What’s Going On With o.b. Tampons?

Hopefully you have already swapped out your old tampons for fragrance-, bleach-, pesticide and dye-free organic ones. But if you haven’t, you should do so now. Yes, they are more expensive, and if you’re a Keeper or Diva Cup girl, awesome.

But there’s no sense in being equivocal about this one: Tampons are things you put inside your body every single month, several times a day for several days in a row, for decades on end. Pesticides, dyes, fragrance—fragrance!—and bleach have no business in there.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, you can revisit this post, and this one.

Now for the news. We all think—and for good reason—that when we remove a tampon, that it is no longer in our body. Intuitively, this is what makes sense. But guess what?

Read this chilling (and very carefully worded, we noticed) article in the New York Times about how o.b. tampons—my former tampon of choice—have been mysteriously disappearing off shelves.

Is there a quiet recall going on? The meat of it here:

A search of the FDA’s adverse event database for medical devices [note: tampons are considered medical devices by FDA] turned up a handful of consumer reports of problems with o.b. tampons over the last five years. Such health complaints are not necessarily caused by the products cited in the reports.

The reports in the FDA database about o.b. tampons included complaints of headache, fever, nausea and abdominal pain as well as infections caused by tampon remnants remaining in the body. One complaint from last year concerned a consumer who said she had been using o.b. tampons for two years.

“Consumer saw her physician and was prescribed medication for a vaginal infection. After one day of treatment, a ‘ball of tampon threads was released from the uterus,’ ” the report said. “The consumer reported that the physician suspected that the ball consisted of ‘little pieces of tampon from over a period of time.’ ”

A spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency was “not aware of any quality control or manufacturing issues with o.b. tampons.”

We’re about to get a little activisty here. No, we don’t know for sure what’s going on with o.b. or any other tampon out there. And no, we can’t prove that the o.b.s caused fever. And no, we have no way of knowing whether or not organic bleach-free-yadda-yadda tampons are also leaving bits of cotton behind after we remove them. But if they are breaking off in small amounts inside of us, we’d still feel bad, but we’d feel a whole lot better about it knowing we weren’t also leaving behind a bunch of chemicals with it. It’s back to the why-bother principle—except it’s not wrinkles we’re talking about here.

Please, please, please, please, please change your tampons or get a reusable, nontoxic thingy like the Diva Cup (which one of our writers wrote to us about ages ago—thanks Claudia!), and please send this article to every woman you know.

42 Responses to “What’s Going On With o.b. Tampons?”
  1. Dominique says:

    Thank you for this! What do you think of sponge tampons?

  2. Morgan says:

    Hey ladies,
    Thanks for this awesome call to action for women to switch to healthier menstrual products! We’re offering $5 off the DivaCup and all other products on our site for women who’ve been let down by the o.b. shortage and are ready to try something better. Simply enter discount code ‘OBWTF’ at checkout to receive the discount.
    Thanks again!
    Morgan at Lunapads.com


  3. reese says:

    I use the Moon Cup *American* (they offer a 3 month trial!!) and i LOVE IT. I hope to get a luna cup as well, and see how it works. Please ladies, try the menstraul cup!!!!!!!

  4. Melisse says:

    Is a “quiet recall” legal if something is regulated as a medical device?

  5. Sarah says:

    I cannot recommend the Diva Cup enough. I have converted no less that 15 women. All of them are freaked out by it at first and all of them turn into awkward menstrual evangelists like me. It will change how you feel about your period. Seriously.

  6. Anna says:

    Menstrual cups rock. I use a Moon Cup and most of the time I forget that I’m even on my period. Also, less cramps and back pains than with tampons – before the Moon Cup, the first two days of my period were really painful, now I just feel a little queasy on the first day and fine from there on.

    Try it and you won’t want to switch back, and you save a ton of money as well.

  7. Christina says:

    I’m loving cloth pads – PIMPs are my favorite:

    definitely interested in Diva Cups as a few of my friends use those as well.

    I think tampons were one of the first products that I was like “seriously? this sounds like a bad idea.” This article just gave me the creeps!

  8. kristen says:

    Ok, so i’m a little concerned about putting silicone inside my body, especially for 12 hours at a time. (Diva cup and Moon cup are made of silicone.) I know that somebody is going to say that its medical grade silicone and used for medical devices and they have been around/ used for decades- but it still concerns me. The No More Dirty Looks book even suggests avoiding all silicones (yes, I know that you were referring to hair products, but its still dangerous!)

  9. Fonda LaShay says:

    I’ve been using DivaCup for 3 years or so. Bought it on a whim when I moved to Norway (where a box of tampons cost around $10 for just 8) and did not want to spend all my money on tampons :P

    I would NEVER go back, it is just something that you probably have to experience to understand, but you feel so much better. Also, like another said above – you almost forget you are having your period.

    I was a bit skeptical about the silicone – but compared to tampons with all those chemicals, I think it is a great upgrade.

    PS. LOVE LOVE the site!

  10. JayJay says:

    Some of these reports are similar to those made about Rely brand prior to their full release in the 80’s – I would say based on my knowledge this vanishing act of O.B. is a secret product recall as they know too well never to announce a public recall due to the scrutiny tampon manufacturing is under (not enough!)…but it would still have to be something pretty bad to warrant a recall, or perhaps a legal issue say if they had copied a rivals ‘recipe’.

    I’d point out that tampons regardless of brand are a common cause of vaginal infections, and fibre loss is common – during vaginal examinations we can often tell if a woman uses tampons based on vaginal/cervical scaring and even fibres within the vagina days after use. All brands under their own code of practice will run batch tests so although fibre loss will always occur it shouldn’t be this bad.

    We’ll probably never know, but that in itself says a lot for why women should make the switch, we should know what we put in our bodies and be able to trust manufacturers – we can’t, period.

    @kristen – on your concerns over medical grade silicone within the body.
    It still beats what’s within tampons, but if medical grade silicone is a no-no for you how about natural gum rubber (Keeper), TPE (MeLuna and Instead), or latex (diaphragm, which can be used as a menstrual cup) – it’s up to 12 hours too, you can always change more often, but they’re still safer, cleaner and more convenient either way.

  11. Kate says:

    Great conversation … I also had a random question since we are talking about the nether regions – Does anyone know any good organic personal lubricants? I have just noticed that what I’ve been using has parabens and so have started my search for a better lubricant and any help would be appreciated! It seems like everything I’ve found has some type of harmful chemical in it, whether its parabens, phenoxyethanol, etc.

  12. ComaGirl says:

    This is embarassing for me to say, but my mother never allowed me to wear tampons, so I never got into the habit of using them. Also, with the deluge I have each month, they just aren’t practical.

  13. I gave up tampons years ago because~

    A) Someone I knew had to have surgery and ultimately a hysterectomy because she had blood that backed up into her fallopian tubes and over time, essentially rotted her tissue… from tampons!

    B) I read the TSS warning every time I opened a new box because it always freaked me out.

    C) They always made cramps worse and made my vagina sore.

    I’m going back up to the top of these comments and taking the link to the $5 off a Diva Cup! My BFF has been using one for a few cycles now and says she loves it, so away with pads (also yucky with perfume and chemicals!!) and onto a new Diva Cup!!

  14. And the personal lube… I like veg glycerine and I make my own with glycerine, shea butter, and clove essential oil (for warming effect)~

    I don’t know if that would work with condoms though :(
    I’ve been married just a second short of forever and don’t have the condom issue.

  15. Michele says:

    I was using up my last box of Tampax tampons, and about to switch to a chlorine free brand, but thanks to the timing of this topic I just ordered the Diva Cup. Thanks ladies for all of the info.

  16. Ann says:

    The Diva Cup changed my life! No more waisted money and I keep a much closer eye on the changes in my cycle. I tell women about it every day!

    Do youself a huge favor and get a Diva!

  17. Marie says:

    @ Kristen- you can basically use any natural oil- jojoba (my personal fav), olive, apricot, avocado, canola, etc. I prefer jojoba oil because for me it seems to work the best and it’s an oil that closely resembles the oils of the human body.

  18. Siobhan says:

    @Kate We have solicited the help of someone who knows allll about this for a guest post. If you’re not using condoms, we both like coconut oil, but we’re going to get you some other tips too. Stay tuned!

  19. Siobhan says:

    Good question Melisse. From the FDA site: “FDA posts consumer information about the most serious medical device recalls. These products are on the list because there is a reasonable chance that they could cause serious health problems or death.” (itals mine) I did a search in their recall database and found one tampon recall (not o.b.) and no explanation for the reason of recall. So to answer your question: It would appear that yes it is legal, and it would also appear that even if something is quietly being yanked from the shelves, it may not be an official recall.

  20. Siobhan says:

    Never even heard of them! What are they??

  21. Lexie says:

    I’ve been using Seventh Generation brand tampons lately, which are far better than other brands, but they only last about 3 hours. I don’t know about you, but I can’t get up every 3 hours at work for that. I just may give the diva up a try, although I still feel awkward about it.

  22. plant deva says:

    I can recommend this product for personal lube: Shakti Ojas, it’s great stuff and it’s brimming with natural, nourishing, oils:http://aromabliss.com/Goddess.htm

  23. Kate says:

    Thanks for the recommendations – I will be looking forward to the guest post Siobhan! And, yes, I do have the condom issue so would love to know which lubes would be best with condom use. Thanks!

  24. Brooksie says:

    I use latex condoms so I need a water based lube. My picks right now are…

    Hathor Aphrodisia Lube (ingredients: de-ionized water, kosher vegetable propylene glycol, acacia gum, jujube zizphus, siberian ginseng, horny goat weed and ascorbic acid)

    sliquid organics (ingredients: purified water, plant cellulose, aloe barbadenisis, natural tocopherols vitamine E, cyamopsis guar conditioners, extracts hibicus, flax, green tea and sunflowerseed, citric acid, and phenoxethanol). The extracts are organic.

    As for the tampons without an applicator. I find organic and unbleached or OB can come apart a bit when you prepare them before insertion. I would not be surprised it is this fluff is part of the problem.

  25. kathleen says:

    i have been using a diva cup for 2 years and i’m still stoked about it! i can’t recommend it highly enough. it feels much more natural than tampons and there is so much less worry. it’s so worth getting over any initial hesitation.

  26. Cherry says:

    ‘Fibre loss’ is the name for when bits of tampons come apart. This video tells all… http://www.youtube.com/user/NatracareSisters

  27. Cherry says:

    I was allergic to latex for a while and generally had trouble with condoms. I’ve found this lube that has saved my relationship! It’s called Yes and is certainly more expensive that supermarket stuff but I would highly recommend it.

  28. Susie Hewson says:

    Natracare raised the issue of fibre loss in conventional tampons at least 15 years ago. The reaction from those conventionals was that the body naturally dispells the fibres. We asked nursed doing smear tests and they said that they can always tell who uses tampons because they have to remove old tampon fibres before achieving a clear smear for sampling. Conventional tampons and O.B is one of those, use rayon to make their tampons. Rayon is a straight, smooth fibre made from wood pulp. These smooth fibres have no integrity so they slide apart when wet. Eventually, these same manufacturers who claimed fibre loss was not an issue, decided to put a polypropylene ( that’s plastic to you and me) nonwoven wrapper around the rayon core to reduce the loss of fibres. Natracare is made only from 100% certifed organic long fibre cotton. Cotton is a curly structured fibre and interlocks with other fibres when wet, therefore Natracare tampons do not shed fibres.
    The O.B. Super Plus Ultra tampons are very high absorbency too, (18 gms) being permitted by the FDA to enter the market in more recent years.
    If you want to avoid fibre loss, synthetic fibres and chemicals and use a product developed to counter the impudence of the mass brands, then Natracare certified organic 100% cotton tampons were developed by me 21 years ago to release women from this onslaught of toxic, synthetic rubbish we felt coerced to buy each month.

    If you want to use renewables, great, but avoid sponges. They are as likely to cause TSS as rayon tampons according to independent research conducted by Tierno and Hanna of New York University Medical School in the mid 90’s. The results of that peer reviewed research indicated that along with the menstrual cup, Natracare all cotton tampons did not generate the toxins associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome.

    There is a video of the fibre loss issue on our Youtube page http://www.youtube.com/user/NatracareSisters

  29. Mary says:

    I’m not sure why no one has mentioned Instead Softcup on here yet…. I use Softcups and nothing else and absolutely swear by them. Plus, it’s the only menstrual cup that you can wear during sex.

  30. Eve says:

    I bought a Lunette cup when I heard about the disappearing OB’s. I LOVE IT! Still would like the option to use OB tampons when I want though!


  31. Heather says:

    For those worried about putting silicone in you…. let this dyke let you know that if I haven’t had a problem with it, you probably won’t either (I also use the Diva Cup as well as other silicone devices). ;)

  32. Camille says:

    I just can’t see using a cup when, as some of us women have experienced…those “monsoon” days occur. Some of us have days when you’re changing an ULTRA tampon every couple of hours. I’m doubtful that the cup would hold as much as is needed on those days and it really does not appeal to have to deal with that much blood in a cup in a public bath stall. That just doesn’t sound like fun.

  33. cecilia says:

    Indeed! I just hated the removal hassle with the menstrual cup. Any advice? Bloody hands, bloody cup, bloody pooter, bloody faucet. Just not practical at airports and such, and with a mighty flow timing could not always be planned. And the need for a “back up pad” is hardly environmentally friendly. I must say the advent of the ultra has made me breath easier. There are times when I say the heck with some risks as the benefits win. I am afraid I close my ears to worries about “medical grade silicone” and the one in a million nasty fiber build up. I prefer not to leave puddles of blood on chairs and throw caution to the wind.

  34. Zilla says:

    Camille, I too am a monsoon bleeder and I depend on my ‘keeper’ which is rubber. These cups hold as much as a days worth of lady periodical juice so a couple hours? You should be good. I too have periods when I fill the keeper up in a couple hours and I always pass chunks the size of silver dollars. It IS just like being in labor. I have had this for many years as had my Mom. I know that I need to take a day off (good thing I work at home!) get in fetal position and take some homeopathics (belladonna for example). I have stayed on the pill for so many years because atleast I know when the monsoon is coming. With The Shining comes terrible moodiness and depression.

    Wow I can truly say that my period consumes my life.

    I have been using super pluses inbetween. I haven’t perfected being in public and tending to the keeper. Though people will say to rinse it out in a clean toilet bowl and wipe it down with toilet paper.

    Will we ever really know the dealio with the o.b.’s? I doubt it. Maybe Mrs.Obama should take on healthy tampons as well as obese children?

  35. 'Becca says:

    Thanks for posting this important article! I hadn’t been aware of this issue until today because I’ve been a happy user of reusable cups and cloth pads since 1997. Here is my very detailed article on the subject:

    I also have a heavy flow: A regular absorbency tampon will be completely saturated in 1 to 2 hours. The reusable cup lasts 4 to 5 hours for me, and if it does begin leaking it leaks SLOWLY, unlike a tampon. I just empty it every time I’m using the bathroom anyway. I work in an office, so I routinely use a public restroom, and it simply isn’t a problem–just empty the cup into the toilet and put it back in again! It doesn’t have to be washed every time, and it doesn’t splatter blood everywhere as some of you seem to be imagining. (Cecilia, I’m wondering if your experience is with the disposable Instead cups? Those are a totally different shape, and I have trouble removing one without having it turn sideways and dump onto my hand. The Diva and Keeper are much neater!)

  36. Allison says:

    I’ve been a DivaCup user for over 2 years now, and I love it.

    For those of you with flow concerns: I have an extremely heavy flow as well for my first few days– like, I have to change my cup every 3 or 4 hours, sometimes 2 if it’s clotty. It’s really not that bad though, and ‘Becca is right, when it leaks, it leaks really slowly. When I used OBs in the past, I had the same problem… so not much has changed. I like to wear a cloth menstrual pad (partypantspads.com makes really cute ones, but I recently made a few of my own using old t-shirts layered and quilted–about 8 layers– when you quilt it, it isn’t any thicker than a standard pad) on my first few days, just in case I am in the middle of something when it starts leaking.

    Zilla– I don’t think I’d ever clean my cup in a toilet…. fecal matter, ugh! Even if it’s recently flushed, I think those kind of bacteria hang around. I keep a bottle of water (reusable, of course) and rinse it out. The worst part about changing it in public is the awkward noises it makes…. haha. Oh well!

    My brilliant plan for the future is to get another Diva (I’m still using the one I bought 2 years ago) and keep it in my purse– then when I need to switch in a stalled lavatory, I can just wipe off the used one, wrap it in TP, and stick it in an oilcloth or plastic bag. Clean Diva ahoy!

    I bought some insteads because I liked the idea of being able to wear it during sex, but it has never really worked out for me. I always make a mess when I’m taking it out, and can never quite get it in right. Additionally, the environmentally friendly factor is definitely NOT there for those.

  37. karen says:

    Something is not right!!!!! Lil-lets will not even sell their super plus extra tampons to US or Canada. See the following link: http://www.lil-lets.co.uk/shop/

    “Unfortunately, at this time we are unable to offer Lil-lets feminine hygiene products to our consumers in the United States & Canada.
    If you would like us to contact you when we are able to resume this service, please click here.”

    I think J & J has too much pull in the retail world.

  38. Dina says:

    @ Karen – Johnson & Johnson has owned the Lil-lets since the 70’s

  39. Christina says:

    I’ve been using O.B. tampons for years with no problems whatsoever. The “100% organic cotton” tampons, however, *repeatedly* left me pulling bits of cotton out of my vagina. I found that alarming!

    Also, please see the site below:

  40. abbie says:

    oh my! would never have even thought of this

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