I’m a woman who’s spent the majority of her life in search of the best products to support optimal health. All women understand that there are a plethora of products advertised to us constantly, but it can be hard to determine the best option for you. And this is especially true when it comes to one of the most popular female products in the marketplace: tampons.
As a result of their popularity, understanding the differences in brands of tampons, and knowing there are tampon alternatives out there, is essential. After all, each woman is different—with different priorities, needs, and health concerns. So, let’s dive in and take a closer look at tampons and even some tampon alternatives to help you determine what’s the best fit for you!
Tampons and the Rise of TSS
You may be surprised to learn that tampons have been around for thousands of years. There are records of ancient Egyptians’ medical records describing the usage papyrus for women during menstruation, Greeks using lent wrapped around a small piece of wood, and Romans using wool. But it wasn’t until 1929 when a doctor by the name of Earle Haas invented what you now know as the tampon.
Now, consider this: The average American woman menstruates for five days a month for 38 years. And, believe it or not, she’s estimated to use 11,400 tampons throughout her lifetime. That’s 2,200 days of tampon usage. And as I said earlier, tampons aren’t made the same as they used to be. In fact, cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) have surfaced over the last few decades. But what is that?
Simply put, it’s due to all the synthetic additives in the tampons we use today. TSS happens when there’s a release of toxins from an overgrowth of Staphylococcus aureus, or Staph, which is found in many women’s bodies. [1, 2]
The first cases of TSS were documented in the 1970s to 1980s, right around the time that new synthetic products, such as Roundup/glyphosate, were introduced. Roundup/glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide and desiccant patented by Monsanto. [3, 4]
As these synthetic products became more popular, the cases of TSS became more frequent. In fact, from 1979 to 1980, 1,365 American women were diagnosed with TSS. 
Researchers began to suspect that there was a connection between TSS and menstruation. And after interviewing women in a case-controlled study, their suspicion was confirmed. During this study, researchers asked women specific questions revolving around health, how their menstrual cycles were, and what types of products they used. [6, 7]
Many of them used a tampon called Rely, and Rely used synthetic ingredients. And they were large. Interestingly, back then, all tampons were one level of absorbency: large. Moreover, tampons weren’t required to be tested like all other medical devices. But Rely wasn’t the only tampon using synthetic ingredients; others were also straying away from 100-percent cotton. 
After the rise in TSS cases, the U.S. Federal Drug and Alcohol Administration (FDA) started requiring tampon manufacturers to make tampons with different levels of absorbency, such as “light,” “regular,” and “heavy.” [9, 10]
These new standards were met with a lot of push back—from the manufacturers, medical professionals, and researchers—but the demand for improvement was much needed, so they proceeded.  As a result, we have the options you’re currently familiar with.
Health Conditions Associated with Tampon Use
Today, there are still different levels of absorption in tampons, as well as warning labels about how long to leave a tampon in; however, many major companies are still using synthetic ingredients, which have been linked to numerous health issues.
Human and animal studies both have shown that exposure to synthetic ingredients may increase the risk of developing cancer. This exposure has also been shown to increase oxidative stress, cause metabolic changes, and disrupt the endocrine system.
One study conducted in 2015 showed a positive association between exposure to glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These correlations were found in case-controlled studies, but not confirmed by cohort studies. The conclusion by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) showed “limited evidence” in humans. Limited evidence means there is a positive connection between the agent and cancer, making the study valid. [12, 13]
In 2009, a study was conducted on male rats who were broken up into three different control groups. One group used saline, one used roundup, and one used glyphosate. Researchers found that Roundup and glyphosate decreased antioxidant activity and increased stress and inflammation responses. It also impaired normal organ function, especially to the kidneys and liver. 
As you can see, the scientific community has confirmed that exposure to synthetic ingredients and chemicals has serious health consequences in both humans and animals. But there are even more conditions affected by exposure to chemicals and toxins—and they are on the rise. These include, but are not limited to, thyroid disease, endometriosis, and even PMS or PMDD.
The sad thing about the personal care industry is that there aren’t many regulations in terms of ingredients. For example, the FDA does not have the authority to require premarket approval of ingredients, except for color additives.  And these low-standard regulations are why you see such a push towards clean, sustainable products. Clean, sustainable products are safe to use, and the risk of an adverse reaction is lessened.
So, how does this relate back to tampon usage? Well, tampons have a shelf life of 5 years, so the synthetic ingredients in non-organic tampons brood, becoming more toxic with each day. That’s why I suggest looking into organic pads and tampons or tampon alternatives.
Pad and Traditional Tampon Alternatives
Depending on your flow, you can use a tampon for up to 8 hours (max). Even then, I would try to limit that, especially if you’re using non-organic tampons.
With pads, it’s a different story. You can safely use pads longer than you can tampons, especially if you use non-organic tampons.
Now, if you’re dedicated to pads or tampons, organic pads and tampons can be great. In fact, some of the best organic tampon companies have a tampon subscription service!
Most of these companies, like Lola, carry more than just tampons, too. They also sell organic menstrual pads that are eco-friendly and 100-percent cotton. Some even throw in reusable menstrual cups (or disposable menstrual cups), as well as other care products.
They customize your period products depending on your flow and cater to you as an individual. Remember, everybody is different, so what works for Kim may not work for Karen.
Another great thing about a lot of these companies is that they have great deals on their subscription packages. Even better, you can cancel at any time—no strings attached.
But what if you’re interested in tampon alternatives altogether? Take a look at the next section to learn about the top natural tampon alternatives you may want to try.
5 Best Natural Tampon Alternatives
The tampon alternatives below are great if you’re looking to switch things up and try something different. The switch may take a couple of cycles to get used to since you’ll be unlearning everything you’ve been taught about period products and relearning a new process. It may seem a little strange at first, but once it becomes routine, it will flow smoothly (no pun intended).
1. Diva Cup
The diva cup is a reusable menstrual cup that’s eco-friendly, hassle-free, and non-toxic, making it the first of my top five tampon alternatives. It’s made with medical-grade silicone that you fold and insert inside your vagina like you would a tampon. Depending on the heaviness of your flow, you can wear the diva cup for up to 12 hours. Once you’re ready, you take it out, dump it, and rinse it before reinserting it.
The diva cup costs about $30, so it is an investment. But here’s something to think about: The average woman menstruates for around 38 years and uses between 12 to 14 tampons per cycle, which is approximately $4 per month, $48 dollars per year, $240 for five years, and over $1,800 throughout her lifetime. By investing $30, you could save hundreds at this point.
2. Reusable menstrual cups
It takes a couple of cycles to get used to the diva cup, just like it would any other alternative. Luckily there are other menstrual cup brands out there that are cheaper, allowing you to ease into the new process before investing and making a commitment.
Gladrags are reusable menstrual pads. These cloth pads are more eco-friendly than disposable pads and save you money in the long run. And they come in a variety of options, meaning you can choose between day pads, night pads, or panty liners. Like other tampon alternatives, these cloth pads will take a cycle or two to get used to.
4. Sea sponges
Known as “sea sponge tampons” or “period sponges,” these natural sea sponges come from the ocean. They’re free of harsh chemicals or any synthetic materials and tend to last upwards of six months, depending on your flow. Since they naturally grow in the ocean, they come in a variety of sizes and colors.
5. Period Underwear
Period underwear, like Thinx, is specially designed for menstruating women and is the last of my top tampon alternatives. These differ from regular underwear in that there are more layers to help soak up everything and leave you feeling comfortable and dry. There are many different designs and levels of heaviness, making it great for you to find the pair(s) that fit your needs.
- Today’s tampons have undergone a change and are now filled with chemicals and synthetic materials that have been linked to TSS and other health conditions.
- There are great traditional tampon alternatives, such as organic pads and tampons, which are free of those harmful chemicals and synthetic materials.
- If you’re looking to make a bigger change than that, you should consider one of my top five tampon alternatives: the diva cup, reusable menstrual cups, Gladrags, sea sponges, and Thinx period underwear.