o.b. Tampons: What We're Not Allowed to Know
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o.b. Tampons: What We're Not Allowed to Know

by Madeleine Shaw
o.b. Tampons: What We're Not Allowed to Know

We often get asked about the health and safety concerns around disposable pads and tampons: after all, it was my own tampon allergy (that resulted in years' worth of painful monthly bladder infections) that originally led me to start making Lunapads and Luna Undies way back when. It will come as no surprise that we often hear all manner of similar stories from customers about how disposables have disagreed with them: rashes, painful dryness and of course yeast and bladder infections chief among them.

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So why don't we make a bigger deal about it? Part of the reason is that we don't want to base our marketing messages on fear, choosing rather to emphasize benefits such as personal empowerment, financial savings, superior comfort and of course environmental responsibility. That said, a sad truth is that there has been precious little research done to document whatever correlation might exist between the above-named conditions (not to mention endometriosis, vulvodynia, infertility and many others) and disposable pad and tampon use.

And then ob tampons mysteriously began to disappear from retail shelves, prompting us to reconsider our stance. Why would Johnson & Johnson interrupt or discontinue supplies, unless consumers were experiencing problems, and what evidence does exist of connections between disposable pads and tampons and health problems for those who use them?

We have been watching the o.b. story closely, and are happy to report that the shortage, combined with Johnson & Johnson's stunning lack of transparency with respect to explaining what's behind it is landing us a heap of new Lunapads and DivaCup customers. o.b. are a popular choice among those wanting to reduce the unnecessary waste of an applicator, and who further have no compunction with respect to being a little more in touch with themselves, as it were. As it happens, ob were the last brand of tampons that I ever used prior to switching to Lunapads, and for exactly these reasons - they always seemed like the most progressive, practical choice, not to mention the cred of having been designed by a woman gynecologist!

I wonder what the real story is behind the supply interruption - we must be talking tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales. One of the more surprising aspects of the story is many people's relief at the news that o.b. (at least the lower-absorbency varieties, the "Ultra" model has apparently been discontinued, again for unspecified reasons) are now finding their way back onto store shelves. Why are people so willing to return their trust to products that clearly have something very wrong with them and a company that lacks the courtesy or respect to level with their customers about what's going on?

Other than the well-publicized association of non-cotton tampon use and Toxic Shock Syndrome, studies that might prove the association between disposable pad and tampon use and other health issues for the most part simply don't exist. That said, a 1996 Canadian study is clear about the correlation between Always brand pads and a variety of painful conditions. Always, it seems, are for whatever reason most likely to cause contact dermatitis or recurrent vulvitis, presenting painful itching and burning that often passes as chronic vaginitis, stories we have heard numerous times from customers.

In the fall of last year, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a highly regarded industry watchdog, issued a fact sheet about tampons, discussing among other issues the link between cumulative exposure to dioxin, a known carcinogen, and tampon use. Another common concern with tampons is fiber loss, and whether wayward fibers can become embedded in the vaginal wall or even the uterus: check out the video (courtesy of Natracare, makers of organic cotton tampons) above to learn more.

Hard evidence or no, it looks like awareness of these and other issues is starting to grow, leading to a surge in converts to reusable products. We'll keep you posted on what comes next, and in the meantime we welcome all of you new Lunapads and DivaCup users!

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