Today, there are a myriad of period products available, ranging from pads, tampons, and cups to underwear. However, their labels do not usually list all the ingredients, so customers don’t always know what goes into making them. A new study, aiming to shed light on this, analysed more than 100 products for fluorinated compounds, an indicator of potentially harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS and found it in some.
The research, presented at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2023, shows that some period products may contain PFAS. These have stick-, stain- and water-resistant properties, which are desirable characteristics for period products, according to a press statement by ACS. PFAS are referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because these compounds do not break down easily in the environment or our bodies, according to a press statement by ACS. Previous research has linked exposure to PFAS with an increased risk of negative health outcomes such as some cancers and immune suppression.
“Once these products are thrown away, they go to landfills and decay, releasing PFAS into groundwater. And we, or later generations, could end up inadvertently ingesting them,” Graham Peaslee, the principal investigator of the project said in the statement.
The findings show that some period products could include PFAS, but not all of them. According to the researchers, in general, tampons, menstrual cups and layers of pads that come in contact with skin didn’t seem to contain fluorine.
Notably, researchers found the presence of total fluorine in the wrappers for several pads and some tampons, as well as the outer layers of some of the period underwear. Some of these had 1,000 to several thousand parts per million total fluorine. The high concentrations indicate that PFAS might have been used to keep the moisture out of the wrappers. Moreover, adding this to the outer layer of the period underwear would keep blood from escaping the inner layers and spreading to a menstruating person’s clothes or body.
Products using PFAS are not good for people’s health or the environment. Moreover, using them in making the products is not necessary. “Feminine products are essential, but the need for a fluorinated wrapper, or the need for a fluorinated layer, doesn’t seem to be, because plenty of them are made without relying on these compounds,” Peaslee said in the statement.
Previously, in a 2022 study, the consumer watchdog site Mamavation and Environmental Health News conducted research and found that 48% of sanitary pads, 22% of tampons and 65% of period underwear contained PFAS. Notably, Leah Segedie, founder, and editor of Mamavation told Time that in one of the analyses, 13 out of the 22 products that tested positive for PFAS were advertised as ‘organic,’ ‘natural,’ ‘non-toxic,’ or using ‘no harmful chemicals.'
The new studies question how much people know about the period products they are using and the need for a deep dive.