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Looking to make the switch to natural feminine hygiene products? While the task may seem a bit overwhelming as you probably already have a well-established routine in place for menstrual care, the transition can prove to be incredibly beneficial for the environment, your body, and yes – even your wallet.
The Period Problems
Chances are, when you first got your period, you went to the store and purchased a box of disposable pads – perhaps with special fragrances and pretty packaging. Eventually, you might have upgraded to disposable tampons with plastic or cardboard applicators, because pads totally cramped your style at the beach.
When going through this process, many of us quickly bought into marketing that promised to help us have greater confidence, smell prettier, and twirl on the beach in a white skirt while going through “that time of the month.” Whatever brand did the best job of claiming to help menstruation be less of an annoyance won the ultimate prize – our monetary investment.
Most women also quickly learned saying “period” in public, alluding to the fact that our body was currently menstruating, and carrying tampons to the bathroom without a special case to disguise them were big no-nos.
As a result, a woman’s cycle, menstruation, and options for managing the flow aren’t discussed nearly enough, and are often grossly misunderstood.
So, today – I’m going to give you the scoop on three different natural feminine hygiene products that totally rock, with additional options for you to explore within each category. It’s important to note – not all of the products discussed below may totally “rock” for you, and that’s perfectly OK. The purpose of this article to provide you with options that are both non-toxic and reusable so you can find the one that works best for you.
Also, I will be using words such as period, blood, and vagina throughout this article without inhibition. In other words – you’re in store for a whole lot of lady fun. (No white skirts or slow twirls necessary.)
Why Use Natural Feminine Hygiene Products?
Natural menstruation care becomes an important topic when evaluating overall health, and our carbon footprint.
According to The National Women’s Health Network, 12 billion pads and 7 million tampons are dumped into U.S. landfills each year. This number will only continue to grow as the feminine hygiene industry is projected to hit roughly $15 billion in sales by 2017.
Studies show the majority of women use a combination of pads and tampons to manage the flow – the most popular being disposable tampons with applicators. For the better part of 40 years, a women will spend roughly $120 on feminine hygiene products annually, totaling just under $5,000 in her lifetime.
So, what’s exactly in these pads and tampons? While many people think there’s nothing more than pure, fluffy cotton (I mean, come on… it is fabric of our lives), unfortunately – that’s not the whole picture.
Cotton is now widely-known as the world’s “dirtiest” crop, and each year, more than 55 million pounds of pesticides is sprayed on cotton fields in the US.1 Conventional tampons and pads are actually made from cotton, synthetic rayon, or a combination of the two, along with synthetic fibers like viscose rayon, which are added to increase absorbency. These materials must be bleached with chlorine dioxide to be disinfected and given a “pure” white appearance.
Preliminary testing shows tampons can contain a hefty dose of pesticide residue, and some experts believe they may also contain dioxins – a byproduct of the bleaching process. In addition to these contaminants, according to the US patent office, pads and tampons could also include glycerol esters, unnamed anti-bacterial agents, and a combination of nearly 3,000 different chemicals as fragrance – to name a few.5
Unfortunately, many of these additives and potential contaminants are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and allergens. Given that the skin in and around the vagina is highly vascular, these compounds can permeate the skin and be absorbed into the body.
In the words of my midwife:
A woman should NEVER put anything on or in her vagina that has added fragrances. Ladies, I can promise you, your vagina smells FINE! The risks involved are just so not worth it.
So, why isn’t this information more visible? Companies aren’t required to list ingredients or potential additives on the box because feminine hygiene products are classified as “medical devices” – and therefore, ingredients aren’t necessary. I don’t know about you , but if I’m putting something inside of my vagina for 8-12 hours at a time, I’m kind of a fan of knowing what’s in it. Enter: Natural feminine hygiene products.
3 Natural Feminine Hygiene Products
There are three main types of natural feminine hygiene products for managing the flow: the cup, the tampon, and the pad. As it goes in the free market world, with each type – there are plenty of options to choose from.
To find what works best for you, I recommend choosing the type of product you’re most comfortable with, and then doing some research about the different brands available. To help you accomplish this, below – you’ll find some general information, my personal picks, and links to additional options for you to explore.
The menstrual cup is a soft, flexible cup made from medical grade silicone that can be inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual flow. Once the menstrual cup becomes full, it can be emptied into the toilet, washed and re-inserted into the vagina. The menstrual cup can be worn for up to 12 hours day or night, and typically holds at least one full ounce, which is twice as much as most high absorbency tampons.
Unlike tampons and pads, the cup collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. As a result, it doesn’t affect vaginal moisture or lead to dryness. There’s typically a couple of different sizes to choose from based on whether you’ve delivered a child vaginally or not – and with some practice, it can be inserted and removed comfortably and with ease. Menstrual cups can range anywhere from $20 – $40, and with proper care, the cup will last about two years.
Some cons to consider: There’s definitely a learning curve with the cup. It takes time to figure out how to get it to properly suction so that it doesn’t leak – and throughout this process, things (like your fingers) can get messy. You’ll need access to running water and soap after emptying, however – you can use a natural wipe to clean the cup if you’re away from home and there isn’t access to running water. Also, manufacturers recommend boiling the cup for 4-5 minutes after each cycle, which adds a bit of extra required care.
My pick: First, it’s important to note that SckoonCup sent me a cup free of charge because they heard I wanted one ever so much. So, THAT was awesome. I personally have fallen in love with my SkoonCup, and after one cycle, I’ve successfully figured out how to get it to suction properly. This cup is great for beginners because of the shape and angled suction holes, which both allow for maximum capacity and protection. Unlike other menstrual cups, it’s made from one piece of silicone, and once inserted, I don’t even notice it. And BONUS – SckoonCup is made in the USA. You can get it here for about $38.
You’re most likely aware that a tampon is a plug of soft material inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood. However, you may not be aware of completely natural, non-drying, biodegradable tampons you can reuse for up to 6 months called sea sponge tampons.
Sea sponges are plant-like organisms that grow in colonies in the ocean. Sea sponges, by nature, are very soft, absorbent, and compress easily. They are completely free of additives and synthetic fibers, gentle on the skin, and contain naturally occurring enzymes that inhibit bacteria and mold.
To use, you simple moisten the sea sponge, insert it into the vagina, and remove and rinse when full. Interestingly enough, they can be comfortably worn during intercourse, and some women combine them with spermicide as a barrier contraceptive aid.
Some cons to consider: As with the menstrual cup, sea sponges may have a bit of a learning curve. Proper insertion and sizing will take some trial and error. To rinse the sponge, you’ll need access to running water, and after each cycle, you’ll want to soak them in a natural disinfectant solution. Manufacturers say it’s best to rinse sea sponge tampons every 3-4 hours for maximum absorbency.
The two most popular sea sponges are Sea Pearls from Jade & Pearl, and Sea Clouds from The Sea Sponge Company. In the UK, you can find Jam Sponge. Most companies offer sea sponge tampons in a variety of sizes for about $15 – $35.
My Pick: Since there’s only one main reusable option in this category, sea sponges are my rather obvious choice. However, if you’re not into reusable sea sponge tampons and would like an alternative solution, I recommend going with an organic, chlorine-free non-applicator tampon such as NatraCare Organic Tampons or Seventh Generation Organic Tampons. Personally, I use NatraCare tampons when I know I won’t have access to running water to clean my SckoonCup – or I’m traveling and unsure about what public restrooms I’ll be using. If you’re new to the non-applicator type, you’re in for a treat. Not only are they super easy to insert, they’re also a breeze to tote around, and leave no cardboard or plastic aftermath.
A cloth pad is an absorbent cloth designed to collect the flow of blood during menstruation. Cloth pads are typically made from absorbent materials such as organic cotton or bamboo, and come in a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate different flows and underwear styles.
Typically, cloth pads include a liner and a leak-proof resistant base. To remain dry, you simply swap out the liners throughout the day, and rinse under water after use. Some manufacturers recommend having used cloths soak in a bit of water and soap in a small lidded container until laundry day, while others say simply washing them when laundry day arrives (no “rinsing” necessary) is perfectly acceptable.
Cloth pads allow moisture to evaporate, which means more comfort, and less odor. With proper care, cloth pads can last anywhere from 3-5 years. Pad and insert sets cost between $10-$15, and additional inserts can be purchased for $5-$7 a piece.
Some cons to consider: When using public restrooms, used cloth inserts must be stored in leakproof bags, making things a little more complicated when out and about. Cloth pads also may be a tad more bulky depending on the size that’s required, which may affect your ability to sport tight athletic wear. Cloth pads do have a bit of an upfront cost, however – in the long run, they end up being significantly less expensive.
My pick: Since I’m a cup user, I no longer rely on pads for period management. I do, however, find it incredibly useful to have a few thin pantyliners on hand for the days I’d like to have some extra support in my corner should a leak occur. You can’t go wrong with Bamboo Mama Pads, which is what I personally use and love. I highly recommend looking into some of the popular brands that make cloth pads, including Sckoon, Party in My Pants, and Gladrags. Also, while I have no experience with them personally, I recommend checking out THINX antimicrobial and moisture-wicking period panties, which can be a great back up to tampons or the cup.
Alright ladies. I’d LOVE to hear from you. If you’re already using natural feminine hygiene products, what do you use and love? Comment below!