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As a culture, especially in America, we like to rank things. There’s top 10 lists of all sorts, competitions to determine who’s the best in a given category and even outside of these so-called competitions, people and companies claim to be “the best” or “number one.” Here’s a question for you? How can there be millions of “the world’s best pizza” pizzarias? There can’t. Deep down, I think we all understand that it’s a marketing ploy by all those restaurants. But then, how do you know if someone is number one? More importantly, does it even matter? I say not. Stay with me to find out why.

First off, I want you to know that many of the concepts I’m sharing here are from a thinker I admire more and more every day, and that’s Simon Sinek. He recently came out with a book called The Infinite Game, which I encourage you to check out. I got introduced to his thinking about 10 months ago via a podcast and his words shifted my thinking dramatically. And I hope you’ll have the same epiphanies now as I did almost a year ago.

The core of what Simon teaches is that there’s two types of games. Finite and infinite. Most of us are familiar with finite games. A game of baseball is a finite game. A sport’s league constitutes as a finite game. The hot dog eating contest at your local fair counts. What each of these have in common is that there are set rules, players, objectives and timelines that are agreed upon by everyone. Pretty much any sport of competition is an example of a finite game, as long as it meets that criteria. And I’ll be the first to admit, I love sports and more specifically, sports metaphors. However, there’s one flaw with sports analogies and that’s the fact that they’re finite and not infinite. 

The difference between a finite game vs an infinite game is that in an infinite game there’s unknown rules, players, objectives and timelines because no one has agreed upon them. No one wins in business. Business, like politics, is an infinite game. The sole objective of the game is to keep playing. How do you keep playing? You keep improving over time. 

A huge problem with our society, in business and in politics, is that we have leaders who don’t know the game they’re playing. They’re viewing things from a finite perspective. It’s most evident in phrases such as “we’re number one” or “we’re the best.” No they’re not. According to who’s definition? 

Let’s examine a company that played by finite rational in an infinite game. Remember Blockbuster? In case you don’t, it was a movie rental company. It was a household name and was poised to be Netflix by entering the streaming game in the 2000s. One executive certainly wanted that but his board disagreed. With the benefit of hindsight, you might be wondering how could that be? It’s because at the time late fees accounted for 12% of profits for Blockbuster. By switching to streaming, they’d lose out on that revenue because there’d be no DVDs to have to return. That 12% lose would only be temporary, as Netflix has shown, but something the Blockbuster board was unwilling to let go of. And long story short, they’re out of business. 

When you think about it, it’s no coincidence that this happens to companies. Why is it that taxi companies didn’t invent Uber? Or why haven’t hotels created AirBnB? It’s because companies are too concerned with maintaining the status quo, wrongfully thinking that it’ll preserve their dominance. That’s an example of finite thinking in an infinite game. 

Here’s a concrete example of someone who exercises existential flexibility—Steve Jobs. Apple was almost ready to release their computers when Jobs met up with some people who showed him a graphic interface. Immediately he went back to his team and said they needed to jump on that and make it part of their product. Many people told him it was impossible and that’d they’d not only miss the deadline but bankrupt the company. Steve said, “Better us than someone else.” 

The rest as they say is history. That decision changed the computer industry and technology landscape as we know it. Steve wasn’t concerned with the short term. He had a mission, or mindset if you want to call it that, for Apple to develop user friendly products to their customers to make their lives easier and better. That value still holds today and is one that doesn’t have an end. It’s ongoing. Hence, it’s part of the infinite game where the objective is to keep going, improving, developing, etc.  

So how come there’s so much discourse around us about being the best and so forth? Well, because as I mentioned, many people in high up positions aren’t aware of the game they’re playing. By definition, finite games are easier to understand and thus they’re perpetuated through sports metaphors and culture in general. Consider a song like Nelly’s “Number 1.” It’s a catchy tune that makes you feel good. But that’s because as a society we’re tried to simplify what success is and how it should be defined for people. This is bullshit. You’ll never be #1, nor should you want to be. Keep playing the game aka keep making content. When you do that, you’re successful.

In the past I’ve described the entertainment industry as a shaking tree. As long as you can hang on to that tree, you’ll do well. That’s a great analogy for the infinite game and while I may have talked about the infinite game primarily in terms of companies, this principle applies equally to us as individuals. The infinite game mindset is a lifestyle. By thinking and acting in these terms, you won’t be trying to shove a square peg in a round hole which means you won’t be as stressed out. I certainly shed a lot of anxiety once I learned about the infinite game. This is because I stopped putting so much pressure on the short term gains and focused on my long term goals and objectives. I had a mission for myself and that’s my guiding light every day. And when I see something that can help me achieve my mission easier, faster, smoother or perhaps better… well then I embrace it. Social media is an example of this. Rather than think of social media as good or bad, it is a tool which I use to help reach, inspire and teach people along with the other tools and tactics at my disposal. That’s the way you need to see it. 

The other way in which making the shift to an infinite mindset helps you is that you’ll stop being jealous of people. When you’re so desperate to be #1 you become vicious in your pursuits. It’s why there’s stereotypes about the LA lifestyle of people being overly narcissistic. Mind you, this is an upward trend throughout the country but it just happens to be more easily noticeable in artists. The point being though, you’ll no longer see people as threats. They may be your rivals but a rival is good. A rival is like a mirror that showcases your weaknesses so you can adjust and grow. Remember, the goal is to stay in the game. You can’t stay in the game if you don’t improve. 

Look at it from this perspective: over the next decade along, the ways in which we create and consume content will change drastically many times over. You need to be able to keep up. If you view it with finite terms, such as “I know how to do x, y and z and I’m great at those,” you’ll eventually be blindsided because a shift will happen sooner or later and you’ll have made yourself obsolete. Be a constant learner. That’s really what the infinite game is all about. 

Here’s where it gets trippy, at least to some people. The infinite game, aka your life or career, is comprised of finite games. Plainly stated, it means you should have deadlines for yourself. The difference is don’t beat yourself up if you miss a certain deadline. For example, my goal has been to write a novel and when I began the process I obviously had written nothing, hence I created timelines of when I wanted things to be done by. Boy, was I off on those. But, by doing that, it propelled me to knuckle down and get to work. Now I’m in the final phase of the novel! So do the same. Set deadlines… but don’t be harsh on yourself if you miss them because you’re still better off than when you began, right? And in the words of Obama, “better is good.” Simon Sinek thinks so. And I agree. 

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The Questions You Should Be Asking References

Employers conduct reference checks by contacting a job candidate’s professional and personal connections. The goal is to better understand the candidate’s skills, qualifications and demeanor.

Your reference check questions should discern whether a candidate would fit in at your company. They cannot pertain to your candidate’s personal information.

Your company should develop a process to ensure consistency among all reference checks and determine which questions to ask references.

This article is for business owners and hiring managers who are planning to conduct reference checks for prospective employees.

A job candidate may ace the interview, but that doesn’t always make them a perfect hire. You can better understand an applicant’s compatibility with your company by checking their references, especially if you ask the right questions. We’ll share 32 reference check questions that focus on a candidate’s performance and what it was like to manage and work alongside them. These questions can help ensure a successful hire and a valuable new team member.

What is a reference check?

A reference check is when an employer reaches out to people who can shed light on a job candidate’s strengths and speak to their qualifications. These contacts tend to be previous employers but also may include university professors, longtime colleagues and other people familiar with the applicant’s work. 

As an employer, you may find that reference checks help paint a full picture of a potential hire. Unfortunately, people lie on their resumes sometimes and present qualifications they don’t actually possess. If you ask your applicant’s professional references the right questions, you’ll learn more about the candidate’s skills and qualifications than you would from a traditional job interview alone.

Reference check goals include the following: 

Confirm the written or verbal information the potential employee provided.

Learn about the candidate’s skills and strengths from someone other than the candidate.

Gather information about the applicant’s job performance in past roles to predict their success at your company.

With all of this information, you should have an easier time choosing which candidates to move forward in the hiring process.

Did You Know?

Reference checks can help you avoid hiring horror stories and costly personnel and management headaches.

What information should you ask a reference?

When developing your list of reference check questions, you should determine the information you want to confirm about the job candidate. You may be interested in the references’ insights about the candidate on these topics:

Job performance

Ability to understand and follow directions

Ability to work well as part of a team

Standards for office behavior and ethics

Interests, specialties and demeanor

Ability to give directions and ensure that subordinates follow them (if they’re applying for a leadership role)

Anything else that stands out on the candidate’s resume or emerged during their job interview

Some of these topics are more appropriate to discuss with professional references; others may be more suitable to ask personal references. For example, a former supervisor can speak to how well a candidate operates as part of a team, while a close friend or mentor can describe the candidate’s interests, specialties and demeanor.

Just as there are specific questions you should never ask a job candidate, there are questions you can’t ask a reference. You must only ask questions that pertain to the job; inappropriate questions can subject your company to discrimination claims. 

Consider the following problematic questions you should never ask references:

Anything related to demographics or personal information: Don’t ask about a candidate’s sexuality, age, religion or similar matters.

Anything related to personal health: Don’t ask about a candidate’s medical history or the existence of disabilities. You can ask whether the candidate is capable of performing the tasks the job requires.

Anything related to credit scores: Although you can request a credit score from a job applicant, the Fair Credit Reporting Act bars you from asking references about an applicant’s credit score.

Anything related to family: Don’t ask whether a candidate has (or plans to have) children or a spouse. If you worry that a job applicant with a family might not have enough time for the job, ask references if they think the job’s time demands will suit the candidate.


Gathering references is an important step to ensuring you make the best hiring decisions for your vacant positions. Check out these other tips for hiring the best employees to build your team as effectively as possible.

32 reference check questions to ask

Now that you know what information to request from a reference, you’re ready to develop your list of reference check questions. Below are 32 common reference check questions to use. You may think some don’t apply to your company, but you should speak with your hiring manager before eliminating any questions.

Introductory reference check questions

Is there any information you and/or your company are unwilling or unable to give me about the candidate?

If you can’t share any information with me, can you connect me with any former employees who worked closely with the candidate?

Can you confirm the candidate’s employment start and end dates, salary and job title?

What is your relationship to the candidate, and how did you first meet?

Reference check questions for getting to know the reference

For how long have you worked at your company?

For how long have you had your current job title?

For how long did you work with the candidate, and in what capacities?

Can you think of any reasons I should be speaking with another reference instead of yourself?

Performance-related reference check questions

What positions did the candidate have while at your company?

In what roles did the candidate start and end?

What did these roles entail?

What were the most challenging parts of the candidate’s roles at your company?

How did the candidate face these challenges and other obstacles?

What are the candidate’s professional strengths, and how did they benefit your company?

In what areas does the candidate need improvement?

Do you think the candidate is qualified for this job, and why or why not?

Reference check questions to ask managers

For how long did you directly or indirectly manage the candidate?

In what ways was managing the candidate easy, and in what ways was it challenging?

How did the candidate grow during their time working under you?

What suggestions do you have for managing this candidate?

Reference check questions to ask employees who reported to your candidate

For how long did the candidate manage you, and in what capacity?

What did you like most and least about the candidate’s management style?

How did the candidate’s management style help you grow and learn?

How could the candidate have better managed you and your co-workers?

Reference check questions to ask co-workers

For how long were you among the candidate’s colleagues, and in what capacity?

What did you like most and least about working with the candidate?

How did you grow and learn while working with the candidate?

How did the candidate support you and your other colleagues?

In what ways could the candidate have been a better co-worker to you and your colleagues?

Reference check questions about ethics and behavior

Why did the candidate leave your company?

Did this candidate’s behavior lead to any workplace conflicts or instances of questionable ethics?

If the opportunity arose, would you be willing and/or able to rehire the candidate, and why or why not?

Just as you can speak with your hiring manager about potentially removing certain questions from this list, you can discuss adding other questions. As long as any additional questions shed light on how your candidate would perform during employment with your company and you don’t ask for personal information, there’s a good chance you’re asking the right questions.

Did You Know?

Some candidates may need more scrutiny than others. Some employers conduct background checks to verify job candidates and their credentials.

How to conduct a reference check

If you decide to check references for new hires, implement a formal procedure at your company. This will streamline the process of obtaining your candidates’ references. From start to finish, your hiring team should follow these steps to conduct a thorough reference check:

Decide how many references to obtain from each applicant. Two or three should suffice.

Include a section for references in every job application. Ask candidates to include their references’ full names, phone numbers, email addresses and relationship to the candidate.

Get permission to contact the reference. Include a clause in your job application that the applicant signs to give you permission to contact their references. You should also email a reference to get their permission to ask them questions about the candidate.

Decide whether you’ll conduct your reference checks by phone or email. While sending questions by email will save your company time — especially if you have a standard list of questions you send to all references — verbal checks via phone or video chat, or even in-person meetings, can offer you a clearer understanding of a candidate.

Develop a list of reference check questions. Consider the list above to determine potential questions.

Watch out for red flags. Not every candidate is entirely truthful on their resume, so do your research before contacting a reference.

Establish a standard note-taking process. Don’t expect to remember every single thing you discussed during a reference check. Work with your hiring team to develop a note-taking format and process the whole team can understand and use.


If an employer discovers that a job candidate misrepresented their qualifications or lied on their resume, they can rescind the job offer.

Reference checks help employers make good hiring decisions

Reference checks give you a chance to fill gaps that arise while you’re getting to know a candidate during the interview process. Talking to an applicant’s personal references can tell you if they’re the right fit and help you avoid a costly bad hire. By allowing you to discover the candidate’s management style or determining how they’ll respond under pressure, reference checks can tell you much more than an interview alone. 

Once you’ve conducted reference checks on all of your job candidates, you should have all of the information you need to decide which one is best for the job and reach out with a formal job offer letter. If the candidate accepts, congratulate them and yourself — and start your onboarding process.

Natalie Hamingson contributed to this article.

You Should Be Listening To Video Game Soundtracks At Work

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As I write these words, a triumphant horn is erupting in my ear over the rhythmic bowing of violins. In fact, as you read, I would encourage you to listen along—just search “Battlefield One.” I bet you’ll focus just a bit better with it playing in the background. After all, as a video game soundtrack it’s designed to have exactly that effect.

This is, by far, the best Life Pro Tip I’ve ever gotten or given: Listen to music from video games when you need to focus. It’s a whole genre designed to simultaneously stimulate your senses and blend into the background of your brain, because that’s the point of the soundtrack. It has to engage you, the player, in a task without distracting from it. In fact, the best music would actually direct the listener to the task.

Plenty of studies show that having some sound around you can help you focus, probably because it gives your subconscious something to tune out. It doesn’t have to focus on that coughing coworker or the occasional sound of doors closing, so you aren’t distracted by intermittent interruptions. Music seems to focus us the best, but not just any music. The latest #1 single is more likely to make you sing along and tap your toes than settle into your work day.

Silence, on the other hand, seems to make office workers slower and less proficient than their music-listening compatriots. Even some surgeons use music to get in the groove, and research suggests those who do perform operations more efficiently and with higher accuracy.

There isn’t a wealth of research on working while listening to video game soundtracks, specifically. But they do seem to check off several evidence-based boxes for creating an optimal work environment.

#1 No lyrics

Thanks to endless years of evolution, your brain is designed to detect humans in all forms. Your eyes have a propensity to see faces (even where there are none) and your ears are tuned to the frequency of human voices. This is why hearing someone talk is so distracting—your brain keeps trying to turn your attention to whoever is speaking instead of whatever you’re supposed to be doing. Bustling coffee shops don’t have this effect, because the voices blend together and stop being recognizable as language. But in an open office plan, human speech slips into your range of hearing just often enough to keep your mind wandering. In fact, a study on open offices found that broadcasting speech was the least conducive to productivity, while continuous background noise actually boosted performance.

Video game soundtracks rarely have human voices, and when they do, they’re generally singing sounds (ethereal oooohs, spooky aaaaaahs, and the like) rather than actual words.

The one strange exception is The Sims. Some of the radio stations in-game feature Sims talking, but since your virtual world citizens speak Simlish, your ears don’t really pick it up as language—because really, it isn’t. The soundtrack to The Sims is incredibly conducive to efficiency, probably because you’re supposed to play the game for hours doing tasks that are arguably kind of boring. You draw walls and place furniture, you tell your Sims to go to the bathroom, then you wait as they slowly eat the lasagna they made for dinner. Just try playing The Sims in silence. It’s kind of dull. But with that cheerful music in the background, you’re compelled to keep going.

#2 Relatively constant, low volume

Most music meant to engage you varies in volume, because, well, loud music is exciting and quiet music is soothing. Flipping between the two is an easy way to change the whole tone. But if a song suddenly turns up to 11 while you’re in the middle of writing a sentence, you’ll get distracted. That’s the opposite of what you want. You’re looking for no surprises. Smooth crescendos, which video games definitely tend to have, are noticeable without being totally distracting—they carry you on, which is exactly what you want.

Even too-loud ambient noise is distracting. One study found that loud sounds impair your ability to process information, whereas low or moderate background noise actually boosts productivity and creativity.

#3 Fairly fast-paced

Not all classical music is slow, but there’s a reason that it’s often relaxing: plenty of it is sweet and melodic. But you’re not looking for calming melodies. You need to stimulate your mind.

Video game music, almost by definition, can’t be soothing. No one will play straight through a 22-hour virtual plot (multiple times) if they’re chilled out. Composers need to create some sense of engagement and excitement—without making it exhausting.

It’s a bit like why rap and hip hop are great workout music—the rhythm and flow push you along and keep up your motivation. Actual scientific studies show that athletes perform better when given rhythmic music to listen to. Those genres also work well if you’re doing any sort of mindless, repetitive task, since they give your brain something else to focus on. But if your work involves any reading or writing, you need something without lyrics.

There are a few excellent playlists on Spotify that offer hours of music, or you can just listen to The Sims soundtrack endlessly on YouTube. Just don’t learn Simlish or you’ll never get anything done.

Why You Should No Longer Be Using Windows Xp

Even though Windows XP was released way back in 2001, it’s still a pretty great operating system. It’s stable, has a Start button and gets the job done. That’s why there are literally hundreds of millions of computers that still have it installed. It’s so popular, in fact, that it’s the second most installed operating system in the world, only a little bit behind Windows 7.

Unfortunately, this isn’t really a good thing. The reason being Microsoft. Up till now, Microsoft has been extending the deadline for when it would drop support for Windows XP, but now it seems they are really going to kill it off. On April 8th, 2014, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP completely. This is big news because it means in about 4 months, there will be millions of computers that are going to be vulnerable to hackers.

Table of Contents

Source: The Next Web

End of support means Microsoft will no longer provide any technical assistance to businesses or consumers for Windows XP troubleshooting. In addition and more importantly, Microsoft will no longer provide any security patches or updates for the operating system. On top of that, you won’t even be able to download Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows XP, the free antivirus software, after this date.

This is really bad news for anyone who has Windows XP installed after this date because there are literally hundreds of security vulnerabilities detected in Windows XP every year and once support ends, all of those security holes will be exploited by hackers and there literally won’t be anything to stop them.

Several Microsoft executives have also stated openly that businesses and users who do not update the operating system or buy a new PC will be open to many new attacks. One possible solution if you still have to use XP for whatever reason is to disconnect the computer from the Internet. Obviously, the PC can still be infected over the LAN network, but you’ll have a better chance than if it’s connected directly to the Internet.

For any business that needs support for Windows XP past the April 2014 deadline, another option is to install Windows Server 2003. Windows Server 2003 uses the same kernel as Windows XP and therefore can run all the same apps without any compatibility issues. Support for Windows Server 2003 does not end until July 15th 2023, so you can get an extra year to upgrade your apps to a newer operating system.

As for consumers, according to Microsoft’s official statement, they would love for you to upgrade to Windows 8.1.

The other reason to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 is so that you can use the latest software and devices with your computer. XP is so old that a lot of new software simply will not run on it. In addition, some newer devices and gadgets may not be recognized by the system properly.

Upgrading an old PC to Windows 8 is actually not a bad idea. I wrote a post a while back on revitalizing an old PC by installing Windows 8 on it. The system requirements are pretty low, meaning you can install it on some fairly old hardware. Of course, you’ll have to buy Windows 8 Upgrade, which currently costs around $119, but that might be a better option than buying a new computer altogether.

If you do install Windows 8 and you get any kind of error about the CPU not being compatible, check out the link. I’ve personally installed Windows 8.1 on a couple of old desktops at home and they work great for browsing, email, watching videos, reading news, etc. With Windows 8.1, you also kind of get the Start button back, so if you have been holding back because of the lack of a Start button, it’s not that bad anymore in 8.1.

How Worried Should You Be About The Ingredients In Tampons?

This article was originally featured on Undark.

This past August, a video about titanium dioxide in tampons went viral on TikTok. A blonde woman holding a large box of tampons suggested that the mineral’s presence in the products could cause period cramps, ovarian cysts, irreversible uterine damage, and even cancer.

Research conducted on rats has found that titanium dioxide is harmful if inhaled in large quantities, and the European Union has banned the mineral as a food additive over possible health concerns. But in the US, regulators maintain that its use in food and personal care products is safe. In response to the TikTok turmoil, doctors and journalists at major outlets—including USA Today, Gizmodo, and CBS News—as well as health and wellness websites, jumped in to dispel the tampon rumors. “Titanium dioxide isn’t making tampons into toxic death sticks,” wrote OB/GYN Jen Gunter on her popular women’s health Substack, The Vajenda.

But the fracas raised a real issue: Serious questions about tampon ingredients remain. The few scientists who have studied the subject have identified potentially toxic compounds in some menstrual products. Yet companies are not legally required to divulge their ingredients to US customers. And even if brands do provide a list, there is not a lot of conclusive research to help consumers understand what the presence of substances such as microplastics or phthalates actually means for the user’s health.

Researchers who spoke with Undark emphasized that there’s little evidence to suggest tampons cause harm when used as directed. At the same time, the researchers noted, it’s fair for laypeople to wonder what’s in their menstrual products, particularly given that some scientists are asking similar questions.

“Knowing what ingredients are in there, and what the implications might be, and what they might do to your body—I think that should be just a starting point,” says Inga Winkler, an associate professor at the Central European University in Vienna who has studied menstrual health as a human rights issue. “And the fact that we are fighting about this, I mean, it’s a really sad starting point.”

About a decade ago, Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou was chatting with two other researchers about the possible presence of pesticides in the military’s cotton uniforms when she remembered it was time to change her tampon. In the bathroom, Kioumourtzoglou made a connection between that discussion and her personal life. “Tampons have cotton. Cotton has pesticides. What did I just put inside me?” she wondered. Kioumourtzoglou walked back to the conversation and asked: “Have you ever heard about what’s in tampons?”

Kioumourtzoglou, who is trained as an air pollution epidemiologist, was especially interested in a pesticide called glyphosate, which farmers often spray on cotton plants. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that when properly used, glyphosate poses “no risks of concern to human health.” But in 2023, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified the chemical as “probably carcinogenic” based on limited evidence in humans, but sufficient evidence in experimental animals. These mixed conclusions—combined with the cotton plant’s ability to absorb heavy metals—led Kioumourtzoglou to wonder if pesticides, particularly glyphosate—in cotton fibers can make it through the tampon manufacturing process. Now an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, she recalls feeling frustrated when she searched for answers, and nothing turned up.

The first question calls for basic research that involves taking tampons apart to understand what’s in the cotton stuffing. Over the past couple of decades, a handful of scientists have attempted do this. Their results suggest that many tampon brands do contain potentially toxic substances, though generally at very low levels.

The researchers noted that the rates of absorption of phthalates through the vulva and vagina specifically are not known.

One early study, published in 2002, calculated the concentration of dioxins in four brands of tampons. Dioxins are a byproduct from the process of whitening rayon, a semisynthetic fiber added to some tampons to increase their absorbency. According to the EPA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, long-term exposure to dioxin levels above a certain threshold can impact reproductive health and lead to birth defects, among other issues. The study found trace amounts of dioxins in all of the tampons, but at levels much lower than dietary exposure. These results were replicated in a 2005 study.

Researchers have also looked for compounds that are thought to disrupt hormones, such as phthalates, which increase plastics’ flexibility and might have made their way into tampons during the production process. A 2023 study sampled 12 tampons and found phthalates in all of them. Although the levels were below the threshold for toxic effects from exposure through the skin, the researchers noted that the rates of absorption through the vulva and vagina specifically are not known. Still, they identified tampons and other menstrual products as “an important source of chemical exposure in women.”

Research on vaginal drug delivery has shown that the vaginal canal offers a suitable environment for chemical absorption and circulation. The canal is rich in arteries and lymphatic vessels. And vaginal mucus is sticky, so it holds some molecules against the vaginal wall for a long time; this forced proximity can stimulate absorption. Conditions may change over time, however, as the vaginal environment is dynamic. The qualities that facilitate absorption—such as pH level, temperature, mucus production, and vaginal wall thickness—may vary depending on a person’s age, health, sexual activity, and where they are in their menstrual cycle.

This ever-changing environment poses a challenge for scientists who want to understand precisely what happens to a tampon when it’s placed inside the vagina and how much of a given toxin is absorbed by the body. Broadly speaking, researchers can choose from two clinical approaches. The first approach, in vivo—Latin for “in a living organism”—often entails studying animals because of the technical and ethical complications of conducting research on human subjects. Researchers in the field tend to design studies that are in vitro—Latin for “outside of a living organism.” These studies minimize the messy distractions of the whole organism while isolating specific bodily conditions.

One such study was conducted by Leonardo Pantoja, a researcher at Middlesex University in London. Pantoja’s team used a setup called the “Syngina” to identify release of microplastics from tampons. The Syngina releases a saline solution at the average rate of menstrual flow until a tampon leaks; manufacturers have used the apparatus since the 1980s to test tampons’ absorbency. The results of Pantoja’s study, published in 2023, found billions of nanoplastic particles released from tampons that would be in contact with the vaginal wall. The fibers in many tampons are not woven, Pantoja explained, which facilitates the process of releasing nanoplastics. Given differences in friction and vaginal pressure, Pantoja suspects that his study may have underestimated the release of microplastics. Pantoja explained that it was his team’s intention to examine the least harsh conditions so as not to exaggerate the possible health implications of their findings.

These studies minimize the messy distractions of the whole organism while isolating specific bodily conditions.

There were no statistically significant findings about mercury and other metals, but Kioumourtzoglou explained that the very small sample size could have contributed to this.

Like all studies, this one had limitations. For example, participants self-reported details about their tampon use. And the BioCycle study didn’t check participants’ blood for glyphosate, leaving Kioumourtzoglou without an answer to her question. But in finding an association between reported tampon use and oxidative stress—even one that is not statistically significant—the study can be used to attract funding for further research, said Kioumourtzoglou.

Recently, she and team of researchers received $35,000 for a small pilot study to analyze popular brands of tampons for the presence of certain pesticides and metals. Once the team has recorded concentrations of these contaminants in the tampons, they will place the products in samples of menstrual blood provided by study volunteers. The goal, explained Kioumourtzoglou, is to see if any potentially harmful chemicals leach out of the tampon into the surrounding blood.

She hopes the broader community of scientists will also pursue studies about menstrual products. “The more people who work on it,” she said, “the better.”

Women and teenage girls need access to period products, according to public health experts who have sought to draw attention to period poverty—a term used to describe the inability to afford or otherwise access menstrual products. Globally, period poverty, combined with stigma associating periods with uncleanliness, has caused youth to miss school, and it has also kept adults from fully participating in the workforce.

Stigma might also influence the health care guidance that physicians and nurses offer patients in the clinic. Some health care providers are not sufficiently trained on the substantive issues, said Winkler, the professor at Central European University. And they might not take their patients’ concerns seriously. “People are constantly being told that it’s all just in their head,” said Winkler. Better sex education could contribute to menstrual literacy, she continued, enabling people to make autonomous, informed choices about their body.

But comprehensive sex education may not be enough, given the murkiness surrounding what’s actually in tampons. The FDA regulates these and other menstrual products as medical devices, which comes with little government oversight for ingredient disclosure. As of 2023, New York is the only state in the US that requires manufacturers to list all ingredients in period products on the packaging. (Although the New York law only applies to products sold within the state, the rule appears to have a ripple effect on products sold in other states.) But even with regulation of ingredient disclosure, Pantoja explained that the meaning of terms like “organic” or “pure” are not standardized.

Knix Wear, a brand of period underwear, is facing a class action lawsuit, with consumers alleging that the presence of PFAS forever chemicals betrays the underwear’s marketing. Another brand, Thinx, is reportedly settling a similar lawsuit.

For women navigating the feminine hygiene aisle at the grocery store, it can be challenging to balance cost, chemicals, environmental sustainability, and comfort. But, being able to make those choices for yourself,” said Winkler, “I think that’s really key.”

Colleen Wood is a writer and educator based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, New Lines Magazine, and The Washington Post, among other outlets. Find her on Twitter @colleenwood_.

Ecommerce Scams Everyone Should Be Aware Of

The ease and convenience of eCommerce have made it an essential part of our lives. But, with this comes the risks associated with online shopping – cybercriminals are always looking for opportunities to perpetrate fraud. To protect yourself from these scams, familiarize yourself with some of the most common eCommerce scams and how to avoid them.

Fake Shopping Site Scams

One of the popular eCommerce scams people should look out for is fake shopping sites. These types of frauds are designed to steal customer information or money, often pretending to be a valid online shop. For example, the Wayfair scam involved a website that appeared to be an actual and legitimate discount furniture store but was a ruse to extract payment and personal details from unsuspecting customers.

Consumers should always exercise caution when it comes to shopping online. They must ensure they fully vet potential suppliers before providing them with financial details or their credit card information.

Gift Card Scams

Watch out for gift card scams as they become increasingly frequent in the eCommerce industry. Fraudsters craft seemingly legitimate cards at discounted rates to tempt unsuspecting buyers. Make a purchase, however, and you’ll likely get either a counterfeit or absolutely nothing in return.

As a precaution against gift card scams, always obtain your cards from reliable sources. This includes the retailer’s official website or eCommerce site you are looking to purchase from. Also, avoid any discounted offers, as these could be counterfeit items. Furthermore, never give out personal information when purchasing gift cards because legitimate businesses usually do not need such data.

Counterfeit Products

The eCommerce industry is facing a dangerous rise in counterfeit products. Fraudsters are creating knock-off versions of legitimate goods and selling them online at discounted prices. Despite their convincing exterior, these counterfeits usually lack quality and can be hazardous to your health or safety.

Shield yourself from counterfeit products, and only purchase items through trusted sources. Investigate the reviews and responses of previous customers, then research meticulously to confirm that the product you are purchasing is genuine. Please exercise caution when looking at goods sold for an unusually low price since they could be imitations.

Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are one of online criminals’ most frequently used tactics. These fraudsters erect fake websites that imitate legitimate eCommerce sites to acquire personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. Furthermore, they might transmit emails with links or act like real businesses to extract sensitive data from you. By being vigilant and aware of these dangers, we can safeguard ourselves against phishing attacks.

Fake Shipping and Delivery Notifications Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks are menacing online scams that use phishing emails or counterfeit eCommerce sites to gain access and install malicious software, locking you out of your device or files until the ransom is paid. This puts companies – small and large – at risk for complete data loss with no recourse but to pay up if they want their information restored.

To protect yourself from ransomware threats, ensure that all your applications are up-to-date and utilize anti-malware and antivirus software. Furthermore, be wary of any emails or messages sent by unfamiliar sources – do not open links or attachments if they seem suspicious in the least bit! By following these simple tips, you can easily secure yourself against potential hackers.


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