Trying to decode the meaning behind terms like “organic,” “all-natural,” and “non-GMO,” is hard when it comes to food labels, but trying to decode the meaning of those same terms when it comes to tampons can be even trickier. Companies like NatraCare, The Honest Co., and L. now make organic tampons that you’ve probably seen at your local grocery store, pharmacy, even your gas station. But what exactly makes a tampon organic? What’s the real difference between organic tampons and regular ones? Are they worth the splurge?
First things first, all tampons are considered medical devices and are strictly regulated by the FDA, according to Diana Wong, MD, a gynecologist based in Los Angeles with more than 20 years of experience. “There’s not really a difference in terms of health benefits,” Wong says. And all tampons have the same structure—an applicator and an absorbent plug (except OB Tampons, which have no applicator)—they’re just made from different materials. Regular tampons are usually made of plastic applicators with cotton and synthetic rayon absorbent plugs. Organic tampons, on the other hand, are usually made of all-natural materials. For example, the Honest Co.’s organic cotton tampons are made with GOTS certified organic cotton and a plant-based resin applicator sourced from sugar cane.
“We believe women should have the choice about which ingredients come into contact with the sensitive areas of their bodies,” says Christopher Gavigan, co-founder and chief purpose officer of The Honest Co. “We don’t think that women should have to compromise comfort, performance, and purity to get what they want.”
Even though the majority of organic tampons are made from 100 percent non-toxic cotton, and are dye, pesticide, and fragrance-free, it’s not clear that the regular variety of tampons pose any health risk. “Organic tampon have no dyes, chlorine, plastics, or rayon, but the FDA has done a lot of testing since the ’80s on regular tampons, which have such small amounts of chemicals, and they’re totally FDA approved,” says Dr. Wong.
Organic cotton tampons are certainly more environmentally friendly than their non-organic counterparts. They’re also often produced by socially responsible manufacturers with safer working conditions; they produce less waste; and in some cases they even support philanthropic causes. L., for instance, works with female entrepreneurs in developing countries and donates one L. product to a woman in need for every L. product you buy.
So if you have the extra money and don’t mind spending it on organic tampons, go for it. You may not be doing your vagina any special favors, but you’ll be helping the environment and global sustainability. And if you want to stick to regular tampons, that’s OK too. Don’t miss these other things your vagina would like to tell you.