WoMena FAQ: Do menstrual products contain harmful substances?

WoMena (2019)

Published in: 2019
Pages: 10



Uploaded by:
Marianne Tellier (LiesbethVdB1)



Should we worry? Many people worry that menstrual products may contain harmful substances, particularly since products are used for a prolonged time in close contact with highly absorbent skin around the vagina. So, should we be concerned?

What are the ingredients in menstrual products? Ingredients vary greatly, both by type and brand of product. One common ingredient is cotton, especially used in disposable pads. Conventionally grown cotton has some of the highest levels of pesticide use of any crop. Rayon and polyester, made from wood pulp, are used particularly in tampons and some pads. Plastic is common in tampon applicators, and well as to limit leakage in disposable pads. Most cups are made from medical silicone, with some (cheaper) brands being made from thermoplastic polymers.

Do these ingredients contain substances at harmful levels? Potentially harmful substances include furans and dioxin, glyphosate, and fragrance (which may contain phthalates). Dioxins and glyphosates are considered particularly risky, with at least some authorities ruling them carcinogenic, and recommending zero levels. Dioxin was used in Agent Orange and Roundup;there are numerous suggested health links (cancer, reproductive health problems, allergies and abrasions), but few tests have been done.

Both dioxin and glyphosates are frequently found in pads and tampons, They have not yet been found in menstrual cups. Medical grade silicone does not react to chemicals or absorb bacteria, which may make it a safer option, but one test suggested that recommendations should include boiling before use and cleaning carefully. This review found no study testing reusable pads or cloth..

The question is not only what substances are present, but whether their levels are harmful. Conclusions from recent tests are generally that products such as pads or tampons may contain harmful substances such as dioxin or glyphosates, but at levels considered ‘safe’. Cups in general have been tested to have no, or low levels of potentially harmful substances but one test suggests boiling the cup before use.

Are manufacturers required to disclose product ingredients? The short answer is ‘no’. Terminologies vary, but many countries classify health care products either as pharmaceuticals or health devices. Menstrual products are usually categorised as ´health devices’, meaning they no not need approval before marketing.

What do health authorities conclude? The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) recommends that menstrual products should have zero levels of dioxins and pesticide residue, but the guidance is not mandatory, and manufacturers do not always comply. In its resolution of 13 June 2012, the European Parliament called for a Pre-Market Authorisation system for medical devices, as is mandated for pharmaceuticals. Experts suggest choosing unperfumed products with disclosed ingredients, products made from organically grown cotton, or menstrual cups.

Womena commitment: Many questions remain. Two chemicals are considered particularly toxic, occur widely in some brands of tampons and pads: glyphosate and dioxin. WoMena will work with others to advocate for clear and consistent regulations, if feasible also including assessment of products widely used in low-and-middle income countries. Meanwhile, we understand the evidence to indicate that cups in general are among the safest products, although brand names may differ.

Bibliographic information

WoMena (2019). WoMena FAQ: Do menstrual products contain harmful substances?. WoMena

Filter tags


Information on external sites


WoMena FAQ: Do menstrual products contain harmful substances?

Format: pdf file
Size: 0.19 MB

Share this page on    

Sanitation events

SuSanA newsletter

Stay informed about the activities of SuSanA and its partners. The SuSanA newsletter is sent out around four times per year. It contains information about news, events, new partners, projects, discussions and publications of the SuSanA network.

Subscribe to newsletter »

Latest tweets mentioning SuSanA

Tweets mentioning SuSanA »

28th SuSanA meeting, Stockholm

The next SuSanA meeting will take place in Stockholm, Sweden. We will meet on the 24th of August, just before the World Water Week 2019 begins. More information will be available soon.

Find out more about the meeting! 

SuSanA meetings





Resources and publications

Our library has more than 3,000 publications, factsheets, presentations, drawings etc. from many different organisations. It continues to grow thanks to the contributions from our partners.

Add item to library »

The three links below take you to special groups of items in the library for more convenient access:


The project database contains nearly 400 sanitation projects of many different organizations dealing with research, implementation, advocacy, capacity development etc. Advanced filtering functions and a global map are also available. Information on how and why this database was created is here.

People working for SuSanA partners can add their own projects through their partner profile page. You might need your SuSanA login upgraded for this purpose. Please contact us if you would like to add a project.

Trainings, conference and events materials

Missed important conferences or courses? Catch up by using their materials for self study. These materials have been kindly provided by SuSanA partners.

Regional chapters

Use the map or the search tool to access the most relevant information and knowledge products for your region or country. This includes relevant resources, events, partners or projects.

Shit flow diagrams (SFDs), excreta flow diagrams

Shit flow diagrams (SFDs) help to visualize excreta management in urban settings. Access SFDs and more through the SFD Portal.




Discussion forum

Share knowledge, exchange experiences, discuss challenges, make announcements, ask questions and more. Hint: Your discussion forum login is the same as your SuSanA login. More about the forum's philosophy »

Integrated content

We are hosting content from some other communities of practice and information-sharing portals. This section also provides a link to SuSanA's Sanitation Wikipedia initiative.

Suggest content to add »

SuSanA partners

Not yet a SuSanA partner? Show your organisation's support to SuSanA's vision and engage in  knowledge sharing by becoming partners.

Apply to become a partner »

Individual membership

Register as an individual member of SuSanA free of charge. As a member you can interact with thousands of sanitation enthusiasts on the discussion forum.  You can also get engaged in one of our 13 working groups and our regional chapters. Our FAQs explain the benefits further.

By getting a SuSanA login you can fully participate in the SuSanA community!

Register as a member


Forgot your password?