Composition of hygienic products: a decree "very disappointing" for associations

On July 1 in France, a decree plans to require manufacturers of pads and tampons to display the components of their products on packaging or leaflets. Except that for the associations that have been mobilizing for years to demand more transparency, the final version of the text "is completely emptied of its substance", and appears as "a step backwards".

10,000 tampons and pads are used during a lifetime during menstruation, according to the Elementary Rules Association. Getty Images/iStockphoto - FabrikaCr

Text by: Louise Huet


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This was a promise made by the former Minister of Health, now spokesman for the French government, Olivier Véran. "Every woman will know what's in her tampon or pad," he promised in March 2022. The initial idea: to put an end to the opacity that reigns over the composition of menstrual protection, in order to preserve women's health.

The former minister guaranteed the inscription of "everything that makes up tampons, sanitary napkins and menstrual cups" on packaging. Exhaustive information that had to appear in an "indelible, visible, understandable and French-language way", according to Olivier Véran, in Libération, last year.

A year later, this decree will finally see the light of day. The JDDrevealed the contours this Saturday, May 27. And as several associations note, the government seems to have revised its ambitions downwards.

A decree that arouses "indignation"

After back and forth in 2022 between the services of the State and the three associations (Rules Elementary, the Women's Foundation, and the Georgette Sand collective) that have been campaigning with the government on this issue since 2020, the final text of the decree is indeed enough to disappoint consumers.

Because, subtlety: this future decree will only mention the obligation to display substances added "intentionally" by manufacturers, that is to say perfumes or inks. "There will not be a complete list of all the substances that can be found in the protections, including toxic, contaminated products, which are for example present in raw materials. This is a huge disappointment for us," says Laury Gaube, director of communication for the association Rules Elementaries.

Another "absurd" point: manufacturers will be able to integrate the list of ingredients on the package leaflet inside the packages, and not on the outer packaging. "The intention of the decree was to allow consumers to make an informed choice at the time of purchase, and to be able to compare products. Today, that is impossible. The person will only realize once he opens the package that the protection actually contained dangerous products, "abounds Laury Gaube.

The scope of application will also be reduced, since according to the indications of the JDD, textile protection, that is to say washable menstrual panties, will be exempted from this obligation. Once again, this is a cold shower for NGOs. "You need at least 80% textile fibres for a product to qualify as a textile product. And this is the case with tampons and pads. So there is, in addition, the risk that some manufacturers invoke this argument and are exempt from registering the composition, "warns Elementary Rules. At present, no regulations around the washable protection market are in force, while the craze for these products continues to grow.

A "lack of interest" in the subject of menstruation

On the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene Day, Sunday, May 28, the three associations together launched the #AfficheTaCompo campaign. All accompanied by a petition, entitled "For a real transparency on the composition of periodic protections", which counts to date more than 11,000 signatories. The objective: to alert public opinion to this public health issue and encourage the government to propose a more ambitious decree.

Today with the @Fondationfemmes and @Georgette_Sand we are launching a petition #affichetacompo to no longer ask questions about the composition of our protections ❌, it's crazy to still be there in 2023, isn't it?

— Basic Rules (@RElementaires) May 28, 2023

As Elementary Rules recalls, menstruating people use on average "10,000 tampons and pads during menstruation over the course of a lifetime", or "4 billion protections each year". In 2017, the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) noted in a report the presence of "chemical residues", pesticides or hydrocarbons in several brands of tampons and pads.

A glaring lack of information on the components of menstrual products that Elementary Rules interprets as a lack of interest in the subject on the part of public authorities, researchers and manufacturers. Especially since to date, no study has provided a concrete conclusion on the impact of these substances. "There is no research on the subject because there is no transparent information on compositions. It's an infernal loop that shows that the taboo of menstruation is still present," says Laury Gaube.

Classify menstrual products according to quality

Beyond the raw composition of the packages, "the idea is also to allow consumers to decipher which ingredients are dangerous or not for health." For this, the three associations imagine that once the list of substances is made public, applications, like Yuka, could scan the periodic protections and, ultimately, "propose a rating system to classify products according to their quality, as is already done for food or cosmetics," says Laury Gaube.

Elementary rules, the Women's Foundation, and the Georgette Sand collective continue to hope for measures that live up to their expectations. Ideally, a decree that would succeed in forcing manufacturers to have a complete and accessible composition on packages, and then allow analyses to be conducted on the effects of these ingredients. And finally, to prevent the most harmful while promoting the manufacture of more ethical periodic protections.

" READ ALSO – "I put diapers instead": faced with period poverty, some women are forced to system D

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