What's in your pad or tampon?

Story highlights

  • FDA doesn't require manufacturers to disclose tampon ingredients
  • In the past few weeks, both P&G and Kimberly-Clark have published additional information on their websites

(CNN)About 70% of all American women use tampons. On average, a woman will use between 11,000 and 16,000 tampons in her lifetime.

In fact, tampon-like devices have been used since ancient Rome, where women fashioned devices out of wool to absorb menstrual flow. Rolls of grass were used in parts of Africa, and Hawaiian women used ferns.
    But what is actually in a modern-day tampon and pads?
    Generally, tampons are blends of cotton and rayon, along with synthetic fibers, but each manufacturer's products are different and considered proprietary.
    Consumer groups in the United States have been wanting to know more since the 1980s. A growing environmental movement and awareness about toxic shock syndrome prompted women to ask what was in these products because manufacturers weren't required to fully disclose what goes into a tampon or pad. That's because they are regulated and approved as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration and full disclosure is not required.
    Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York has introduced legislation nine times since 1997 that would require manufacturers to be more transparent and disclose the complete makeup of tampons, pads, and other feminine hygiene products. She wants companies to clearly label not only the fabrics used, but also any contaminants, fragrances, colorants, dyes and preservatives. Her bill directs the National Institutes of Health to look at the health effects of these products, because, she says, there is little research in this area.
    But her bill has failed to move beyond the floor, every time.

    Demands for more transparency

    Last month, members of the consumer group Women's Voices for the Earth dressed up as boxes of tampons and pads and protested in front of Procter & Gamble's corporate headquarters. They held up signs that said, "My uterus loves accurate labels."
    According to market research group Euroshare, P&G is the largest manufacturers of feminine products, with 44% of the United States market share. Women's Voices for the Earth wants manufacturers such as P&G to fully disclose what goes into tampons, sanitary pads and wipes.
    "Our concerns of the care products ... was out of the lack of ingredient disclosure," said Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research for Women's Voices for the Earth. The group has been leading a two-year campaign it calls "Detox the Box."
    When the group tested P&G's Always pads, it found the sanitary napkins emitted chemicals, like styrene, chloroethane and chloroform. The World Health Organization classifies styrene as a carcinogen. And the EPA says short-term exposure to high