Federal Rules Don’t Require Period Product Ingredients on Packaging Labels. States Are Stepping In.

by | May 3, 2023 | Health

(Oona Tempest / KFF Health News)

Tens of millions of Americans use menstrual products, and while manufacturers contend they are safe, most disclose little about the chemicals they contain. Now, amid calls for more disclosure and research into the health effects of these products, some states require more transparency.

The manufacture and sale of period and related products is a big business, with revenue expected to top $4.5 billion in the United States this year. On average, a person uses up to 17,000 tampons or pads in their lifetime, and they might also use rubber or silicone cups, or absorbent period underwear.

The FDA regulates and classifies menstrual products as medical devices, meaning they are not subject to the same labeling laws as other consumer items. But companies can voluntarily disclose what’s in their products.

Now, some states are stepping into the breach. In 2021, New York became the first state to enact a menstrual product disclosure law requiring companies to list all intentionally added ingredients on packaging. California’s governor signed a similar law that took effect this year, but it gives manufacturers trade secret protections, so not all ingredients are necessarily disclosed. At least six other states have introduced legislation to address safety and disclosure of ingredients in these products.

Advocacy groups studying the effects of the New York law say the new labels have revealed commonly found ingredients in menstrual products that may contain carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, endocrine disruptors, and allergens.

Shruthi Mahalingaiah, an assistant professor of environmental, reproductive, and women’s health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, evaluates endocrine disruptors in personal care products and studies menstrual health. She said the health risk depends on the dose, duration, and sensitivity of a person to the ingredients and their mixtures.

Harmful chemicals could come from manufacturing processes, through materials and shipping, from equipment cleaners, from contact with contaminants, or from companies adding them intentionally, said Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research for Women’s Voices for the Earth, a Montana-based nonprofit focused on eliminating toxic chemicals that affect women’s health.

Vaginal and vulvar tissues are capable of absorbing fluids at a higher rate than skin, which can lead to rapid chemical exposure. Scranton said scarcity of clinical studies and funding for vaginal health research limits understanding about the long-term effects of the ingredients and additives in period products.

“We think manufacturers should do better and be more careful with the ingredients they choose to use,” Scranton said. “The presence of toxic and hormone-disrupting chemicals in menstrual products is unsettling. We know that chemicals can cause disease, and exposures do add up over time.”

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Scranton’s organization advocates for labels to include the chemical name of the ingredient, the component in which the ingredient is used, and the function of the ingredient.

K. Malaika Walton, operations director for the Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products, a trade industry group, said in an email, “BAHP supports accurate and transparent information for users of period products and many of our member companies list ingredients on their packages and websites.”

In a written statement, Procter & Gamble, a major manufacturer of menstrual products, said that ingredients it uses go through rigorous safety evaluations and are continuously tested, and that all fragrance components are added at levels the industry considers safe.

Even though manufacturing of scented tampons for the U.S. market has mostly stopped, companies still use …

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