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The Truth About Period Product Testing

Did you know period products have *never* been tested with menstrual blood?

The Truth About Period Product Testing

If you’ve used pads and tampons to catch and absorb your blood and uterine lining, you’ve most likely experienced leaks. And if you’ve ever felt that the leaking was because you “bled wrong” or are “shaped differently,” you are absolutely not alone. 

The real disconnect is that period products weren’t tested with actual blood until August of 2023. Considering how long women have had periods—uh, forever—what were they testing on period products in lieu of menstrual blood? The answer might completely change the way you think about and use your period products.

A Brief History of Period Product Testing

Back in the 1970s, young women were contracting Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) after using tampons—some of whom died. TSS is a condition caused by a bacteria Staphylococcus exotoxin that starts with a fever, low blood pressure, and sometimes organ failure. While it wasn’t strictly attributed to tampon use, a medical study done at a Columbian medical school indicated a significantly higher chance of contracting TSS with tampon use. Only after these deaths were tampons recognized as medical devices, and a task force was formed by the FDA to perform testing. 

So how did they test period products? They used a solution similar to what’s in tears—saline, which is simply sodium chloride (salt) and water. Why? Because it’s cheap to make and there’s a lot of it. You’re probably already thinking my period blood is nothing like that. And you’re right—it’s not. What comes out of any woman’s uterus each month is very different in texture, volume, and movement. That’s likely why a lot of menstrual products just plain suck. It’s not you—it’s your period products.

Menstrual Blood Is Going to Change the Period Game

Saline may have satisfied lab techs and the FDA once upon a time, but it’ll never be the same consistency as menstrual blood. Menstrual blood is thick, slippery, and sometimes clumpy, since it’s packed with endometrial cells and vaginal fluids. The first few days of your period are likely heavier than the last, and no period is exactly the same. 

Absorption indicators ‘light’, ‘regular’, and ‘super’ on pads or tampons aren’t measuring blood flow, but saline flow—not exactly accurate, or helpful in the slightest. Because of this, period products underperform, which may have made you feel like you’re bleeding wrong. As if we don’t have enough to worry about during our monthly cycle. 

Thankfully, in August of 2023 the University of Oregon Health Sciences started testing period products with real human blood. The change from saline to blood is monumental, and will likely cause a shift in the way period products are made—in addition to how you use them. This also means that women’s health practices will evolve, and not just because of tampons but because of what period blood can tell us.

What Menstrual Blood Can Tell Us

Menstrual blood in particular can be an important indicator of underlying health issues. The heaviness of your flow can tell you and your doctor whether or not something has changed in your body over time. Understanding your flow is powerful, and being able to accurately measure a difference between periods can revolutionize women’s reproductive health. According to North Western Medicine, your menstrual flow can help diagnose things like fibroids, endometriosis, cancers, hormone imbalances, and even mental health conditions

While testing period products with real human blood is a much-needed change, we’re all still hoping the method evolves to include actual menstrual blood for even better accuracy. But that’s one small step for period products, and one major step for women’s health. The next time you make a trek to pick up your preferred menstrual product, you might want to check how they test them. Knowledge, as we know, is power. 

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