Behind the Ratings: Tampons

After several months of reviewing scientific articles, pondering rating schemes, surviving awkward moments in the feminine hygiene aisles of local stores, and analyzing products, we are proud to announce the launch of GoodGuide’s tampon ratings. Starting last week, individuals have been able to browse and compare over 100 tampon products from leading brands to make better, smarter purchases. We’re thrilled to be able to provide this information to women, but would like to make sure the ratings are interpreted correctly. So, we’ve put together a short list of FAQs so that you can make the most of these new ratings.

How can I view the tampon ratings?

If you are looking for specific tampon, use the search box at the top right of the GoodGuide homepage. In order to browse the tampon category page, click here. You can also get to the tampon category page by scrolling through the categories under “Personal Care” on the left-hand navigation bar on our homepage.

What should I know right off the bat about the tampon ratings?
For the first time, GoodGuide is providing a rating focused on the environmental impacts of a product category rather than its health impacts. GoodGuide’s tampon ratings take into account product and company-level environmental performance, as well as company-level social performance. There is no health component to tampon ratings because tampons, when used properly, don’t result in significant exposure to harmful ingredients.

The overall environmental score is a composite score, with product-level attributes contributing 25% and company-level attributes contributing 75%. We still rely heavily on company-level environmental scores because available product-level data address the types of materials used but does not cover all impacts of the product over its life cycle (such as production waste, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity/ecosystem impacts). You can view the raw product and company contributions to the environmental score in the blue box at the top right of each product page.

What are the main factors taken into consideration for GoodGuide’s tampon ratings?

We take into account five factors specific to tampons: type of absorbent material (rayon/organic cotton/cotton-rayon blend), presence of applicator (no applicator/flushable/cardboard/plastic), product packaging (100% recycled fiber/no recycled fiber), tampon wrapper (flushable/plastic film/paper), and material processing (totally chlorine free/elemental chlorine free/no information). For additional details on the rationale behind GoodGuide’s tampon ratings, take a look at our methodology page.

Which is a better material for tampons, cotton or rayon?
Environmentally speaking, rayon is the preferred material. Taking into account the materials’ environmental impacts over its life cycle, rayon has less impact than cotton. Additionally, since rayon is more absorbent than cotton, less of it is needed to do the same job. Similar to many other product categories, the quality of information provided by product manufacturers limits our rating system. Many tampon ingredient labels indicate that they use a cotton/rayon blend, but don’t disclose what percentage is cotton versus rayon. Products with these mixtures score lower than either rayon or organic cotton, because it’s not possible to reliably assess the extent to which they have reduced the impacts of using conventional cotton. You can find out what material is used in a specific product by looking at the ingredients in the “About the Product” box on the product page.

What does absorbent material processing mean?

The absorbent material in a tampon usually undergoes bleaching for sterilization purposes. Bleaching is done either with a chlorine-based process or an oxygen-based process. Since many chlorine-based techniques result in the release of chlorinated organic compounds (which are harmful to the environment), oxygen-based processes are preferred. You can find out how a product was processed by looking at the “About the Product” box on a product page. Totally chlorine free (TCF) means that the product was either not bleached or bleached using an oxygen-based process.

So what should I look for?
Ultimately, applicator-free tampons made of 100% rayon, processed without chlorine, wrapped in flushable material, and packaged in 100% recycled fiber will score the highest on GoodGuide. The best thing you can do is use the GoodGuide ratings to compare products and select those with the higher score. Finally, be sure to use tampons according to package instructions.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
This entry was posted in GoodGuide Happenings, Home and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Behind the Ratings: Tampons

  1. Ellen says:

    I was very surprised by the recommendation for 100% rayon tampons. According to the FDA document that you reference, testing for dioxin levels is left up to the tampon manufacturers themselves. Given that dioxin accumulates in the environment/body, it seems that even minute levels could prove to be unsafe. The EPA has actually stated that minute levels of dioxin can pose health risks. And, here we’re talking about a product that is used 4-5 times a day, 5 days a month, over the course of 35+ years, in one of the most sensitive and absorbent areas of a woman’s body. I think I’ll be sticking to organic cotton tampons.

Comments are closed.