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Conscious Menstrual Hygiene: What You Need To Know

By Hannah Palmer

1 February 2020

5  minute read

There’s no question about it, our periods are tiresome.

With all the blood, mood swings and feeling as though we’re being stabbed in the uterus repeatedly, finding a safe tampon or pad brand should be the least of our concerns.

In an ideal world, all sanitary products would go through extensive regulatory processes to ensure the safety of users before being brought to market. As women however, we are regularly reminded that the world in which we live is not in fact ideal, and when ensuring the wellbeing of our bodies and our environment, we have to take matters into our own hands.

Sustainable menstruation isn’t just about protecting our environment. If your tampons and pads contain chemicals that are detrimental to the planet, chances are it’s not safe for them to be in close proximity to your vagina, let alone inside of it!

Our vaginas are extremely sensitive and absorbent, affirming the importance of our knowledge of these products. After all, if we pay so much attention to the ingredients that we put in our mouths, our other orifices deserve the same respect.

What are tampons and pads actually made of?

The very scary truth is that we don’t actually know.

If you visit the Department of Health website, you’ll notice that there is no regulation that requires a tampon manufacturer to declare the ingredients that make up their product.

Next time you’re in the shops, check if your go-to tampon or pad brand have chosen to state their ingredients. If not, you might want to consider some alternative options.

If you do miraculously find the ingredients on the package or website, and ‘rayon’ or ‘dioxin’ are on the list, it’s probably best to steer clear. Your average tampon consists of a combination of rayon and cotton, where rayon is the chemical most commonly associated with cases of toxic shock syndrome. Rayon is essentially wood pulp that’s been bleached, and a byproduct of this process is dioxin: a toxic chemical that is known to be carcinogenic.

Some tampons and pads have fragrances to mask the odour of our periods. While an odourless period sounds appealing, you can never be sure what chemicals are involved in the creation of these ‘fragrances’.

Scented tampons and pads are associated with increased cases of irritation and infection. Not to mention, our vaginas are self-cleaning, so as long as you are changing your pad or tampon and washing the exterior of your vagina regularly, you should have no problem with odour.

Lastly, if the brand of tampon or pad that you use does not state that it is made of certified organic cotton, then it’s likely that prior to harvest, the cotton was exposed to a considerable number of herbicides and pesticides, neither of which we want near our bodies.

What about the impact on the Earth?

Women that choose to use tampons or pads will go through approximately 11,000 in their lifetime.

Each of these products likely contain toxic chemicals, and is eventually disposed of into landfills. These products will take years to decompose, and through this process the chemicals will infiltrate the Earth.

In addition to the tampon or pad itself, there is an exorbitant amount of waste produced by the packaging of the tampon or pad.

What are some sustainable alternatives?

Reusable Options

If you want to save lots of money and reduce your waste significantly, you should opt for a cup, fabric pad, or pair of period-proof underwear. These are all wonderful reusable sanitary products that will be your period companion for years to come.

Instead of absorbing your blood, the menstrual cup catches and collects it in a bell shaped silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina. Depending on your flow, you can leave these babies in for up to 12 hours. Many women swear by this sustainable alternative, and if you’re worried about the mess involved just take it out in the shower, tip the contents down the sink, wash it and pop it back in for another leak free 12 hours of comfort.

If you’re interested, look at Lunette or DivaCup.

For those who prefer not to insert their sanitary product, give fabric pads or period-proof underwear a try. These are made of layers of organic cotton which are very absorbent and leak free. Fabric pads and underwear can be washed and reused time and time again. It’s important that you buy a few of these so that you have back ups when you’re washing one or waiting for it to dry.

Try Love Luna, hannahpad, or Thinx

100% Organic Cotton Tampons and Pads

Menstrual hygiene is complex, context-dependent, and isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some women simply prefer one-time use products when it comes to their periods.

Luckily, as the public become increasingly conscious of their environmental impact, more and more companies are choosing to cater toward this growing market. These companies are not afraid to be transparent with their manufacturing process or ingredients list because they have nothing to hide.

Of course, there is a catch. Due to the more ethical practices through which these products are manufactured, they cost slightly more than your average tampon or pad. You have to ask yourself whether it’s a price you are willing to pay.

I’d recommend taking a look at TOM Organic or Cottons.

Lastly, for those who do choose single-use hygiene products, don’t forget to advocate for a Bloody Good Bin in your workplace. Not only will you be practicing sustainable consumption, but you’ll be combatting period stigma and empowering women worldwide.

Now if that’s not a great example of conscious living, then I don’t know what is!

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