Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Using Tissues Bad For You?



Short answer

Using tissues may have minor health impacts, such as nasal irritation, and can potentially lead to chemical exposure, but they are generally considered safe. However, the environmental effects of tissue production and disposal are significant, contributing to deforestation, water pollution, energy consumption, and chemical release. Fortunately, eco-friendly alternatives like bamboo or recycled tissues offer sustainable options that minimize the environmental footprint while still providing convenience and hygiene benefits.



Long answer

Environmental Impact of Tissue Paper Production

When we reach for a tissue to wipe away a tear or to blow our noses, we rarely consider the environmental cost of this disposable convenience. Tissue paper production involves processes that have significant impacts on our planet’s ecosystems. Let's break these down into chunks of insights so you can understand where those impacts lie.

Deforestation Concerns:

  • Most tissue papers are made from virgin wood pulp, which involves cutting down trees. The demand for tissue paper contributes to deforestation, leading to the loss of biodiversity and habitat for countless species.

  • According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), forests globally are under threat, with the paper industry being a major contributor. The felling of trees, especially in critical areas like the Boreal forests, can have long-lasting ecological consequences.

Water Usage:

  • The manufacturing of tissue paper is a water-intensive process. It not only requires large quantities of water but also results in water pollution due to the release of chlorine-based bleaches and other chemicals used during production.

  • Studies have shown that producing a single ton of tissue paper can consume thousands of gallons of water, an important consideration given the increasing water scarcity issues worldwide.

Energy Consumption:

  • Creating tissue paper is energy-intensive. The process involves not only the mechanical operations of pulp production but also the energy required for drying and sheeting the paper.

  • Energy sources for tissue factories often come from non-renewable sources, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Chemical Pollution:

  • Bleaching agents used to make tissue paper white can lead to the production of dioxins and other harmful chemicals. When released into the environment, these substances can accumulate in the food chain and cause health issues for wildlife and humans alike.

  • Eco-friendly alternatives to chlorine bleach, like oxygen-based methods, exist but are unfortunately not universally adopted due to cost and other factors.

Waste Generation:

  • After its short lifespan, used tissue paper typically ends up in landfills where it contributes to the growing solid waste problem. Biodegradable as it may be, the sheer volume of tissue waste can be overwhelming for waste management systems.

  • Recycling options for used tissues are limited due to sanitary concerns and the often low quality of the paper fiber after use.

Each aspect of tissue paper production—from the trees we cut down to the water, energy, and chemicals involved—leaves an environmental footprint. As a lifestyle component, tissue paper can be reconsidered, both by manufacturers looking to improve practices and by consumers aiming to make greener choices. Alternatives like bamboo tissues or tissues made from recycled materials are becoming more available and represent a positive step towards reducing this footprint. By understanding the environmental implications of our seemingly innocuous daily habits, we can make more informed choices that align with our commitment to preserving our planet for future generations.

Chemicals and Bleaching Agents Used in Tissue Manufacturing

When we reach for a tissue, we're often solely focused on the comfort or convenience it provides. However, the journey from raw material to the soft sheet you hold is fraught with processing steps that involve various chemicals and bleaching agents. It's essential to understand these substances, as they can have implications for our health and the environment. Here's a breakdown:

  • Bleaching Agents: The most common bleaching agent used in making tissues is Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF) bleach, which includes chlorine dioxide. While ECF is considered a better alternative to chlorine gas, a method mostly phased out due to environmental concerns, it can still lead to the formation of chlorinated compounds, albeit in smaller amounts. Some manufacturers opt for Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) bleaching, using oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide, which are less harmful to the environment and produce fewer chlorinated byproducts.
  • Formaldehyde: This chemical is sometimes used to improve the wet-strength of tissues. Formaldehyde is a known respiratory irritant and a carcinogen. While the amount found in tissues is typically small, regular exposure, especially for those with sensitivity or allergies, may be a concern.
  • Azo Dyes: Used to color tissues, particularly those that are scented, azo dyes can release aromatic amines, some of which have been associated with cancer. While the risk is minimal when used in small amounts, it is a point of consideration for long-term exposure.
  • Softeners and Lotions: These additives, such as moisturizers or aloe vera, can improve the feel of tissues on the skin. However, they can also include parabens, phthalates, or other potential endocrine disruptors.
  • Fragrances: Scented tissues can contain a mixture of chemicals to impart a specific fragrance. These are not always disclosed on the packaging and can be problematic for sensitive individuals, potentially causing allergies or asthma.
  • Dust: The mechanical action involved in tissue processing may create dust, which can be irritating when inhaled and is something to be mindful of for those with respiratory issues.

It's worth noting that exposure to these chemicals from tissues is generally low compared to other sources. Nonetheless, understanding what goes into the tissues we often use on our face and hands can guide us in making more informed choices, especially if you have allergies, chemical sensitivities, or are simply aiming for a healthier lifestyle. Opting for tissues that are unbleached, free from added dyes, fragrances, and lotions, or certified by eco-friendly standards can be a step in the right direction.

Recent studies, such as those touching upon the health effects of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (Environmental Health Perspectives), and the impact of indoor air pollution on respiratory health (The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology), highlight the potential risks associated with chemical exposure, even at low levels.

Additionally, organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provide resources and databases to help consumers identify products with fewer harmful chemicals. When it comes to tissues, EWG recommends products that are marked as TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free) or those that use safer alternatives to traditional chemical additives.

Ultimately, the key is to balance convenience with a mindful approach to the everyday products we use, keeping both our health and the planet in consideration.

Risk of Nasal Irritation from Frequent Tissue Use

When considering the question of whether using tissues is bad for you, one possible concern that arises is the risk of nasal irritation. This is particularly relevant for people who have a cold, allergies, or a recurrent need to blow their nose. Tissue use, though seemingly harmless, can actually lead to discomfort and potential nasal health issues when not done mindfully.

The skin inside your nose is quite delicate and sensitive. Frequent rubbing and blowing can cause the thin tissue there to break, leading to irritation, redness, and sometimes nosebleeds. When you're reaching for a tissue, especially during a season where sniffles are common, it's helpful to be aware of the materials that make up your tissues and proper usage techniques:

  • Softness of the Tissue: Opt for tissues that advertise softness or are labeled as containing lotion. These are typically gentler on the skin. Rough textures can exacerbate irritation, so a softer tissue can be a worthwhile investment for someone with a sensitive nose.
  • Lotion-Infused Tissues: Tissues containing lotion, aloe, or vitamin E can provide an additional protective layer for the skin, potentially reducing the risk of irritation. However, some people may find they have sensitivities or allergic reactions to these additives, so it's important to consider individual skin sensitivities.
  • Frequency of Use: Try to refrain from blowing your nose excessively. Sometimes, gently dabbing at a runny nose can be sufficient and better for your nasal passages than a forceful blow.
  • Technique: Blowing your nose with too much pressure can cause irritation and even lead to small abrasions inside the nostrils. Use a gentle blow, and try alternating nostrils to minimize damage.
  • Hydration: Keep your nasal passages hydrated by applying a light, unscented moisturizer after tissue use, or use a saline nasal spray to nurture the inside of your nose.
  • Paper Quality: Cheap tissues can sometimes be made with harsher chemicals and lower quality paper fibers which can be more irritating to the skin. Investing in higher-quality tissues can be kinder to your nose.

Studies have indicated that friction from tissues can cause minor injuries to the nasal mucosa. A study published in the European Respiratory Journal suggested that mechanical irritation from tissues can disrupt the nasal lining, compromising its integrity and possibly leading to increased susceptibility to infections.

Moreover, while it's common advice to "blow your nose when it's runny," doing so with too much enthusiasm can lead to issues such as nasal inflammation or even ear problems due to pressure changes. According to experts, it's prudent to blow gently and treat the skin around your nose with care, particularly during periods of frequent tissue use.

It should be noted, though, that the drawbacks of using tissues pale in comparison to leaving your nasal passages congested. It's all about finding a balance – using tissues when necessary but doing so in a way that's mindful of the skin's sensitivity and your body's resilience.

Ultimately, the use of tissues is not inherently bad for you, but it does warrant consideration regarding the way they are used. Slight adjustments in your approach to wiping or blowing your nose can make a significant difference in preventing nasal irritation and ensuring that this simple act of hygiene does not come at the cost of your comfort or health.

Tissue Paper and the Spread of Infectious Diseases

When it comes to infectious diseases, the role of tissue paper is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they are a practical tool in hygiene practices for containing respiratory droplets and bodily fluids that may carry pathogens. However, misuse or improper disposal of tissue paper can contribute to the spread of infectious diseases.

Proper Use of Tissues:

  • Containment of Pathogens: When used correctly, tissues can effectively trap pathogens that are expelled when a person coughs, sneezes, or blows their nose. This helps to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses like the common cold, influenza, and more recent concerns such as COVID-19.
  • Single Use: Tissues are designed for single use. Using a tissue multiple times can make it a vehicle for pathogens to transfer to hands and surfaces. After a single use, it should be discarded properly.
  • Hygienic Disposal: After use, tissues should be thrown away immediately in a lined bin with a lid. This practice limits exposure to others and prevents the spread of germs.

Improper Use and Disposal Risks:

  • Surface Contamination: Used tissues left on surfaces can contaminate them with bacteria and viruses. A study published in the Journal of Infection found that common respiratory viruses can survive on surfaces for hours to days.
  • Hand Transmission: If someone touches a used tissue and then touches their face or another surface, they can spread pathogens. Regular hand washing, especially after handling tissues, is essential to prevent this.
  • Littering and Environmental Transmission: Discarded tissues can become litter, which not only poses an environmental issue but also an infection risk if they are contaminated with pathogens and handled without proper precautions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), good respiratory hygiene includes covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and promptly disposing of the tissue. This is part of the "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" strategy recommended to prevent the spread of flu and other serious respiratory illnesses.

In the workplace or shared spaces, maintaining a hygiene protocol for tissue disposal is important. Installing touch-free waste receptacles can greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination and spread of infectious diseases.

As an expert in the field of nutrition and overall well-being, I understand that holistic approaches to health are not confined to our diet and exercise routines but also to our daily hygiene practices. Ensuring we use and dispose of tissues correctly is a small, yet vital, part of protecting ourselves and those around us from infectious diseases.

To sum up, tissues can be an ally in our fight against the spread of infectious diseases when used appropriately, but they can also become a conduit for germs when not used or disposed of correctly. Integrating proper tissue use into our daily hygiene habits is an easy step to mitigate the spread of illnesses and maintain not just our own health, but public health as well.

Biodegradable and Sustainable Tissue Alternatives

We all need to blow our noses from time to time or wipe away an accidental spill. However, conventional tissues can contribute to deforestation and waste. Fortunately, there's a growing awareness about the environmental impact of single-use products, including tissues. This knowledge is fueling the popularization of biodegradable and sustainable tissue alternatives. Below we’ll explore eco-friendly tissue options and their benefits for both your health and the planet.

Recycled Paper Tissues

Recycled paper tissues are a popular alternative to those made with virgin wood pulp. These tissues are manufactured from post-consumer waste, reducing the need for new raw materials and saving trees in the process. Moreover, the production of recycled tissues uses less water and energy compared to conventional options, making them a more sustainable choice.

Bamboo Tissues

Bamboo is another fantastic material for tissues, rapidly gaining popularity due to its sustainability. As a grass, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, which means it can be harvested more frequently and sustainably than trees. This reduces the impact on forests. Additionally, bamboo tissues are naturally anti-bacterial, providing a gentle touch for your skin and making them a healthier option for those with allergies or sensitivities.

Organic Cotton Tissues

Organic cotton tissues are a reusable alternative to traditional paper tissues. They are made from cotton grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. This approach is better for the environment and for farmers’ health. While organic cotton tissues require laundering, they offer a soft and hypoallergenic option for those with sensitive skin, and they can be more economical over time.

Plant-Based Tissues

There are also tissues on the market made from other plant fibers, such as hemp or flax. These are biodegradable and compostable, and they have a lower environmental footprint. Furthermore, plant-based tissues don't require the bleaching process that traditional paper tissues do, which often involves chlorine that can release dioxins - harmful environmental pollutants.

Benefits of Switching to Biodegradable and Sustainable Tissues

  • Environmental Conservation: By choosing sustainable tissue alternatives, you are helping to conserve forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing positively to the fight against climate change.
  • Less Waste: Biodegradable options are better for the planet as they can break down naturally, reducing pollution and landfill waste.
  • Healthier Option: Many sustainable tissues are made without harsh chemicals, fragrances, or dyes, reducing the risk of skin irritation and allergies.
  • Supports Sustainable Practices: Purchasing eco-friendly tissues supports companies that prioritize sustainable farming and manufacturing processes.

In conclusion, while single-use tissues are often a staple in households, they come with a cost to our environment and, indirectly, our health. Shifting to biodegradable and sustainable tissue alternatives can have a profound positive effect on personal wellbeing and the health of the planet. It's a small change in habit that can lead to significant ecological benefits, and it's a choice that aligns well with a conscious, health-centric lifestyle.

Frequently asked questions

Scented or colored tissues may contain chemicals such as azo dyes, which can release carcinogenic compounds, or fragrances that might cause allergies or asthma in sensitive individuals. Using tissues with fewer additives may reduce the risk of such health concerns.

Proper disposal of tissues in a lined bin with a lid after single use helps contain pathogens and prevent them from spreading to surfaces and other individuals. This hygienic practice, along with regular hand washing, is crucial in reducing the transmission of viruses and bacteria, particularly in public or shared spaces.

Yes, using reusable organic cotton tissues can be better for the environment. They save trees, reduce waste, and are made from cotton grown without harmful chemicals. While they require laundering, their reuse reduces the overall environmental impact compared to single-use paper tissues.

Traditional tissue paper production poses several environmental concerns, including deforestation due to the use of virgin wood pulp, high water and energy consumption leading to resource depletion and increased greenhouse gas emissions, and chemical pollution from bleaching agents. Each of these factors contributes to a significant ecological footprint.

Ask a question about Using Tissues and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nasal irritation
  • redness
  • nosebleeds
  • skin irritation
  • respiratory issues

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased susceptibility to infections
  • potential health issues due to chronic exposure to chemicals

Ingredients to be aware of

  • chlorine-based bleaches
  • formaldehyde
  • azo dyes
  • parabens
  • phthalates
  • endocrine disruptors
  • unclosed fragrances


  • effective for trapping pathogens
  • reduces the spread of respiratory viruses
  • can be more economical over time if using reusable options

Healthier alternatives

  • bamboo tissues
  • recycled paper tissues
  • tissues made from other plant fibers like hemp or flax
  • organic cotton tissues
  • tissues with eco-friendly certification

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 05-07-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 05-07-2024

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