Period products containing ‘forever chemicals’ (PFAS)

Period products containing 'forever chemicals' (PFAS)

The Hidden Chemicals in Period Products: What You Need to Know

Period products

Period products are a necessity for many people around the world. From tampons to pads, reusable underwear to menstrual cups, these products provide comfort and convenience during menstruation. However, recent research has raised concerns about the presence of potentially harmful substances in some period products, including the packaging.

Unveiling the “Forever Chemicals”

One such group of substances is known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have gained notoriety as “forever chemicals” due to their extended time to break down. PFAS have been associated with various health problems, including cancer, liver and kidney damage, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and immune system dysfunction.

A study led by Graham Peaslee, PhD, a professor at Notre Dame University, examined over 100 period products and their packaging. The researchers detected PFAS in some of the examined products, shedding light on a potentially concerning issue.

The study was presented at the 2023 fall meeting of the American Chemical Society, although it hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dissecting Period Products and Chemicals

One key challenge highlighted by the study is the lack of ingredient transparency in period products. Unlike food products, manufacturers do not typically list the ingredients of period products. Therefore, consumers are unaware of what substances they may be exposed to.

Despite this limitation, the researchers found that many of the examined products did not contain polyfluoroalkyl. However, they were surprised to discover the presence of PFAS in the wrappers of some pads and tampons, as well as in the outer layers of certain period underwear. The researchers hypothesize that manufacturers add fluorine to these products to keep them dry, preventing blood from escaping the inner layers and staining clothing.

An important question is whether PFAS can pass through the skin when in contact with different materials and thereby potentially enter the bloodstream. Interestingly, PFAS have also been found in school uniforms and firefighting gear, further highlighting the potential pathways of exposure.

Connecting the Dots: Health and Environmental Concerns

Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert, emphasizes the potential harm posed by PFAS in period products. She notes that these “forever chemicals” can linger in the body, causing hormonal and reproductive problems, immune suppression, and potentially increasing the risk of cancer. However, she also points out that further scientific research is needed to establish the precise association between PFAS intake and these harmful medical conditions.

The environmental impact of PFAS is another cause for concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the dangers of PFAS in the water supply. Some PFAS, like perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), do not break down easily, can contaminate drinking water sources, and ultimately accumulate in fish and wildlife. However, the concentration and absorption of PFAS in period products, specifically, are still subjects of ongoing research.

Taking Action: Minimizing PFAS Exposure

While more research is needed to fully understand the extent of the issue, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to PFAS. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provides several recommendations:

  • Avoid drinking contaminated water.
  • Refrain from consuming fish from contaminated waters.
  • Steer clear of food items sourced from animals exposed to PFAS.
  • Be cautious about using products packaged with PFAS materials.

Dr. Sherry Ross advises considering organic and natural period products that are generally free of synthetic chemicals, as well as menstrual cups and reusable period underwear. Additionally, actively seeking out “PFAS- and fluorinated-free” products can be a prudent strategy to ensure safer alternatives.

While it is reassuring that most period products do not contain PFAS, it is always essential to prioritize your health and explore options that minimize potential risks associated with period product use.

In conclusion, the presence of potentially harmful PFAS chemicals in some period products raises concerns about their impact on our health. The lack of ingredient transparency adds an additional layer of uncertainty. It is crucial to stay informed, take necessary precautions, and choose products that prioritize your well-being.