What is something that every woman has to endure in her lifetime? You guessed it — menstruation. On average, a woman will have her period once a month, for about five days, for around 40 years of her life. During this time, she’ll need to use various products to stay clean and fresh.
And the tampon and pad industry — a $718 million dollar market — capitalizes on this need. This really got me questioning the production and ethical value behind these products. They are mass-produced, heavily marketed, and cheaply made out of bleached rayon and plastics. Why is it that we never see ads for the much safer alternatives such as cotton products, reusable washable pads, and menstruation cups? All of these options are much more economical and are about a million times safer for the environment. Up until a few months ago, I didn’t even know that there were alternative products, much less think that there was any potential risk involved with using generic menstruation products.
Almost all sanitary napkins and tampons are made with bleached rayon, cotton, and plastics. How safe do you think that material is to be inside or very close to your vagina? Not to mention these products leave behind fibers that can cause bladder and vaginal infections, along with Toxic Shock Syndrome. Tampons are also known to absorb the natural fluids and friendly bacteria that the vagina produces to stay clean and healthy.
Let’s look at the #1 ingredient in generic tampons and sanitary napkins: Rayon. Rayon is a fiber that is made from cellulose fibers, and while cellulose itself is a natural fiber, transforming it into rayon involves the use of chemicals such as carbon disulphide, sulfuric acid, chlorine, and caustic soda. Side effects from exposure to too much rayon can include nausea, vomiting, chest pain, headaches, and many others. Rayon is not just found in tampons and pads, but in many clothing items as well. Sanitary napkins also contain quite a bit of plastic, which does not allow sufficient air flow “down there,” so in turn can also cause an array of infections. Moreover, tampons and pads are bleached using chlorine, which results in the production of dioxin, a chemical linked to breast cancer, endometriosis, immune system suppression, and various other ailments.
So, What Are Our Options?
A menstrual cup is my first choice for a tampon/pad alternative. It is a flexible silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina. Essentially, this cup catches all the blood you shed throughout the day. It needs to be emptied every 12 hours during your cycle and then you can reinsert.
I know what you are thinking… gross. That was my initial reaction too; I thought that it sounded so disgusting, and I could never imagine myself using it. I guess that changed as I researched all of the benefits using a cup has to offer. If it is properly inserted and taken out, there is no reason that you should ever have to actually touch blood, but even if you do, what’s the harm? (Just wash your hands, you big baby.) It may take a few cycles to get the hang of how to use one of these cups, but once you do you, will wish you had started a lot sooner!
I recommend that you continue to use pads or liners until you have mastered the insertion technique, just in case. Not only will you save a lot of money using a menstruation cup, but you will be doing a huge favour to the environment as well. Think about it: If the average women uses about 17,000 pads or tampons during her entire menstruation lifetime, and you multiply that by 3.5 billion women in the world — that’s an awful lot of trash.
Another great thing about using menstrual cups is that many women have reported experiencing reduced cramping during their period. I know that alone would encourage some women to make this change. Some brands of menstrual cups are: “DivaCup,” “MoonCup,” “Ladycup,” and “Lunette,” among many others.
There are also reusable pad products made of safe materials that come with washable, highly absorbent inserts to suit all different levels of flow. These would be a great option for women who do not like products that you have to insert. These reusable “pads” are made with safe, breathable materials to keep your area healthy and leak free. Some brands that are available today include “Luna Pads,” “Glad Rags,” and “Pleasure Puss.” You can also make your own.
Now, if you are not so keen on ever having to really see blood or wash your products, or just don’t like these options, there is still another alternative… sit in a lake for your entire cycle! You will eventually come out very cold and wrinkled, but at least you won’t be throwing away tons of junk into the environment or worrying about toxic chemicals being leached into your body.
Just kidding! Okay, there is one last (real) alternative to generic tampons and pads. There are some companies that make natural organic cotton products that do not leach chemicals or leave synthetic materials behind. These can still absorb your natural fluids and are not really the best things for the environment, but at least cotton is a more natural substance that can biodegrade quickly. Some brands include “Seventh Generation” and “Natracare.”
So there you have it! I hope that this article opened up your eyes to the health effects and environmental hazards that are associated with using pads and tampons, and perhaps even made you reconsider what products you’re using. There are many websites that provide information with reviews on all of these products, so do your research and find what’s best suited for you and your lifestyle.
If you are worried about how much fluid menstruation cups can hold in comparison to tampons and pads, check out this video:
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