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Breaking the Cycle of Period Product Misinformation

In this new era of influencer marketing, we are inundated with viral videos of non-medical experts pushing health and wellness goods, including alternative period products. Many resort to scare tactics to sell the latest and greatest in unregulated “toxin-free” and “eco-friendly” period protection options.

Katie Ward, DNP, WHNP, a women’s health nurse practitioner at University of Utah Health, is a passionate advocate for menstrual health and wants to set the record straight about period products.

“I would caution people about influencers using fearmongering about toxins in period products and how you can be freed from that by buying certain products—many of which you don’t know what the ingredients are and where they’re being made,” Ward says. “If you’re going to spend money on period products, get the ones that come from a big brand name company that is actually overseen by the FDA.”

Don’t Be Fooled by Buzzwords

Falsehoods about menstrual products—such as the myth that tampons and pads leak carcinogens into women’s bodies—are widespread. Buzzwords like “paraben free” and “BPA free” run rampant in viral TikTok videos and reels filmed by enthusiastic influencers and whistleblowers.

One common misconception Ward finds herself patiently refuting is that “free bleeding” is the safest option. Given the millions of women who have safely used brand-name pads and tampons over the span of half a century, there really isn’t much of a reason to distrust the tried-and-true products, she notes.

“These products are made by major companies that have gone through an FDA approval process,” Ward says. “Their packages disclose exactly what’s in them, and they do get tested for pesticides, chemicals, and anything that people might consider harmful. The products I actually worry about are the ones that aren’t coming from a mainstream company.”

No matter how convincing that TikTok video may be about “all natural” makeshift sanitary products, it’s important to be aware of the health risks of unregulated items, which include vaginal and urinary tract infections, severe reproductive health conditions, and toxic shock syndrome.

Tampons Are Safe. Period.

Warnings about the linkage between tampons and Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)—a potentially fatal bacterial infection—can send people into a panic. But before you throw your box of Kotex in the garbage, please know that the risk of this happening to you is as low as 1 in 100,000.

“A lot of the TikTok videos leverage Toxic Shock Syndrome to sell their products,” Ward says. “Back in the ‘70s, there was one brand of tampon with design flaws that caused TSS. If you look at the history, it’s reassuring to see that all these other products on the market proved to be safe, and that when something did go wrong, it became apparent quickly, and that brand was taken off the market.”

Reusable period products

“You have to be really careful about washing the reusable products,” Ward says. “If menstrual cups don’t get cleaned properly, they can get a biofilm on them that may become a source of bacteria over time. The same goes for period underwear; make sure you’re washing those and running them through an adequate dry cycle. And even though they’re reusable, they should be replaced regularly.”

Note: Period products are basic necessities, not luxuries, which is why many schools and businesses are starting to offer them for free to help millions of women in the United States gain access to these items on a monthly basis.

Buyer Beware

The good news is women have more options—and freedom—since the bygone days of period pantaloons and sanitary belts. Yet with these many alternatives, it’s up to the consumer to do some research before trying out the latest viral sensation. And if you’re unsure, ask your doctor about what period products would work best for you and your lifestyle.