It’s no secret that organic food and beauty products are popular right now, often advertised as “healthier” and “safer” options. Of course, it was only a matter of time before the trend extended to feminine products: tampons made exclusively out of cotton and billed as perfectly organic alternatives are the latest craze. But if you’re considering paying extra for 100 percent cotton tampons because you think they’re safer, a recent study’s findings might have you clasping your wallet shut.
The April 2018 report, published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found that tampons (including organic cotton tampons) are still linked to cases of menstrual toxic shock syndrome — a rare, life-threatening complication caused by bacterial infections. Researchers examined 15 tampons and menstrual cups to see what influence they had on the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, the bacterium behind the syndrome-producing toxin. To achieve their results, they relied on a lab setup designed to reproduce conditions inside the vagina during the use of the hygiene products.
“Our results did not support the hypothesis suggesting that tampons composed exclusively of organic cotton could be intrinsically safer than those made of mixed cotton and rayon or viscose or tampons composed entirely of viscose,” said lead author Gerard Lina, MD, PhD in a press release.
If you’re hoping that menstrual cups would have better luck, think again: The study showed that these trendy products actually promoted more bacteria growth than tampons. As Dr. Lina explained, the shape and volume of the cup allowed more air to enter, thus spurring the bacteria’s growth.
But before you rush to throw out all your tampons, it’s worth keeping in mind that toxic shock syndrome is a serious but extremely rare illness: Its annual incidence is just 0.3 to 0.5 per million in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, the superabsorbent tampons strongly associated with toxic shock syndrome have already been taken off the market. Still, the Mayo Clinic notes that there are several ways to protect yourself every month if you’re concerned about contracting the syndrome.
How to Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome
- Change tampons frequently — at least every four to eight hours.
- Try to use the lowest-absorbency tampon that you can.
- Alternate using tampons and pads throughout your cycle.
- Use minipads if your flow happens to be light.
- When in doubt, use a pad.
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