Beware “Forever Chemicals” in Your Pads and Tampons, New Study Cautions

3 min reading time

A new study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame has detected concerning levels of toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in some popular menstrual products, including period underwear, pads, and tampons.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a large group of man-made chemicals that break down very slowly in the environment and human body. Exposure to high levels of certain PFAS has been linked to serious health risks like cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, and hormone disruption.

In response to these findings, consumers are seeking non-toxic alternatives to traditional period products. We recently covered non-toxic period panties without PFAS in our in-depth guide, which provides information on PFAS-free options and how to make informed choices for personal health and the environment.

“PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, found in period products — liners pads, tampons, cups, and underwear — has long been a topic of conversation around the water cooler for its potentially harmful effects on the user.”

Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

High Fluorine Levels Detected in Some Products

The Notre Dame researchers tested over 100 different period products, including tampons, pads, cups, and reusable underwear. They looked for fluorine, an indicator of PFAS treatment.

“We found a high level of fluorine content in only some of the products tested, which tells us treating these products with PFAS is not essential.”

lead researcher Graham Peaslee, a physics professor at Notre Dame.

Concerning fluorine levels were detected in:

  • The lining of some period underwear brands
  • The outer wrappers of some pads and tampons
  • The outer layers of some reusable pads

Researchers hypothesize manufacturers intentionally add PFAS for water resistance. Highest fluorine levels exceeded 100,000 ppm, making up 10% of the product.

“Since this is a dangerous class of chemical compounds we know PFAS build up in the bloodstream and cause serious health issues – we should move away from any non-essential use of PFAS in consumer products,” said Peaslee.

Health Risks of PFAS Exposure

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment and human body for years without breaking down. Nearly all Americans have detectable PFAS levels in their blood.

“PFAS’s harmful ‘forever chemicals’ can potentially linger in the body and cause hormonal and reproductive problems, immune suppression, and potential cancer risks,” said Dr. Ross.

While it’s unknown if PFAS can be absorbed through the skin from clothes, direct exposure is one potential contamination route. PFAS in landfills also contaminate groundwater – almost half of U.S. drinking water contains PFAS.

High exposure has been linked to cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone disruption, and developmental issues in children.

More Research Needed on PFAS in Menstrual Products

The researchers emphasized this small study doesn’t prove PFAS treatment is widespread in the industry.

“A much larger study is needed to make stronger conclusions about the feminine hygiene product industry as a whole,” said researcher Alyssa Wicks.

However, they said it’s clear PFAS are non-essential in period products, as many PFAS-free alternatives exist. Consumers should look for PFAS-free labels when possible.

There are currently no federal regulations or labeling requirements concerning PFAS in consumer products like menstrual items. The EPA proposed national PFAS drinking water limits earlier this year.

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