An eye-opening documentary Tampon, notre ennemie invisible, that I recently watched, raised straight away a lot of questions, the very first one being – what is a toxic shock syndrome? Not only that this disease has not been eradicated, but we are not raising enough awareness around it. The reason why many women do not even know that they can get it and how.
So, what is a toxic shock syndrome? Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacteria that gets into the body and releases harmful toxins. It’s often associated with tampon use in young women, but it can affect anyone of any age – including men and children.
TSS gets worse very quickly and can be fatal if not treated promptly. But if it’s diagnosed and treated early, most people make a full recovery.
An eye opening documentary about dangers of tampons
This documentary answers the question are tampons bad for you. It also shows us what is a toxic shock syndrome, when we had the first victims of it, what our pads and tampons are made of, why tampons are bad for you, why there is still taboo around our periods, etc. But what is even more valuable about it, is that it teaches us in a very clever and indirect way what kind of questions we need to ask ourselves when it comes to the mighty industries in charge of our menstrual protection. It makes us think about our body, about all the toxins that go into it. Someone is very often making profits off of our lack of knowledge.
Audrey Gloagen’s documentary, made in French, was a result of an independent study that revealed a lot of things we did not know before. What stroke me was that, even though tampons and pads are hugely used, governments or other services that are supposed to protect our, consumers’ rights, were never interested enough in conducting a study of this kind.
We women have been using these products for decades and yet, as crazy as it may sound, few people dare to question this object. This is probably because the manufacturers have cleverly played on the taboo around menstruation to make us not want to know more
the director Audrey Gloaguen
Are tampons bad for you?
One women uses around 11000 tampons during her menstrual life time, and the companies that make them refuse to say what they are made of. We know what goes into our beauty products or what the composition of our medications is, but we don’t know what our tampons and menstrual pads are made of. What we do not understand is that they are like medications, we put tampons inside of our extremely absorbent vaginas. Do you think that menstrual blood simply gets on the tampon and that it cannot also be the other way around? Toxins and chemicals that are inside the tampons can also get into our blood system.
We suppose that they are made out of cotton, but are they really? Are tampons bad for you? It has been proven that there are 20 to 30 chemical substances in 6 different biggest brands of tampons. There are synthetic fibers, carcinogenic substances and endocrine disrupters. Not only that they are not made of cotton, but most of them consist of 90% of plastic.
That is why the director Audrey Gloaguen decided to conduct her own research, surveys and tests in private labs in 2017. These products that participated in women’s emancipation in the XX century could be a reason of many deaths. The real consequences of the toxins in our menstrual protection are not seriously studied.
This symbol of emancipation should not become the cause of regression.
Toxic shock syndrome
What is toxic shock syndrome? We already said that toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins. But what exactly happens in your body?
Staphylococcus aureus exists in 20 to 30% of women’s bodies. With the release of the toxins from menstrual pads and tampons, these bacteria develop in women’s bodies even more. This bacteria leaves toxins in the blood and produces generalized infections. The toxins that pass into the bloodstream and the immune system start to react very quickly and if it is not detected fast enough, organs start cancelling and women can die. It can be a matter of few hours, not something that develops over longer period of time.
The first cases of the toxic shock syndrome
The first cases of the toxic shock syndrome happened in the USA in 1983 when a tampon company Rely decided to make their tampons entirely out of synthetic materials because of a better absorption. They said that women could leave it in their vaginas up to 5 days! Around 100 of women died from the consequences of the toxic shock syndrome and few thousands were severely affected. Some women lost their limbs, others couldn’t have children while many had different consequences on their general health.
Obviously, the company got sued after this incident and one of the things that they had to state on the boxes was that a very absorbent tampon was risky for women’s health. The more the tampon is absorbent, the more it is dangerous for women’s body and it should be kept less time. The drops on the boxes represent the relation between the pads or tampons and the toxic shock syndrome. I honestly did not know about this before watching the documentary, I simply thought that this meant I could use it when my flow is stronger but not necessarily for shorter period of time. More drops actually means that there are more substances that can cause the toxic shock syndrome and be even mortal for women.
If pad or tampon can absorb more, that does not mean that we can keep it for a longer period of time, it means exactly the opposite!
This being said, if you have this kind of bacteria in your body, the drops tell that you should not use more absorbent tampons. They are the ones to be avoided! Or, if you do use them, then you should keep them for a very short period of time, change them even more frequently.
When doctors do not know to detect toxic shock syndrome
Since we do not speak about what is toxic shock syndrome, even doctors don’t have enough knowledge on it and don’t know how to detect it fast enough. It is also because it does not happen too often these days, but still happens.
As a consequence, a lot of women are misdiagnosed and die from infections. There are still deaths in France every single year from a toxic shock syndrome. You can find that in two nerve wracking testimonials in the documentary from two women survivors. They have huge consequences today.
Lauren Wasser, toxic shock syndrom survivor
The model Lauren Wasser was in the same situation. Her limbs started canceling because she was diagnosed late. First, she lost one limb and then, eventually, the other one as well. She advocates and raises awareness around this deathly disease and thanks to the media coverage of her state between 2012 and 2017 many questions have emerged! However, it seems like nothing is ever enough.
Why are tampons bad for you
Getting to the medical explanations. The scientists that collaborated on the analysis the documentary Tampon, notre ennemi intime, discovered between 20 and 30 different toxins and for the purpose of better understanding, they concentrated only on 2.
The first one is dioxin and it is used to bleach the tampons. They proved that our body, unfortunately, absorbs excellently dioxin that goes directly into our fats, it can cause cancer and be a cause of hormonal disruption and endometriosis.
According to the World Health Organization dioxins are one of the 10 most dangerous chemicals for health. European Union banned it from use in food ten year ago. Why would it be allowed to have dioxins in tampons and not in food, when it equally gets absorbed as food does?
Where do dioxins come from?
The director Audrey Gloaguen and her team went to Florida, where they found answers to many questions. The factory shown in the documentary that produces cellulose for tampons, used to belong to the owners of Tampax. All the companies that make tampons buy cellulose from them. Cellulose is used for the absorbent part of pads and tampons. Since it is brown, it is bleached with chlorine dioxide. The chemical reaction during this process creates dioxins.
In 1999, it was discovered that there is 200 times more dioxins in tampons than permitted and considered safe for our bodies. The factory has openly said that they had not used elemental chlorine for the fabrication of tampons since 1999. However, the documentary team also spoke to the former employee of this factory based in Florida, USA, to Janice Blair, a whistle blower. She had the official documents showing that the factory was still using chlorine dioxide. It was stated on the document, that she secretly got from the factory, before being fired, how much of it there still was in stock, how much was used, bought, etc, between 2013 and 2015.
The river that is right next to the site of the mentioned factory is the third most polluted river of the United States, because of the release of dioxins. There is no more life in it. Now imagine our bodies after years and years of using pads and tampons.
Vagina’s ability to absorb
Then the documentary team wanted to check how much dioxin is dangerous for women’s bodies and answer the question not only are tampons bad for you, but why tampons are bad for you. Vagina’s ability to absorb dioxins had never been studied before. They were able to compare the molecular structure of dioxins to another toxin, very similar in composition. Their conclusion was that this poison gets even easier into women’s bodies through vagina than orally.
The second toxin is called phthalates. It is carcinogenic and forbidden by the European Union, authorized only under special circumstances. Phthalates is used to make the plastic inside of tampons softer.
800 women that cannot have kids are tested in the USA to find out if phthalates has anything to do with it at Harvard university. They discovered that high level of phthalates during the menstruation can provoke a miscarriage. What is crazy is that the people that were making the documentary went to talk to them.
The team from the Harvard university never thought that tampons could have phthalates! they found that it was the most dangerous for a woman to be exposed to it during her menstrual cycle which is exactly when we are exposed, from the tampons. Vagina absorbs even more.
Now, we mentioned here only two. Imagine that there are between 20 and 30 toxic materials inside of tampons.
What shocks me most
Many will say that the quantity of toxins is not high enough. But I simply do not like thinking that there are things inside of my menstrual protection that might harm me. The fact that I had very often mycosis before I started using ecological pads is enough for me to realize that regular pads and tampons that we find everywhere are not good for our health.
I also know that it is great that we finally distribute for free menstrual pads in many countries and that many organizations fight for that. Yes, they should definitely be free, but. One big BUT. At the same time, we should also think about what they are made of and not give around toxins for free. I strongly believe that reducing menstrual poverty is not enough, we need to think of healthier ways to protect during our menstruation and that could be with menstrual panties, biological, or eco menstrual pads, cotton washable menstrual pads, or a menstrual cup.
For the end, I cannot but wonder. If tampons were used by men, would we know what they are made of? Would they contain any toxins? Would they be covered by the social security?