A Texas blogger has some women thinking twice about what's inside their tampon applicators.
Danielle Parr of Saginaw, Texas, said she was shocked to see black spots on a tampon peeking out from its purple applicator.
"I pushed it out a little further, and I saw what looked like mold on it," said Parr, a 23-year-old stay-at-home mom. "I immediately showed it to my husband, and his eyes got really big. He said 'It looks like mold to me.'"
Parr said the tampon came from a box of Kotex she bought at a grocery store three or four weeks earlier. The rest of the tampons in the 36-pack appeared to be normal.
On Tuesday, Parr posted pictures of the tampon on her blog, which now has 304,100 views and counting. She also emailed pictures of the tampon to Kimberly Clark, the makers of Kotex tampons, and said she got a swift apology, which she also posted on her blog:
"We understand how distressing it can be to find mold on a product that is used for personal hygiene and apologize for your concern. In instances where it has been found, we conducted tests on the product involved and have found the mold to be a common environmental species that carries no health risk. The vegetative mold is similar in nature to mold on vegetables or in baked goods."
"I think that's why this is getting such a huge response," said Parr. "People are grossed out by what I found, but even more freaked out by the company's response."
Parr said she got a second response from Kimberly Clark late Tuesday night apologizing for the original reply:
"Nothing is more important to us than consumer safety. Any discoloration or abnormality with our tampons is extremely rare, and we want to do a full investigation to determine the source and follow-up with our manufacturing facility. So if you still have the tampon, can you please return it to us by using the prepaid mailing envelope we're sending you?"
Parr gave the tampon to ABC affiliate WFAA for independent testing.
Bob Brand, a spokesman for Kimberly Clark, said the company is committed to consumer safety.
"We are committed to, and are taking all necessary steps to get to the bottom of this; including hiring an independent testing facility to conduct a thorough investigation of the product in question. Unfortunately our initial response to the consumer contained incorrect information and we are sorry for the mistake. Any discoloration or abnormality with our tampons is extremely rare, and we believe this is an isolated incident. We have reached out to the consumer and have apologized," he said in a statement to ABC News.
In November, the company recalled roughly 1,400 cases of Kotex tampons that were "manufactured with a raw material contaminated with a bacterium, Enterobacter sakazakii, which may cause health risks, including vaginal infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), pelvic inflammatory disease or infections that can be life-threatening," according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The health risks of a moldy tampon are less clear, according to Dr. Kimberly Sauchak Gecsi, a gynecologist at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
"It's never been studied," said Gecsi, adding that the vagina has defense mechanisms that can kill most pathogens. "It's not necessarily harmful, but we really don't know."
Gecsi said women who are worried about what's under their tampon applicators do have options.
"You can always use an applicator-free tampon," she said.
Parr said she plans on using applicator-free tampons from now on, and not ones made by Kotex.
"It's an image I can't get out of my mind," she said, adding that companies should make clear applicators so women know what they're putting in their bodies.
But not everyone thinks the black spots on Parr's tampon are mold.
"Am I the only person that thinks that 'mold' looks like Sharpie marker?" an anonymous commenter wrote on her blog.
"I am not a fly-by-night tampon decorator," Parr replied. "I like Sharpies as much as the next guy, but I'm not gonna doodle on a tampon and pass it off as mold to get a few blog views."
- Kimberly Clark