By Nadya Salie
There is nothing worse than being out in public and realising that your period has started. It gets worse when you realise that you do not have any pads or tampons with you. In a frantic hurry, you are either asking someone for one, or you are rushing into your nearest pharmacy and grabbing whatever is on offer.
But have you ever stopped to read the ingredients on that box of conventional menstrual products you just picked up? Is there even an ingredients list on that box?
You may not know that your menstrual products could contain endocrine disruptors and harmful toxins. Conventional pads and tampons and their packaging are often made from harmful ingredients: both for our bodies, and the environment.
These ingredients are not required by law to be listed on the box, and unless a company is transparent, the level of chemicals in your tampon or pad is unknown and unregulated.
Most prominently, conventional menstrual products may contain dioxins. These are a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process that is used to whiten the cotton in conventional tampons and pads. Dioxins are considered toxic, and exposure to high, or continuous, levels of dioxins have been linked to cancer. In addition, if your menstrual products are scented using artificial fragrances, these may also be causing harm to your body as artificial fragrances can be endocrine disruptors.
Pads and tampons are often made using conventional cotton. Conventional cotton is grown using environmentally harmful pesticides like glyphosate. This is the cotton that is then proceeded to be bleached before it is turned into your pads and tampons, increasing its toxin load. These products are then wrapped in unrecyclable plastic. To top it off, conventional pads are often also made of plastic that is not biodegradable and contains harmful types of plastic called phthalates.
Your vagina is also incredibly absorbent. Any products used in, or on it, are absorbed into the body via the bloodstream due to the high permeability of the skin in that region. Although it is claimed that the levels of dioxin in conventional menstrual products are low and safe for human use; a build-up over five days a month for 12 months of the year, may accumulate to a lot. Particularly as dioxin can build up in your body’s fat stores over time.
So, what is the alternative? Your best alternative would be to switch to organic cotton pads and tampons wrapped in biodegradable packaging made from cellulose from brands like Dame. Better still would be to switch to a reusable menstrual cup or period pants, which with proper care can last you for many years. Have a look at our previous post here for some organic and sustainable options to make your period as low-tox and environmentally friendly as possible.
It’s important to note that when buying organic menstrual products (particularly pads and tampons) you should check that the cotton that they use is GOTs-certified. GOTs regulation ensures that the cotton is grown completely naturally – without harmful herbicides, pesticides or fertilisers. This will guarantee that the cotton is indeed certified organic cotton, which is both better for your vagina and the environment.
There is the argument that organic or more sustainable menstrual products cost more, particularly in the short term. This is true and it can make more sustainable, low-toxin products seem more inaccessible. However, often in the long term, alternatives like menstrual cups or period pants can work out far cheaper if they are looked after well. Instead of having to spend money every month on single-use pads and tampons, a one-time investment on a menstrual cup that can last you up to a decade will save you a lot of money over the years to come.
Like deodorants and body washes, menstrual products and their ingredients deserve consideration too. Your body is a temple and your time of the month is sacred. If you can afford to, invest in more mindful options.