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To tampon, or not to tampon?

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

What are tampons made of? What goes on in the manufacturing process? How do they get he fibres so white? Are organic tampons a better choice? Should I try a cup? Or period undies?

This one is seriously hard to research. And in fact, one that a lot of us do not think to ask about in the first place which probably contributes to the lack of disclosed manufacturing information out there.

The longer I work with women, the more import I realise our vaginal ecology is. That's right, vaginal ecology.

'Gut microbiome' has become a mainstream term and with the rising popularity or kombucha, probiotics and gut detox products it is wonderful that we are understanding how to support gut health.

Did you know that our vaginas have their own microbiome? This is so important to understand as women so that we can choose what and what not to do to support vaginal health and prevent or treat conditions such as #endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (#PID), bacterial vaginosis (#BV), recurrent #thrush and even infertility.

The cells of our vaginal walls are incredibly sensitive, and incredibly absorptive. Like the cells and environment of our gut, the vagina also hosts a complex immune system and collaboration of immune cells as well as friendly bacteria and microorganisms. This delicately balanced environment is designed so that the immune cells and good microorganisms keep the balance and don't allow pathogenic bacteria and fungi to grow out of control, and also helps to regulate healthy cell functioning so that we don't see dysfunctional cell growth characteristic of endometriosis.

Maintaining a health vaginal pH (4.0-4.5 for reproductive years and a little over 4.5 for postmenopausal women) is essential for a healthy vaginal ecosystem, and a healthy vaginal ecosystem is essential for maintenance of a healthy pH.

If all of these things fall out of balance, immune dysregulation and inflammation can occur, which can contribute to all of the afore mentioned feminine affairs.

So if you think about it, what you put in your vagina is kind of important.

Tampons are made out of fibres (cotton, rayon or a blend) and those fibres do need to be treated. They are bleached and the types of bleaches have changed over time (for environmental reasons, not for women's health funnily enough!) and dioxin-containing bleached appear to be rarely used now.

I took a look at some of the more popular Australian tampon companies with comments that ranged from ‘elemental chlorine and perfume free’ (with no further specification of how their tampons were bleached. This refers to no dioxin, but is a bit blasé otherwise), a clear "oxygen bleached" using oxygen and hydrogen peroxide which appears to be a healthier option and other brands which are void of any information.

The rise of alternative options in recent years give us many more options than just tampons and pads (that might be worth consideration with the lack of transparent information out there). Menstrual cups (which were once totally hippy!) are now commonly found in the sanitary aisle of our supermarkets alongside the more recent emergence of period undies, both which are washable and recyclable.

Interestingly, women with endometriosis and painful periods have told me that swapping from tampons to period undies or pads has reduced their pain during menstruation. Whether or not this is due to the sensitivity of having anything physical present internally during menses, or for inflammatory reasons is unclear and unfortunately I don't foresee a huge amount of scientific studies looking into this anytime soon.

Considering the health implications is not the only reason to reconsider tampon use. Both tampons and pads create a huge environmental landfill issue and looking into alternatives like period undies or cups can vastly reduce your personal contribution to your waste quota.

Emma xx

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emma jacques

Women's Health

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