Ladies, listen up. This post is written exclusively for you, because you all rock and I want to give you something that you can relate to. Today, let’s talk about periods.. But more specifically, conventional versus natural feminine hygiene products like tampons, pads, menstrual cups and more. I want to answer all of the questions you have about what to use, what not to use, and why.
I know what you’re thinking… seriously, there are good and bad period products out there TOO?!? When will this madness end???
To that, I wish I had an answer for you. All I can do is share what I know, giving you all of the information so that you can decide if this is something important to you!
But yes, some products are healthier than others. The skin around and inside your vagina is highly porous, and because it is also thin, it’s very effective at absorbing. When chemicals come in contact with your skin, they are often absorbed and enter your bloodstream without going through any filtration. What’s worse is that some toxins bioaccumulate in our bodies and are very difficult to get rid of.
Since most women are on their period about 20% of the time (~5 of every 28 days), it’s important to consider what products we are using in such a sensitive area. Especially if some of these chemicals are bio-accumulating. This is why it’s important to look for natural feminine hygiene products.
The modern day tampon
Tampons have been around for decades and have gone through many changes in regards to composition and style. Interestingly, manufacturers aren’t required to disclose what’s in tampons because they’re considered a “medical device”.
So, what’s in them?
Originally tampons were made of cotton and that’s it. Today’s tampons are made of a blend of multiple products including conventional cotton (heavily doused in pesticides, GMO), polyester (synthetic fibres coming from oil), and viscose rayon (plant-based from a variety of sources including soy, which is largely genetically modified). Other products can include synthetic deodorants and absorbency enhancers, which have their own ingredients but do not need to be disclosed.
Let’s touch on conventional cotton quickly. Most of the cotton farmed today is genetically modified and/or is sprayed with pesticides. Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide concoction contains glyphosate, a chemical that the World Health Organization classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. What does this have to do with cotton? Monsanto makes genetically modified cotton called Roundup Ready Flex Cotton, using Roundup which contains glyphosate. The amount of glyphosate used has been on the rise since it was introduced. An Argentinian study from 2015 indicated that it found glyphosate in 85% of tampons and pads on the market.
And that’s just one of the pesticides/herbicides commonly used on cotton.
To bleach or not to bleach
In addition to some shifty and not-so-clean ingredients, tampons are bleached to get that beautiful white colour we all know.
Tampon manufacturers used to bleach tampons using chlorine which created dioxins, a toxic byproduct of the bleaching process. Dioxins are highly toxic, tend to accumulate in fat cells, and are very difficult to get rid of. Exposure to dioxins has been linked to abnormal cell growth, immune system suppression, interference with hormones and even cancer with chronic exposure. In addition to abnormal cell growth and immune system issues, there is research suggesting that dioxins exposure can be linked to endomitriosis and infertility.
Because of consumer backlash, the industry recently moved towards a different method of bleaching called Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) bleaching. Since chlorine dioxide is used, not pure chlorine, there should be no dioxins; however, making chlorine dioxide isn’t a pure process and as a result some dioxins are still produced from the bleaching process. Not as many, but still some.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying don’t use tampons! While tampons are not inherently bad, I do believe that some brands are better for us than others – but we will talk about that in a little bit!
Is it healthier to use sanitary pads?
Depending on who you are, you likely have a preference for pads or tampons. I think this is awesome! It’s great to be in tune with your body and have access to many different options.
Pads can be a great option if you’re purchasing the right ones. Similar to tampons, conventional pads are grown non-organically and with GMO cotton, which ends up being bleached. Often other synthetic fabrics are woven into the pad itself. Artificial fragrances and other odour-stopping chemicals just add to the cocktail of toxic substances that you’re putting against your skin.
Basically, you will find the same issues with pads as you do with tampons when you’re buying conventional. While a pad isn’t inserted into your vagina, it still sits against the thin, sensitive and porous skin. Chemicals used to make these pads can be absorbed into your body through this kind of contact.
So while pads themselves are not unhealthy, some are better than others.
What natural feminine hygiene products should we use instead?
Thanks to the internet and the rise of eco-conscious living, healthy and natural feminine hygiene products are more accessible and plentiful than ever!
Depending on your needs, your comfort zone, and your budget, there is something out there for you that is healthier and less toxic than some of the conventional products on the market.
If you frequently use tampons, you might love using a menstrual cup. If you’re comfortable with inserting something into your vagina, then this is a great option.
Menstrual cups are typically made of silicon or rubber, so they are quite flexible, durable and reusable. They are inserted into the vagina to collect blood (as opposed to absorbing it), and then are removed and emptied once full. All you have to do is wash your menstrual cup each time it’s removed, and then reinsert it again. It’s simple, produces no waste, and is very convenient. Plus, you buy it once and it can last you a long time if you take care of it properly, which saves you money as well.
There are many brands and types of menstrual cups on the market. Personally, I’ve had great experience with my Diva Cup. It took me months to get up the guts to try it (I couldn’t get my head around it), but after using it for the past 6 months I am in love with it. Don’t believe me? Check out all the positive reviews on Amazon. If you need that extra push, give those reviews a good read.
Other brands of menstrual cups out there: Lunette, EvaCup, Keeper and/or Moon Cup… Remember, if you don’t like one brand, it doesn’t mean you won’t like all menstrual cups. Each is shaped a little differently and can make or break your experience.
Fabric panty liners and pads
Another eco-friendly option, reusable pantyliners are made with fabric and absorbent materials similar to a pad. The big difference? Throw them in the wash and then they can be worn again!
I haven’t personally tried reusable panty-liners, but I think it’s a great option to reduce waste and control the quality of the material that is touching such a sensitive area of your body. Some well-respected brands on the market include: GladRags, Lunapads and Party in my Pants.
Basically this magical underwear is worn without any other form of protection – no pads, no tampons, nothing. There’s an absorbent layer built into the underwear that absorbs your period. Just rinse them, and then stick the underwear in the wash and you’re good to use them again. Seriously, that’s it. Plus, no waste!
While there are many people who claim how amazing these are, they’re a pretty penny each. Considering how many you’d probably be cycling through during your average period, I imagine it’ll cost a bit of money to stock up. But if they’re as great as they sound, it’s probably worth it. I will be checking them out myself in the near future.
Organic cotton tampons
Organic cotton tampons are considered free from pesticides and herbicides that can be found in your conventional tampons. This means less toxins being absorbed by your body and a healthier way of managing your period. Often these tampons are bleached without the use of chlorine or any chlorine byproducts, making them free of dioxins.
Sometimes I use tampons instead of my Diva cup, especially if I know I have to change it in a public washroom. Diva cups are a little trickier in public settings because they should be washed when they are removed. In those instances, an organic tampon is my go-to. The brand of tampons that I use is Natracare, whose tampons are chlorine-free, organic cotton, plastic-free, and free from synthetic products and fragrances. Other “clean” tampon options include: The Honest Company, Seventh Generation.
Organic cotton pads and panty-liners
Like organic tampons, organic cotton pads are considered free from pesticides and herbicides. They are often processed in the same way, free from chlorine bleaching processes. The brand of panty-liners and pads that I use is Natracare. Other options include: The Honest Company, Seventh Generation.
While there are still arguments on both sides regarding the claims about pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms, it’s not a secret that we are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of chemicals on a daily basis. If we are healthy, our bodies do a great job of detoxifying much of what we are exposed to, but some bioaccumulate and over time can put a large toxic burden on our bodies. My motto has always been that if I have an option for a cleaner product, I will take it. Sometimes we can’t control our exposure, but other times we can. And when we can control it, why not at least try to do something good for ourselves?
You may feel that tampons and pads are such a small part of your life, so why bother. But consider the fact that these products are against your skin or inserted into your vagina 20% of your life (while you are able to menstruate). For me, that statistic was enough to lead me to make a change, and I will never look back.