A Study Found Arsenic in Tampons. Should We Be Worried?

If you’ve read the recent headlines about a study finding arsenic in tampons—not to mention other “toxic” metals—and you’re somebody with a uterus, the chances are you’re pretty horrified. (And this, after we’ve already gone through that whole “tampon shrinkflation” scare, too!)

In a recent study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley discovered traces of arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, copper, and iron in tampons—leaving many women wondering how safe their menstrual care products really are.

“Despite this large potential for public health concern, very little research has been done to measure chemicals in tampons,” said Jenni Shearston, lead author of the study. “To our knowledge, this is the first paper to measure metals in tampons. Concerningly, we found concentrations of all metals we tested for, including toxic metals like arsenic and lead.”

The mere idea of arsenic in tampons is certainly concerning. After all, exposure to the metals found in these menstrual products have been previously linked to a range of health issues, including dementia, infertility, diabetes, and cancer, along with damage to the cardiovascular, nervous, and endocrine systems. But how worried should we really be?

“Arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals are known to be harmful at high levels of exposure,” Dr. Amit Shah, a gynecologist and the co-founder of the clinic Fertility Plus, tells Glamour.

However, although this may all sound pretty dramatic, we are actually exposed to small doses of these metals all of the time—whether we use tampons regularly or not. In fact, they can occur in our food, in our water, and even in the environment that surrounds us.

“It is also worth noting that we are exposed to trace amounts of various metals in our everyday lives through food, water, and air,” says Shah. “The body has mechanisms to handle and eliminate small amounts of these substances.”

According to Shah, there is a big difference between high levels of exposure and trace amounts. “The reported concentrations found in tampons are significantly lower than levels known to cause harm,” she says. “The body’s natural detoxification processes are usually capable of handling small quantities of these substances without adverse effects.”

The most recent study doesn’t look into the health impact that these metals are having on people who do use tampons. In other words, we still don’t know whether or not the new findings are actually a real cause for concern.

“It is completely understandable that women may feel anxious upon hearing about the presence of arsenic [and other metals] in tampons,” says Shah. “However, it’s important to approach this information with a balanced perspective. As these findings are so new, we do not yet know whether the levels of arsenic and other metals found are high enough to imply a significant health risk.”

In short, you may not want to throw away all of your tampons just yet. Shah recommends staying informed about any future studies.

“It is essential to recognize that scientific research is a continually evolving field, and one study alone does not provide a definitive conclusion,” she says. “The findings in this paper highlight the need for further investigation to fully understand the implications, and more research is indeed necessary to determine the long-term effects, if any, of these trace amounts of metals. It’s vital to continue research and monitoring to ensure that these products remain safe, especially considering their widespread use.”

If you are concerned about your current menstrual care routine, we recommend speaking to your doctor to find products that you feel comfortable using. If you’re concerned about using tampons, menstrual cups and period underwear can be a wonderful alternative.

This post was originally published in Glamour UK.

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