If little bits of tampon disintegrating inside your body sounds somewhat alarming, read on. Caveat: There’s no major cause for widespread panic—but you should be informed about foreign bodies littering in your insides. To be clear, tampon shedding does not refer to menstrual bleeding, as in the uterus lining shedding. It means your tampon can shed a bit of its fibers while on the job site. Also known as fiber loss, tampon shedding is a little-known issue that can, in rare cases, lead to pesky infections. However, you’ve probably experienced it without even knowing it.
Restrain the understandable impulse to divest yourself of tampons
when really, it’s a question of becoming a savvier tampon shopper and user. Firstly, tampons made from rayon are more susceptible to shedding, because the fibers are short and straight, so they easily slide apart from each other. Cotton fibers are curly, which means they tend to bind together—and stay bound—more easily. Another way to avoid shedding is to choose a lighter absorbency, because a drier tampon is more likely to shed than a soaked one.
While the risk of infection from tampon shedding is extremely atypical, in women that already have issues such as endometriosis or pre-existing ulcers in the vagina, it is more of a concern. These kinds of lesions can act as the perfect gateway for bacteria to enter the bloodstream, leading to a small risk of infection and toxic shock syndrome.
Symptoms of tampon shedding
Similar to leaving a tampon inside of you too long, the following signs can be a result of tampon shedding, especially if the tampon is the wrong absorbency. You know the feeling of removing a tampon that isn’t quite full? It can feel dry, irritating and scraping. When you use a tampon with a higher absorbency than you need, the outer layers of absorbent cotton fibers don’t fill. The following are signs of toxic shock syndrome, which is an extreme version of tampon shedding.
- brown, green, yellow, pink, or gray vaginal discharge
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- foul odor from your vagina
- itching inside your vagina or on your vulva
- rash or redness around your genitals
- uncomfortable or painful urination
- abdominal or pelvic pain
- swelling in or around your vagina
- fever of 104°F (40°C) or higher
Alternatives to tampons
There are several worthwhile alternatives to tampons
, many of them which can also boast of being more environmentally friendly. Cups
and cloth pads
and period underwear are all viable options, letting you go about your normal life during your period, without getting blood on your clothes or sheets. Cups, made from silicon or latex, go inside your vagina, pads are worn in your underwear and you can swap in period underwear instead of regular underwear on the days you have your period.
As an added bonus, here are some common sense menstrual hygiene tips for making sure you feel your best during your monthly cycle.
Menstrual hygiene best practices
Change your period protection regularly
Change your period product every 2-4 or 4-6 hours, depending on the type of product and how heavy your flow is. Regularly changing your product of choice will prevent bacteria growing on the blood, which can create a stronger odor and leave you more prone to infection.
Make good tampon choices
If you use tampons
, consider switching to an all cotton brand to minimize the chance of shedding. Tampons come in different “sizes” (absorbencies), such as light, regular and super. Use the lowest or lightest absorbency that ensures you will change it after a few hours.
Keep your labial area clean
Due to changing PH levels, women are slightly more prone to bacterial infection when they’re on their period. If you keep the area clean you’ll have an advantage. But make sure you wash correctly. Avoid using heavily—and chemically—perfumed soaps, guaranteed to be filled with irritants that can disrupt the delicate flora of the vagina. The vagina is self-cleaning, similar to a self-cleaning oven, so don’t try to wash the inside your vagina (also known as douching). But the labial area can be compared to the stovetop—it does benefit from a good clean.
Try wipes for on-the-go
Menstruating can make you feel like you need to have a quick clean ‘down there’ more often, especially on heavy flow days. Pad wearers are more prone to menstrual blood drying around the vulva. Wipes
—of which many of them are actually safe to flush down the toilet—will help you feel cleaner between period product changes.
Steer clear of scent
Don’t use scented tampons or pads, vaginal deodorants, or douches—they can lead to infection. Although some women worry about the way their period smells, chances are that no one will be able to tell that you are on your period.