Your guide to a healthier, greener period

"Most consumers are also unaware of questionable ingredients in disposable products, or even the fact that manufacturers are not legally required to disclose ingredients in the first place."

My sister had been telling me to try a Diva menstrual cup for eight years before I actually did. In my defense, I had several pregnancies during that time period, thus temporarily eliminating the need for menstrual products, but in the end, I only made the switch when a friend gave me an extra cup she’d never used. Much to my amazement, it became my favorite tool, changing the way in which I view my periods.

If I, a green lifestyle advocate who writes often about minimizing one’s chemical burden, had trouble making the switch from conventional disposable menstrual products to a reusable silicone cup, then how much more difficult would it be for other women who may be less well-informed about the toxic ingredients used in drugstore-brand tampons and pads and unaware of the environmental impact of throwing away approximately 11,000 plastic-saturated and plastic-wrapped products over the course of a lifetime?

This goes to show how one-sided the public conversation about menstrual products is. (Or maybe it just demonstrates stubbornness on my part!) The Guardian agrees, pointing out that the rise in sustainable options for other products (think coffee, beauty products, food, baby care, cleaning, etc.) has not occurred with female menstrual products. While better alternatives do exist, few women know about them or buy them.

“By their very nature as non-disposable products that don’t need to be purchased regularly, they do not offer a huge profit motive to major corporations like Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.”

Sophie Kivku, communications director of DivaCup, told The Guardian that these companies have done a good job at convincing women that their periods are something that shouldn’t be talked about. One could argue that this corporate behavior is simply an extension of an archaic patriarchal attitude toward periods in general; but because women are reliant on these items and keep coming back out of necessity, it’s in companies’ best interests to promote the notion that period products are safe (they’re not) and that nothing else rivals their efficacy. Kivku said:

“Think about the advertisements we see – it’s all about silent wrappers, discrete and smaller products that are easier to hide or dispose of, and concealing the fact you have your period. Without opportunities for positive period talk, women and girls may not have the opportunity to learn about or even ask about other, more sustainable options.”

Brand loyalty tends to be entrenched at a young age; young girls often use what their mothers use because that’s what’s kept in the bathroom, or they try the same brands as their friends.

Says Madeleine Shaw, founder of LunaPads, another reusable company whose products I use and like: "Most consumers are also unaware of questionable ingredients in disposable products, or even the fact that manufacturers are not legally required to disclose ingredients in the first place.”

sanitary waste infographic© Natracare

This discussion could and should be so much bigger than it is. Rather than just being taught how to use a tampon, teenage girls should be made aware of the risks of exposure to dioxins, pesticides, bleach, and phthalate-laden chemical fragrances that cause itching, yeast infections, and inflammation. They should know that most pads are 90 percent plastic, which is unhealthy to be carrying around between your legs, reducing air flow and trapping heat and dampness.

There are other, much better ways of dealing with a period, without automatically reaching for a box of Tampax. These include:

  • Reusable menstrual cups – lots of varieties out there in different sizes, see this post for more info

  • Reusable fabric pads – easy to wash, absorbent, come in various lengths; check out LunaPads or GladRags, Party in My Pants

  • Reusable sea sponges – these washable natural sponges come with rave reviews by users

  • Safe disposablesNatracare, TOTM, (even offers a subscription service)
  • Seventh Generation

    As more women demand safer menstrual products, hopefully mainstream brands will pay attention and start improving their own formulas in response.

    Tags: Beauty Lab | Feminine Hygiene | Health | Reusability | Skin Care

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