healthy.  

Oily substances like sweat encourage the chemicals in plastic to dissolve and diffuse, the oil in your body can leach chemicals from the plastics you touch or in this case, wear like sports clothing.  


Silver is harmful not only to humans but also to aquatic life and has been found in sewage sludge at water treatment plants. 

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) says silver treatments, such as nanosilver and silver zeolite, are toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. When released into the environment through production, wearing and washing and ultimate disposal this product can leach silver. Which has been found in the sediment of lakes and seas, harming marine wildfire and the environment as it never degrades. 

The takeaway is, that there is no regulation for these additives. The UK has no legal limits about how much silver can be added to period pants. Manufacturers do not have to declare the presence of silver on their packaging or website.  

We need to move towards safer, more sustainable and less fossil fuel-based ‘solutions’ and additives especially when it comes to period products. Silver is not the only toxic chemical found in period products, earlier this year PFAS – a harmful chemical linked to cancer and other adverse health effects –   was found in period products and wrappings  

This is why Wen is urgently calling for a Menstrual Health Dignity and Sustainability Act.  

What you can do 

  • Call for urgent regulation of all period products – write to your government representative – scroll to the end of the blog for more info.   
  • Choose products wisely, washing, cleaning and drying reusable period products as manufacturer-directed should be enough to keep them clean without additives.  
  • Try and avoid products containing anti-odour additives, silver or anti-microbials sometimes listed as trademarked but to be sure….ask for information and increased transparency.  
  • We need to demand more from the period product industry and shouldn’t be afraid to ask.  


Some of the additives used in period pants are listed below. A quick search provided a bit of clarity, but more irony. Adding these substances to ‘save energy’ and ‘reduce washing’ is not good news for health or the environment if they cause increased pollution and harm health.  

SILVADUR™ antimicrobial technology – Silver ion polymer technology adheres to fibre surfaces to provide long-lasting antimicrobial textile protection. Listed on the OEKO-TEX™ list of accepted Active Chemical Products, which makes it suitable for textiles that are to be certified under STANDARD 100. (contains silver)

CoolMaxAbsorbent Technology – Can contain silver

Polygiene StayFresh – is based on silver chloride. “It is embedded in textiles to provide freshness for the entire lifespan of most products. That means you need to wash less and replace items less frequently – good news for you, and good news for the environment.”.  

Saniconcentrate – No idea what this is, but lack of transparency is a worry.  



Find out more about Environmenstrual 

A guide to creating sustainable period apparel



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