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Harmful lead detected in tampons: Should you stop using them?

A recent study discovered 16 metals in tampons sold in the US and Europe, including lead and arsenic. Although heavy metal absorption can have negative health effects, gynecologists advise avoiding fretting about tampon use just yet.

Reported by:  PTC News Desk  Edited by:  Annesha Barua -- July 11th 2024 08:26 PM
Harmful lead detected in tampons: Should you stop using them?

Harmful lead detected in tampons: Should you stop using them?

PTC News Desk: A study has found several harmful elements, including lead and arsenic, in tampons that are commonly used in the US and Europe, raising concerns about menstruation products.

In essence, tampons are vaginally inserted cotton, rayon, or viscose plugs that are used to absorb and hold menstrual blood. Tampon use is estimated to be between 52 and 86 per cent among American menstruators. But in India, the market for period products is dominated by sanitary pads. However, other products—such as menstruation cups and tampons—are also becoming more and more popular, particularly among city people.


The University of California, Berkeley conducted the study, which examined 60 tampon samples from 14 different brands to find out how much metal was inside. The goods were bought from US, UK, and Greek retailers in addition to two significant internet merchants. The quantities of arsenic, barium, calcium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, mercury, nickel, lead, selenium, strontium, vanadium, and zinc were measured through further analysis. All 16 of the evaluated metals had detectable quantities, according to the researchers.

All 16 elements were found in at least one sample, although lead was discovered in every tampon examined. But there are no brand names mentioned in the report.

Lead is linked to a number of harmful neurological, renal, cardiovascular, hematological, immunological, reproductive, and developmental effects, according to the study.

"Even low-level exposure to lead can result in neurobehavioral impacts in adults and children, including decreased cognitive function such as impaired attention, memory, and learning ability," it said. The links between arsenic and cadmium and a number of harmful health effects were also identified by researchers.

Tampons classified as organic or non-organic vary in their metal content. Compared to the non-organic ones, the organic ones had higher levels of arsenic but less lead.

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Should you be worried?

Does that imply that you ought to discard every tampon you own? However, the report makes no mention of whether the metals leak out of tampons and enter the body through absorption.

However, it is unknown at this time whether metals are absorbed by the body or if they leak out of the tampon. As a result, we are unable to determine whether or not metals found in tampons are linked to any health issues at this time, the spokesperson said.

The skin of the vagina is more permeable than other regions of the body, therefore it can be problematic if metals leak out. More research is needed to confirm this. The US Food and Drug Administration, which oversees tampon regulations, has stated that it will carefully review the study and take any necessary steps to protect the health of tampon users.

While the health hazards associated with tampon use are not assessed in this study, prior studies on heavy metals in cosmetics have raised the possibility of lead and other metals being absorbed through the skin.

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What do gynaecologists say?

Gynecologists accept the limits of the research as well as the possible health hazards posed by the metals discovered in the tampons in the recently released study. But medical professionals do advise being cautious.

"This study suggests the need for caution, even though the full impact of these metals in tampons on health is still not fully understood," says a specialist.

"Exposure to lead can cause damage to the nervous system, and exposure to arsenic is linked to a number of health risks, including cancer." We still don't know for sure how much toxic metal is in tampons or whether it can be absorbed through the vagina in a significant enough amount to have negative health effects, says  a specialist, despite the fact that the vaginal tissue is highly absorbent, which means these metals can enter the bloodstream directly and cause harm to health.

While more research is done to elucidate the hazards, she advises thinking about switching to other menstruation products or cutting back on tampon use.

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There is a lot of blood flow in the vagina, where tampons are put. This makes it possible for some substances to enter the bloodstream directly. Materials inserted into the vagina bypass this process and enter the circulation directly, in contrast to oral items that first pass through the gut and are subsequently eliminated by the liver before reaching the blood—a procedure known as first-pass metabolism. Nevertheless, the amount of lead, arsenic, or other metals absorbed in this manner, their blood levels, and the potential toxicity of these levels are still unknown. More study is required, according to Dr. Dayal.

While it may not be necessary to completely stop using tampons,  a specialist said, thinks it is important to think about safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives.

She continues by saying that there is little use of tampons in India since sanitary pads or cloth are more often utilised for a variety of reasons, including accessibility.

Tampons – the pros and cons

Tampon use has various drawbacks, aside from the presence of metals (which is concerning but requires more research). For young girls who are not trained, it can be challenging to use and may result in injury. Tampons increase the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) because they irritate and itch the skin, according to a gynecologist.

Tampon insertion site syndrome (TSS) is the result of microorganisms entering the body and releasing toxic substances. It's not common, but it can be deadly. Tampons should not be used while sleeping at night. Vaginal dryness can also be brought on by highly absorbent tampons.

In addition, an expert says, "tampons are costly and not environmentally friendly."

Tampons do, however, have certain benefits as well, including as keeping you comfy throughout your period and preventing rashes, unlike pads.

Every product has advantages and disadvantages. Like pads are widely available, reasonably priced, but not eco-friendly and can result in rashes. Contrarily, if menstruation cups are not fitted correctly, they may leak.

Menstrual cups with medical-grade silicone and fabric pads are advised by health professionals.

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- With inputs from agencies

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