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Scented Tampax are met with health concerns as they reach the market

A refreshed-looking white woman dressed in a long, flowing white gown sits above clear blue water that stretches out to the horizon. Below her reads, "Beguile your senses. Succumb to the freshness." A flap along the right side of the page suggests to readers they'll pull it open to sample a new perfume. What they find is a sample scent of the new scented Tampax Fresh: "the only cardboard tampon that doesn't smell like a cardboard tampon."

Tampax recently launched what they say is the only scented tampon on the market today, despite potential health risks of the product's use and a taboo among women about scented feminine care products.

Tampons with any chemical products are proven to cause irritation and other health-related problems in women but the strong chemicals in fragrance leave women especially prone to yeast infection, endometriosis and minor irritations according to leading tampon health expert Dr. Philip Tierno, Director of Clinical Microbiology at the NYU Medical Center and author of The Secret Life of Germs.

"That's gross," said junior Ella Wolfgramm, echoing many Mills students' outbursts at the idea of a fragranced tampon. "You're already setting yourself up for a yeast infection [by using tampons]. But it's like they're saying 'well this way you can wear it longer because you smell like roses!'"

Rose is not a scent available in the new line; the tampons have a generic "fresh" smell that is not easily recognizable-except as similar to other chemically enhanced products. And the fresh scent is purported to be a reason to keep the tampons in longer.

According to Tierno, leaving the scented tampons in longer than 30-45 minutes is dangerous because it allows the chemicals present to get into the bloodstream.

"Because they are all treated [with chemicals], the tampons still have residues," said Tierno. "With the addition of fragrances, you increase the amount of risk. So that's a no-no."

Tampax would not comment on the specific concerns regarding fragranced tampons, but said in an e-mail statement sent to The Weekly: "We are deeply committed to the development of products which will improve the lives and health of women. And, as women ourselves, we have a great interest in ensuring the safe use of our products."

Representatives from feminine hygiene companies o.b., Natracare, and Kotex said their companies do not plan on making scented tampons because of health risks.

Kim Summey of Natracare, a chemical-free cotton tampon manufacturer, said "that's the healthiest way to go so we'd never add any chemicals."

Kotex and o.b. said their customers don't want any fragrance or more chemicals than already exist in their products, most likely because of health considerations.

"I don't know why the tampon has to have a scent," Tierno said. "The idea is for it to capture the blood and dispense with the blood. Chemicals interfere with the normal flora."

But the Tampax Web site lists the "great advantages" of tampons, "because [they] are worn internally … you stay clean and fresh. Since menstrual blood is absorbed before it comes into contact with the air, there's no odor and you feel fresh."

But some experts say that if odor is any real concern, tampons are not an answer.

"Any really significant odor is probably not normal," said Robert Stuart, a staff gynecologist at the Tang Center. Stuart said some women have problems like bacterial vaginosis, which creates a strong "fishy" smell. If this is a possibility, he said "it's always better to be seen [by a doctor] and figure out what's going on, rather than using scented products to try and cover it up."

Even unfragranced tampons have long been under scrutiny for what they do to women's bodies. Major tampon manufacturers use a chlorine bleaching process to whiten their products, leaving behind small amounts of dioxin toxins and producing rayon, a pulp product that has been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome, according to the Women, Environment, Education and Development Foundation's "Stop the Whitewash" campaign.

A 2005 study sponsored by the FDA Office of Women's Health found traces of dioxin in the seven leading brands of tampons, including at least one 100 percent cotton brand.

In an FDA statement in responding to e-mail rumors about tampons containing asbestos – which they say is absolutely untrue – and rayon causing TSS, the FDA said these tampons contain such small traces of dioxin that there should be no risk to tampon user's health.

But Tierno said that menstruators should be concerned about even small amounts of dioxin because tampons come in contact with the most absorbent tissue in the body, and effects are cumulative.

"It's not a one shot deal," Tierno said. "You don't use one tampon once. You wear a lot of tampons each month, for 30 years, 40 years. That can give rise to a variety of problems."

The FDA said that although TSS is related to tampon use, scientists have found no clear cause and effect.

"The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," said Tierno. "Just because you don't know what the problem will be doesn't mean there won't be a problem."