There is evidence which suggests that women have been using tampons made of various materials for thousands of years. The tampon with an applicator and string was invented in 1929 and submitted for patent in 1931 by Dr. Earle Haas, an American from Denver, Colorado. Tampons based on Dr. Haas' design were first sold in the U.S. in 1936.
Design and packaging
|A tampon with applicator. The leftmost part is the bigger tube, which has a smooth surface and a round end for easier insertion. There's a star shape openning at the round end. The tampon itself rests inside the bigger tube. (The tube shown is made of cardboard) The middle section is the narrower tube. It nested inside one end of the bigger tube. The narrow tube slides into the bigger tube, pushing the tampon through and into the vagina. Both tubes (the applicator) are withdrawn after the tampon is inserted. The string by right end, would be hanging out of the vagina, allows for easy extraction.|
|The elements of a tampon with applicator. Left: the bigger tube ("penetrator") Center: cotton tampon with attached string. Right: the narrower tube.|
|Tampon sold without applicator. (The ruler shown is in cm)|
Tampons come in various sizes, which are related to their absorbency ratings and packaging. Virgins may for instance choose to use the thinnest varieties.he shape of all tampons is basically the same; cylindrical. Tampons sold in the United States are made of cotton, rayon, or a blend of the two. Tampons are sold individually wrapped to keep them clean, although they are not sterile. They have a string for ease of removal, and may be packaged inside an applicator to aid insertion.
Tampon applicators may be made of plastic or cardboard, and are similar in design to a syringe. The applicator is consisted of a bigger tube and a narrower tube. The bigger tube has a smooth surface and a round end for easier insertion. There's a star shape openning at the round end. The tampon itself rests inside the bigger tube, near the open end. The narrower tube nested inside another end of the bigger tube. The open end of the applicator is placed and held in the vagina, then the woman presses the narrower tube in with her fingers. The narrow tube slides into the bigger tube, pushing the tampon through and into the vagina.
Tampons are also sold without applicators; these are simply unwrapped and pushed into the vagina with the fingers.
Tampons come in several different absorbency ratings, which are consistent across manufacturers in the U.S.:
- Junior absorbency: 6 grams and under
- Regular absorbency: 6 to 9 grams
- Super absorbency: 9 to 12 grams
- Super plus absorbency: 12 to 15 grams
- Ultra absorbency: 15 to 18 grams
Toxic shock syndrome
Tampons have been shown to have a connection to toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but sometimes fatal disease caused by bacterial infection. The U.S. FDA suggests the following guidelines for decreasing the risk of contracting TSS when using tampons:
- Follow package directions for insertion
- Choose the lowest absorbency for your flow
- Change your tampon at least every 4 to 8 hours
- Consider alternating pads with tampons
- Avoid tampon usage overnight when sleeping
- Know the warning signs of toxic shock syndrome
- Don't use tampons between periods
Tampons, their applicators, and wrappings are used once and then either flushed down a toilet, or disposed of in trash. If flushed down a toilet, they end up in sewage treatment plants where they are filtered out of the influent. However, note that different countries have different sewage systems and that tampons might cause sewage blockings if flushed down a toilet, especially in small electrical sewage pumps, such as used in toilets on trains, planes and even in some private households. Warning signs in hotels and public toilets can be found (at least throughout Europe). The warning signs usually include tampons as well as other sanitary articles such as condoms within their list of articles forbidden for flushing down. In these cases, small plastic bags (usally labelled 'sanitary bags') are provided for discreet disposal and hygiene. If disposed of in the trash, they may end up in incinerators or landfills (where they can take up to six months to biodegrade).
Among tampon users, each woman is likely to use about 10,000 tampons during her lifetime.
Other health concerns
The chemical used to bleach the tampons (dioxin), is potentially carcinogenic, which is harmful to the inside of the vagina, and is known to potentially cause endometriosis. It can also cause problems with the immune system and reproductive system for both women and men (can lower sperm count). Although a study by the FDA done in 1995 says there are not significant amounts of dioxin to pose a health risk (1 part in 3 trillion, which is comparable to a teaspoon in a lake fifteen feet deep and a mile square), or to be considered cancer-causing, repeated contact of carcinogenic substances of any kind is not recommended, no matter how small the amounts. This present in products entered into a major orifice of the body, where there is more risk of absorption caused a great deal of concern, however manufacturers insist this is needed to produce effective products, despite other types of tampons not using bleaching or chemical treatment.
Rayon is exposed to more dioxin than cotton. Although some say that 100% cotton tampons may be safer than using tampons with a cotton and rayon mix because of there being less dioxin, there is still a risk with all-cotton tampons. Cotton fields are exposed to more pesticides than most crops, which means in exchange for a smaller exposure of dioxin, you increase your exposure to pesticide. All-cotton tampons are generally harder to find and usually cost more than generic tampon brands, but are safer if you're looking to eliminate dioxin in tampons. Although switching to a 100% cotton alternative reduces the risk of TSS (because of the removal of rayon which in turn reduces absorbency), it does not remove it entirely. We are also exposed to dioxins in other ways, so eliminating dioxin in tampons will not mean there will be no contact with dioxin in the environment.
Fibre loss along with damage done to the vaginal tissue from fibre has also been a concern, furthermore as tampons are absorbent and placed within an area such as the vagina this significantly increases risk of bacterial infections.
Some women choose not to use tampons, due to health and/or environmental concerns. Several alternate ways of absorbing menstrual fluids are available. Women in developing countries are less likely to have these choices (including tampons) available.
- disposable menstrual pads (sanitary napkins/towels)
- organic tampons
- organic manestrual pads (sanitary napkins/towels)
- softcups menstrual cup