Sure, you always check the expiration date on your canned goods and even on your favorite skin-care products like lotion and sunscreen -- but would you ever think to check your tampons? Well, the truth is that you most definitely should.
If you’ve recently found a tampon in your cupboard and are wondering if it’s safe to use -- you came to the right place! In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about tampons and their expiration dates, as well as their shelf life and proper storage. So grab your cup of coffee and get comfortable -- let’s dive in!
How Long Can You Keep Tampons?
Unfortunately, this isn’t always indicated on the tampon packaging. Some manufacturers only display the date of production and the fact that their products last for a “long time.” However, the truth is that tampons do, in fact, have an expiration date that’s usually five years after they’re produced. Think about it -- tampons are made of cotton, and cotton is susceptible to bacteria and mold. These harmful organisms can alter the pH of your vagina and can lead to many vaginal issues.
Although most experts will agree that tampons can last up to five years, it’s also important to keep in mind that there is no industry or FDA standard shelf-life for tampons. And most of us ladies will use the tampons we’ve purchased before we even have to worry about them expiring. But again, the rule of thumb for shelf life is always -- five years.
How Should You Store Tampons?
How long tampons last really depends on the environment that they are kept in. The vagina is not exactly a sterile environment, so tampons don’t need to be sterile, but they do need to be clean.
Sterile refers to something that is sanitized to remove all fungus, mold, bacteria, and viruses -- surgical tools, for example. Clean, on the other hand, refers to an object that is free of more serious concentrations of mold, bacteria, or dirt.
Since the vagina is a self-cleaning environment containing its own complex and delicate microbiome, tampons don’t need to be kept in a sterile environment.
But, it’s important to keep in mind that they can absorb moisture, causing them to quickly grow higher concentrations of fungus, bacteria, mold, and other potentially infection-causing organisms. If your tampons are hanging out in the open and it’s an especially steamy, sauna-like environment, that could cause some disruption because, again, tampons absorb moisture.
Instead, aim to store your tampons in a dry, cool place. Outside, your warm, steamy bathroom is best, but if you do store them in there, just be sure to use an airtight container and keep them as far away from the shower as possible.
How Can You Tell If Your Tampon is Expired?
While some brands put the expiration date directly on the box, the most important tools in checking if your tampons are still good to use are your own eyes and nose. Common sense rules here -- if your unused tampon looks stained, ripped, or that there is mold growing on it, that tampon should probably be trashed.
Use your best judgment here. If an unused tampon is visibly moldy, of course, it’s a definite no-go. Same if it’s swollen with water or if it’s been rolling around your dirty coat pocket without a wrapper. If the wrapper seems to be slightly torn, but the tampon and applicator is still protected, that may still be good.
Finally, keep in mind that mold may be obscured in tampons with an applicator, so look for other tell-tale signs of an expired tampon like moisture or a lack of proper packaging. A really funky smell would also, of course, be a sign that this tampon should stay very far away from your vagina.
Side Effects of Using Expired Tampons
What are the side effects of using an expired tampon, you ask?
Your vagina has a very natural, delicately balanced microbiome, meaning that there is plenty of yeast and good bacteria. This naturally acidic microbiome is generally all you need to protect your vagina from infection. But, pesky outside contaminants -- like chemicals or bacteria -- can throw this microbiome off, altering your vagina’s natural pH, thus creating an atmosphere that encourages the growth of harmful organisms.
Like scents and other additives, bacteria and mold growth on contaminated or expired tampons can similarly disrupt your vagina’s delicate pH, leading to irritation and even infection.
What about Toxic Shock Syndrome?
At this time, it’s not clear whether using a contaminated tampon could up your chances of Toxic Shock Syndrome, a rare but extremely serious illness associated with tampon use. But it’s possible the risk would go up a bit. In fact, most studies or theories suggest that the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome is absorbency. So to prevent this deadly illness, it’s of the utmost importance to use tampons that are appropriately sized for your flow and to change your tampon every four to eight hours.
If you realized that you accidentally used an expired tampon or had to use a tampon with a slightly ripped wrapper in a pinch -- take a deep breath and don’t panic. You are the expert on your own vagina, so if everything feels peachy-keen down there, you’re probably fine.
People with vaginas are pretty comfortable with what their odor and secretions are usually like, so if something is amiss or suddenly changes, they are normally aware of it. If you do happen to notice a strange odor, a stinging or burning sensation, or a strange discharge, those are potential signs of infection - and definite signs that it is time to go check in with your doctor!
Toxic Ingredients To Watch Out For in Your Tampons
In addition to keeping a close eye on your tampons to make sure they haven’t gone bad, there are also a few toxic ingredients that you should watch out for.
Believe it or not, but highly absorbent viscose rayon is one of four synthetic ingredients that is commonly associated with the increased likelihood of Toxic Shock Syndrome. While the other three ingredients -- carboxymethylcellulose, polyacrylate rayon, and polyester -- have been taken off the market, rayon still exists in many popular tampon brands today.
This incredibly dangerous chemical is a result of chlorine processing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no safe level of exposure to dioxin. In addition, it has also been linked to hormone disruption and can greatly affect your immune system in a negative way. Whatever you do, stay far away from dioxin and reach for organic cotton tampons, like the ones found right here at Rael.
The purpose of genetically modified (GMO) cotton is so that it will be resistant to herbicides and pesticides, which would affect the cotton’s growth. This is extremely problematic because it allows substantially more herbicides and pesticides to be sprayed on the cotton, which increases the risk of its residues being present in the cotton that’s used to make tampons. Whenever you can, always stick with organic cotton since non-organic cotton tampons are likely to be genetically modified.
Fragrance is essentially a chemical cocktail. As with beauty products, brands don’t have to list what chemicals they are listing under the umbrella term “fragrance,” so it can contain extremely harmful ingredients.
Chlorine is used during the bleaching processes and does produce small amounts of dioxins in the process. While the FDA maintains that there are only small trace amounts of dioxin, when you look at this from a cumulative angle, there is most definitely cause for concern.
BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical that comes from producing plastic, and it has been linked to -- you guessed it -- cancer. Look for BPA-free applicators when shopping for tampons (also found in Rael’s tampons!).
A Final Word
So, do tampons expire?
The answer is: yes.
Tampons are made of cotton, and cotton is susceptible to bacteria and mold. This means that if you store your tampons in a warm and wet place, chances are they will absorb harmful bacteria and become moldy -- and no one wants to put a moldy tampon in their vagina!
Expired tampons put you at a much greater risk for disrupting your vagina’s delicate pH balance, which can lead to infection. But it’s not just expired tampons to worry about -- it’s also the ingredients that are used to make them.
Toxic ingredients like rayon, BPA, and dioxin are commonly found in conventional tampons, but the truth is that you should avoid them at all costs. The next time you are shopping for tampons, stick with organic cotton tampons that are made without the use of any harsh ingredients, like the ones found at Rael.
Made with you in mind, Rael tampons are made with potent ingredients from Mother Earth. Because at the end of the day -- you deserve the world.