o.b. Tampons: What We’re Not Allowed to Know

We often get asked about the health and safety concerns around disposable pads and tampons: after all, it was my own tampon allergy (that resulted in years’ worth of painful monthly bladder infections) that originally led me to start making Lunapads and Lunapanties way back when. It will come as no surprise that we often hear all manner of similar stories from customers about how disposables have disagreed with them: rashes, painful dryness and of course yeast and bladder infections chief among them.

So why don’t we make a bigger deal about it? Part of the reason is that we don’t want to base our marketing messages on fear, choosing rather to emphasize benefits such as personal empowerment, financial savings, superior comfort and of course environmental responsibility. That said, a sad truth is that there has been precious little research done to document whatever correlation might exist between the above-named conditions (not to mention endometriosis, vulvodynia, infertility and many others) and disposable pad and tampon use.

And then ob tampons mysteriously began to disappear from retail shelves, prompting us to reconsider our stance. Why would Johnson & Johnson interrupt or discontinue supplies, unless consumers were experiencing problems, and what evidence does exist of connections between disposable pads and tampons and health problems for those who use them?

We have been watching the o.b. story closely, and are happy to report that the shortage, combined with Johnson & Johnson’s stunning lack of transparency with respect to explaining what’s behind it is landing us a heap of new Lunapads and DivaCup customers. o.b. are a popular choice among those wanting to reduce the unnecessary waste of an applicator, and who further have no compunction with respect to being a little more in touch with themselves, as it were. As it happens, ob were the last brand of tampons that I ever used prior to switching to Lunapads, and for exactly these reasons – they always seemed like the most progressive, practical choice, not to mention the cred of having been designed by a woman gynecologist!

I wonder what the real story is behind the supply interruption – we must be talking tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales. One of the more surprising aspects of the story is many people’s relief at the news that o.b. (at least the lower-absorbency varieties, the “Ultra” model has apparently been discontinued, again for unspecified reasons) are now finding their way back onto store shelves. Why are people so willing to return their trust to products that clearly have something very wrong with them and a company that lacks the courtesy or respect to level with their customers about what’s going on?

Other than the well-publicized association of non-cotton tampon use and Toxic Shock Syndrome, studies that might prove the association between disposable pad and tampon use and other health issues for the most part simply don’t exist. That said, a 1996 Canadian study is clear about the correlation between Always brand pads and a variety of painful conditions. Always, it seems, are for whatever reason most likely to cause contact dermatitis or recurrent vulvitis, presenting painful itching and burning that often passes as chronic vaginitis, stories we have heard numerous times from customers.

In the fall of last year, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a highly regarded industry watchdog, issued a fact sheet about tampons, discussing among other issues the link between cumulative exposure to dioxin, a known carcinogen, and tampon use. Another common concern with tampons is fiber loss, and whether wayward fibers can become embedded in the vaginal wall or even the uterus: check out the video (courtesy of Natracare, makers of organic cotton tampons) above to learn more.

Hard evidence or no, it looks like awareness of these and other issues is starting to grow, leading to a surge in converts to reusable products. We’ll keep you posted on what comes next, and in the meantime we welcome all of you new Lunapads and DivaCup users!

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  • Viki

    o.b. tampons were also the last ones I used before I made the switch to reusables probably 9 or 10 years ago. I am convinced that tampons are just not good for you. After I stopped using disposables, my periods got shorter and less heavy. A few years ago, I got caught at my office without any cloth pads or my Diva Cup. I scavenged my desk drawers and came up with a tampon. About an hour later I had the worst cramps ever. I realized that while I had taken horrible cramps as a natural part of my period – I had stopped getting them nearly so bad once I stopped using disposables! After that, I knew I was never going back.

    I wonder if we’ll ever know the real story behind this o.b. disappearance?

  • Penny

    I always used disposables- and yes, o.b. tampons were my go to product along with panty liners. I had horrible periods and they were very long as well. After having my son I started having this rash every time I used a tampon/pantyliner and my periods were still very painful and long. I went to the doctor and after being tested for everything under the sun was told to go home to wait for results. I went back in to get the results and get checked out again and was told that I had probably started having an “allergy” to the tampons. My doctor told me that it is pretty common to have a baby and then get an “allergy” and he had seen it in many women. I switched to lunapads and I haven’t had the problem since! I no longer get a rash and my cramp (which I always got) are literally GONE as well a few other side effects I used to have and my period is shorter! I would be interested to find out the truth of the o.b. disappearance and to see some REAL studies on how disposables affect our health!

  • Elissa

    I’m creeped out by the cult like following surrounding the o.b. tampons. Yes, I used them in the past and preferred their applicator variety when they used to make those back in the day (before I discovered lunapads). But they discontinued those and guess what – I found a different brand to use! OMG. I know, right? good lord people. Use something else. A tampon is a tampon is a tampon. Do yourself a favor and get some Lunapads! You’ll never run out! 🙂

    • OLO101

      The problem was that there were no other brands that compare. The next closest brands did not come close.

    • FFS

      OB will actually stay in place and their advertisement that it expands width-wise instead of length-wise was the draw for me. I’d make sure to get a different brand in place, sit down, and be able to feel that tampon. With OB I don’t have that problem. OB are also super convenient for going swimming for similar reasons.

  • RB in KC

    I wish it were that easy Elissa. For some of us, and tampon is not a tampon. Every other tampon besides OB ends up falling right out of me, bulging out or creeping out as it gets longer. On top of that they last about 30 minutes for people like me with heavier flows.

    I can’t imagine what men would do if say, bud light was pulled and no one offered an explanation. I think that is the most upsetting part. It’s like we don’t matter.

    There’s no reasonable business case for pulling them and then discontinuing the ultras. If they weren’t making money before on the line, they can see women willing to spend over $100 for 40 tampons on ebay. They could quadruple the price and we’d still buy it.

    Women asking for information and not being heard or properly acknowledge by J & J should be disturbing for all women and I would hope our sisters who have alternate ways of caring for themselves would support our call for answers while kindly offering advice on what else we might try.

    I am looking into alternatives now and feel uneasy about using plastic with the cup. That’s why I am here. I may try Lunapads and find that this is the best thing that could have happened to me!

    Thanks for sharing an alternative to try.

  • kb

    “I can’t imagine what men would do if say, bud light was pulled and no one offered an explanation. I think that is the most upsetting part. It’s like we don’t matter.”

    This is SO true! Why is it that we just let mysterious pullings of personal products go with not even a peep??

    Any more news about OB? These were also the last brand of tampon I was using before switching to cloth. Escalating pain, yeast and bleeding problems led me to cloth—-I wonder how closely OB are related to that?

  • Jessica

    Wow! This is illuminating! I have been dealing with yeast infections for the last two years and the doctors continue to prescribe the same medicine for me (which doesn’t get rid of the yeast infection completely). I have been to the doctors at least 8 times over this issue, and they never mentioned that it could be the tampon I use (I’ve used Ob for many years).

    I’m willing to give something else a shot. If it works, I will be eternally grateful- as will my husband:) Thanks again for the insight.

  • Bonnie

    How many women are having health problems from snythetic Tampons ? Even dying!? Yep they are!

  • E in UK

    I live in London and have used OB tampons for years. They were off the market for a while and I switched to Cottons (organic cotton only and much much better) but have just purchased the new back on the shelves “improved” OB, called Comfort. They are TERRIBLE! Synthetic tampons with itchy plastic cover. I feel them when walking or moving and they have given me a UTI. Beware these are NOT the old OB product. I will never use them again.

    • jasmine

      you are supposed to take the plastic off

  • OMG. I am just recovering from having a wart lazered off my intimate area and my period is around the corner. i hope diva cups get to my town soon.

  • faith

    I have been experiencing itch and irritation whenever I’m on my periods for the past 2 years or so..I am currently using Kotex pads and pantyliners and would like to change because the itchy is really embarassing and uncomfortable.I live is South Africa and would like to know where can I get Lunapads here.

    • Lunapads.com

      Hi Faith,
      We don’t have any retailers in South Africa, but there is a business starting up there called Girl Stuff Period that will be making pads that are very similar to Lunapads. You can get in touch with them at info@girlstuffperiod.com

  • hellopanda

    I bought a box of ob tampons and to my horrified , I open up to see an ant territory in it . I proceed to refund the product. It was 2 years ago . I completely stopped using ob since then !

  • Maria Lopez

    I’ve use on o.b.tampons for about 13 years and I love them it’s the best thing for me as a woman to have every time I use kotex I get a very bad rash and it itches so bad.But ever since I use them it hasn’t came back I go crazy when I can’t find them

  • Lisa

    Same here. I have used OB tampons for years as well. Then maybe about a year or so ago, I started noticing an itchy, burning rash whenever I used them. I didn’t put two and two together right away. As soon as I stopped using them and switched to Seventh Generation organic cotton tampons, shaped just like OB’s, I haven’t had those symptoms again.

  • cali_flow

    I used ob and had no problems with them, except all the dirty and disgusted looks I would get from other ladies who reach for the plastic applicator products. Anyway, companies do pull products from shelves when they don’t sell. Not that there is anything wrong, just no one’s buying them. This has happened to many of my favorite products over the years, supply and demand. If there is not enough demand, they cut the supply. Just an idea, obviously.

  • The Darling Kinkshamer

    A divacup won’t fit in my vagina comfortably. I alternate between cloth pads, disposable liners and ob tampons. I love ob tampons because they are easy to insert and do not have an applicator.

    • Sarah L

      You might see if there is a cup that fits better, based on your cervix placement. I had a Diva that I couldn’t never use again after my last baby was born. 🙁 I’m going to try a shorter cup.

  • Lily in CA

    Honestly pads are gross and they make it feel like you’re wearing an adult sized diaper around.

    The problem with all of the dryness and irritation for many women is the fact that people are leaving them on too long or using them for a longer period of time than they should. In truth women should of they like use the tampons when their flow is heavier (while always using the smallest tampon possible for handling said flow) and then towards the end of the cycle switching to a tampon to handle light bleeding or spotting.

    Other reasonings for infections can easily be sudden change in diet (such as acidity or lack/surplus of certain nutrients), cleanliness (using douche is actually bad for health, specifically because it reduces the bacteria in the vaginal cavity that prevents infections), and sexual intercourse. The problem with statistical evidence is that there is always some sort of bias included, evidence cannot always be based on it including the testimony of 1 person.

    The o.b. Tampons were temporarily removed based on reports of discomfort upon application. Before they were removed from shelves they were basically cotton you shoved into your vagina that resulted in dryness and irritation after multiple uses. They made the plastic cover for easier insertion, however because of the ‘Ultra’ size being large people are still finding application uncomfortable so they still have not made it back on shelves (as I have seen).

    As a final message to women looking around on the web, do not believe every testimony you hear. Reusable or not both kinds of menstratation products have their risks (especially since ‘washing’ said products can introduce outside bacteria and cause infections that way) and using said products properly will reduce said risks.

    We were just not created/evolutionized to stick cotton into our vaginas or wear around adult diapers. Take care of your bodies they way you want to under your own testimony.

    • Lily in CA

      Oh know I’m seeing the grammar errors in my statement *ugh* must turn away…

  • Skarlet

    As I write this I’m sitting on the toilet in agony after removing a natracare tampon. I switched to them almost 2 years ago after suffering from monthly bladder infections and it looks like I’m back there again. This is by far the WORST bladder infection I’ve had to date. I can’t even get as far as wiping before needing to pee again and I’d love to go to the doctor but that would involve getting off the seat which I can’t do. I’m in hell! And to make matters worse I’ve over 100 of the bloody things that I can’t use anymore!
    Ladies, if you value your plumbing in any way at all and if you’re sick of keeping the toilet seat warm for hours on end, don’t use anything in your vagina. It’ll thank you for it in the long run