Tampons can also leave you open to bacterial infections if you forget that you have one in and leave it up there, Shepherd says. However, she points out, tampons are “relatively safe” and “only cause issues when they are not used correctly or as directed.”
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You may have heard that the ingredients in tampons are potentially troublesome, but Lauren Streicher, M.D., an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says there’s really nothing to worry about. According to the FDA, which regulates tampons, the products are made of cotton, rayon, or a blend of the two, noting that rayon is made from cellulose fibers derived from wood pulp. “In this process, the wood pulp is bleached,” the FDA explains. In the past, the bleaching process has taken some heat for potentially being a source of trace amounts of dioxins (toxic chemical compounds that can cause reproductive and developmental problems), but the FDA notes that bleaching method is no longer used.
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“Rayon raw material used in U.S. tampons is now produced using elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine-free bleaching processes,” the FDA says, adding that tampons that are totally chlorine-free may use hydrogen peroxide as the bleaching agent.
“There are no toxins, no chemicals,” Streicher says. Just steer clear of scented tampons: They can cause vulvar irritation, she says.
If you’re interested in using an alternative to tampons, experts say you should go for it—just don’t do so because you’re afraid tampons are bad for your health. “If someone wants to use a menstrual cup because it’s good for the environment, god bless—but it’s not healthier for them,” Streicher says. “There’s no downside to using a regular tampon.”