You may have read about the dangers of putting synthetic substances against highly sensitive areas of your body, including your vaginal areas. You also may be familiar with companies and product claims insisting their sanitary pads, tampons, and other intimate products are all natural and free of petroleum-based plastics. Are these claims true?
Not always. In fact, some manufacturers who make such claims are greenwashing, a marketing or PR trick used to promote the perception that a company’s products, policies, or goals are environmentally friendly when they are not. These companies are not breaking any laws, because feminine hygiene makers are not required to tell consumers about all of the ingredients in their products.
That means you could be exposing your sensitive vaginal membranes to various toxins including styrene (a carcinogen), chloroethane (another carcinogen), chloroform (a carcinogen and neurotoxin), acetone (an irritant), and chloromethane (a reproductive toxin), among others. These dangerous substances come in the form of plastics-including phthalates and other petrochemical additives-as well as artificial fragrances and adhesives.
The good news is we are here to tell you that it’s very possible to take care of your feminine hygiene needs without exposing yourself to toxic chemicals and other materials. It may also make you feel good to realize that when you stop using toxic feminine hygiene products, you are also protecting the environment. Currently, the average woman uses 12,000 to 16,000 disposable feminine hygiene products during her lifetime. If you make the switch to environmentally friendly products, you will not be disposing of plastics and other toxic substances into landfills or waterways.
Plastic- and toxic-free feminine hygiene products
The healthiest feminine hygiene product options are those that are made from organic, toxin-free materials, utilize minimal packaging, resulting in a minimal amount of waste, and can be reused more than once. Do such products exist? Yes! Here are some of your options-and with a cautionary note. Manufacturers may change their product lines at any time-sometimes to the good and other times, not–so it’s a good idea to periodically check the labels, website, and customer service line to ensure you are buying the safe products you want.
Reusable pads. The majority of reusable menstrual pads are made from undyed cotton (typically organic) and flannel and contain no additives, but recently new materials, bamboo and banana fiber, have been added to the product line. Some brands may contain polyurethane laminate in the pad’s layers, so check out the ingredient panel or contact the manufacturer.
Natural reusable pads are generally biodegradable and compostable once they can't be reused any longer. The lifespan of reusable pads is about five or more years. Also look for reusable pads that are packaged in 100 percent post-consumer recycled cardboard that is recyclable.
Reusable menstrual sponges. This environmentally friendly option may be the one least recognized, but it offers a unique and viable solution. Sustainably harvested natural sea sponges are used for menstrual purposes and can be used like tampons. Natural sea sponges are free of bleach, chlorine, chemicals, dyes, and fragrances. Each sponge can be used for six months or longer. Some brands include Jade & Pearl, Natural Intimacy, and The Sea Sponge Company.
Reusable menstrual cups. Unlike tampons, which absorb menstrual blood, reusable medical grade silicone or rubber menstrual cups collect it. One cup can last at least a decade, but it’s a good idea to have two so you can easily switch off. The initial outlay is about $40 per cup. Some brands include Diva Cup and Intimina.
Reusable tampons. Since there are reusable sanitary pads, why not reusable tampons? There are several brands available, and you also can make your own. Recently, a Kickstarter company launched a plastic reusable tampon applicator made to be used with organic, chemical-free tampons.
Disposable sanitary pads and tampons
Manufacturers of disposable sanitary pads and tampons, such as Always, Tampax, and OB, involve the use of petroleum-based materials and non-organic cotton that has been treated with chemicals such as chlorine and contain dioxins, fragrances, and other dangerous substances. Some companies make organic tampons or pads free of fragrances, deodorants, and chlorine and say they use plant-based plastics, but they still contain polyethylene.
It is possible to find woman- and environmentally friendly sanitary pads, liners, and tampons that are organic cotton, completely plastic-free, dye-free, fragrance-free, and chlorine-free that use cellulose for absorption, a plant-based backing, and compostable packaging. In fact, there are more than a dozen companies that provide these products, and here are just a few of them. Such sanitary supplies are safe for you and good for the environment. [Editor's Note: We love that our favorite brand, Natracare, is at the top of the list.]
Whether you choose reusable sanitary products, disposable ones, or a mixture of the two, the common thread should be your safety. When you select toxic-free feminine hygiene products, you honor yourself, your health, and the planet.