Chemical Profile: Dioxins & Furans

Chemical Profile MADE SAFE Blog

What They Are

Dioxins (polychlorinated dibenzodioxins) and furans (polychlorinated dibenzofurans) are byproducts of the chlorine bleaching that gives conventional feminine care products like pads and tampons that pristine white look. As byproducts, they often remain in the material fibers. Most tampons are made with rayon and/or cotton. With conventional pads, the absorbent material is made from rayon, wood pulp, or Super Absorbent Polymers (SAPs).

MADE SAFE Chemical Profile Dioxins Furans Infographic

The Health Concern

Both dioxins and furans are persistent (that means they don’t break down readily in the environment) and bioaccumulate (meaning they build up in our bodies). In addition, dioxin and furan exposures have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and hormone disruption. One 2002 study found dioxins and furans in four out of four brands of tampons tested. While the levels were low, this study didn’t account for one critical fact: vaginal tissue is some of the most absorptive skin on women’s bodies.

Consider this: Doctors are increasingly administering hormone treatments vaginally because the drug can be transferred directly into the bloodstream without being metabolized, the way it would if taken orally. When given vaginally, the levels of the drug in the body can be 10-80 times higher than when given orally.

Women use pads and tampons for several days at a time on a monthly basis for decades. We need more research on the impact to women’s health of this repeat exposure to bioaccumulative chemicals linked to serious harm.

How to Avoid Them

Pads and tampons are regulated as ‘medical devices,’ which means there’s no government requirement that ingredients are disclosed, making it harder to avoid chemicals you’re concerned about. But you can:

  • Look for the MADE SAFE seal on feminine care products.
  • Look for chlorine-free or unbleached pads and tampons and always buy from companies that list all ingredients on the label, even though it’s not required.


[1] DeVito, MJ and Schecter, A. (2002) Exposure assessment to dioxins from the use of tampons and diapers. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 110, No. 1, pp:23- 28. Jan. 2002.

[2] DeVito, MJ and Schecter, A. (2002) Exposure assessment to dioxins from the use of tampons and diapers. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 110, No. 1, pp:23- 28. Jan. 2002.

[3] Tourgeman D.E., Gentzchein E., Stanczyk F.Z., Paulson R.J., Serum and tissue hormone levels of vaginally and orally administered estradiol. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Volume 180, Issue 6, pp: 1480-1483. June 1999.

[4] Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, (OEHHA). (1988). 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p dioxin (TCDD). California Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed Jul 9, 2017. 

[5] International Agency for Research on Cancer, (IARC). (2012). IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans: 2,3,7,8-TETRACHLORODIBENZO-para-DIOXIN, 2,3,4,7,8-PENTACHLORODIBENZOFURAN, AND 3,3′,4,4′,5-PENTACHLOROBIPHENYL. (Vol. 100F). World Health Organization.

[6] The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, (TEDX). (2017). Search the TEDX list: dioxin. Accessed Jul 9, 2017.

[7] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (1998). Toxicological profile for chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs). Centers for Disease Control.

[8] The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. (2008). The 12 initial POPs under the Stockholm Convention.

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