This is for all the females out in the world. That’s a lot of us. And most of us have that monthly visit from mother nature. Not only do we flush tampons, throw away the plastic applicators, the toxic pads, the plastic wrappers, but they contain a ton of toxic chemicals.
The average woman uses about 20 tampons per cycle, that’s 12 cycles per year, and about 9,600 per lifetime! What? We also spend $150-$300 a year on feminine products. But that number will increase from all the harm these chemicals are causing. We can end up infertile and be forced to use IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). Or we could be hospitalized from TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome).
What if we could reduce the waste we send to the landfills, reduce the money we spend yearly, and remove the toxins we put inside out bodies for one week each month. Well, there is!
Toxicity of Tampons
Did you know that the same products we insert into our bodies for an entire week, each month, 12 times a year, are filled with toxins? These toxins include, aluminum, alcohols, fragrance, hydrocarbons, and dioxins left behind from the bleaching process. “Tampon chemicals are absorbed by the vaginal mucosa, and from there are able to pass almost directly into your bloodstream.” 0
Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) did independent testing of various tampons and found some contained Carbon Disulfide, the chemical used in the production of Rayon. “Some brands of tampons contained other volatile organic compounds including reproductive toxins, toluene and xylene, as well as carcinogen, methylene chloride. (Methylene chloride, commonly found in paint strippers, has made headlines recently for its link to over 50 deaths since 1980).”1
Carbon Disulfide has been known to cause hysteria and death. This chemical is used in the production of rayon, but is usually not dangerous when it is sold to us. I, however, don’t think this should be allowed to be in a product touching our body for hours a day, especially since our vaginas absorb things so well. Ever wonder why we have to insert some medicines down there?
OSHA states, “Symptoms of toluene exposure include: irritation of the eyes and nose; weakness, exhaustion, confusion, euphoria, dizziness, headache; dilated pupils, lacrimation (discharge of tears); anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia; numbness or tingling of the skin; dermatitis. Toluene exposure may cause liver and kidney damage.” 2
“If xylene is absorbed into the skin, effects such as redness, swelling, pain, itching and dryness may occur.” 3
Is it just me, or is it insane these chemicals have been approved to to be put into products we put inside our bodies?! The thing is, they have not been approved. Tampons are considered a scientific instrument, therefore they are not required to list the ingredients that are used. Um, just no!
If the chemicals in the tampons aren’t enough, there is toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare condition when either the Staph or Strep bacteria’s get into the bloodstream and produce toxins. The more absorbent the tampon, the higher the risk of getting toxic shock syndrome because people tend to leave them in longer. That allows the bacteria more time to grow. This can lead to fever, rash, confusion, etc.
Chemicals in Pads
First off, the cotton, like tampons, is not organically farmed. That means that it contains pesticides and herbicides. They also contain plastic (what we are avoiding) that has BPA and BPS which can lead to both organ failure and complications with embryos. The cellulose gel that helps contain the blood, can cause cervical cancer. There is also dioxins and rayon commonly found present in pads among other chemicals. Although pads are not inside your body, they are pretty darn close.
A hormone disruptor is a chemical that either stops hormones from doing their job in your body, or tricks your body into mimicking hormones in your body. They can change the levels of hormones in your blood, and change how sensitive you are to different hormones.
Common hormone disruptors found in tampons and pads are rayon and dioxins, phthalates, VOCs, and glyphosphate.
I’ve mentioned rayon and dioxins quite a bit in this post and others. Rayon. Yes, you probably have clothing that is made with it as well. This is the chemical linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome. Dioxins are a chemical that is released when rayon is bleached. Your pads and tampons go through this bleaching process to make them white. Dioxins are also a known carcinogen.
You may have heard of phthalates before. They are used to reduce smells, so fragranced pads/tampons increase the exposure to this chemical. This chemical has been linked to lower IQs, and asthma.
VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds known as, styrene, chloromethane, and chloroform. These are cancer causing and have also been linked to reproductive toxicity.
Glyphosphate is a pesticide used to treat weeds (it’s found in RoundUp). It is known to cause reproductive disorders and complications. I wonder why IVF has gotten so popular in recent years…
The chemicals I talked about above, are causing a huge amount of money in healthcare, to be spent fixing what harm they caused. “In the European Union, they concluded, is likely €157 billion ($209 billion U.S.) per year, and may be as high as €270 billion ($359 billion) a year.” 4
What Can You Do?
So now you’re probably very overwhelmed knowing the chemicals that go into your body on a monthly basis and the dangers they pose.
I know I was. I freaked and threw them all out of my bathroom. Then, I was left standing there wondering what was I going to do?? Just hide from society for that week each month? No way!
I found eco options, products that reduce the waste in the landfills and eliminate the chemicals I was putting in my body. There were way more than I realized. From cups to cotton tampons to washable pads to period panties!
Menstrual cups are made from silicone. In my previous post, My Zero Waste Kitchen, I talk about the dangers of silicone. Silicone is safe as long as it is not heated, so I am confident recommending these cups.
Cups can hold more than either pads or tampons, so you can wear them up to 12 hours, depending on how heavy your flow is.
They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and price points. Typically you can purchase either small or large. When I tried to figure mine out it made me nervous. I did not want to spend $30-$50 on a single cup and it be the wrong size! But that can happen. I decided to go with the large because I do have a daughter I delivered vaginally.
Through research I found that if you are under 30 and have not given birth, go with the smaller size. If you are over 30 or have had a vaginal birth, go with the larger size.
Everyone is different, though. So read the sizing guide to make the best educated guess for yourself. From the reviews I read, most people got it right the first time.
Remember, these are going to last you for quite a while with proper care, so a little investment for quality is worth it. When shopping for yours, remember to check with the manufacturer that it is 100% silicone.
A concern my sister and grandmother berated me about before I decided to go with the cup was changing it out in public. They said that it was disgusting to rinse it out in a public bathroom and either put the dirty one in your purse, or have to go back into the bathroom and reinsert it.
The thing is, they can last from 6-12 hours. So for most woman you wouldn’t have to switch it. If you did run into that issue, some woman carry two with them. That way they can remove one, pour it out, wrap it in toilet paper, insert the clean one, take the soiled one and discreetly rinse it in the sink, and place in a bag specifically for your cup. For some people this may be too much or too gross. For me, it’s not. I find it very similar to a tampon although there is a learning curve to inserting it correctly. It reminded me of when I was first learning how to insert a tampon. I was not perfect at first, but I got the hang of it with practice and persistence.
100% Organic Cotton Tampons… & Pads
For those woman who just can’t get used to the idea of cups, there are 100% organic cotton tampons or pads. These will be pricier than the chemical laden tampons or pads, but well worth it. The only brands of these I have seen in stores, have the plastic covering and are in a plastic box. But I have read about Kali and they have biodegradable cardboard applicators and 100% organic cotton. You can customize you box and have it scheduled to arrive monthly, bi-monthly, or every 3 months.
Cotton Washable Pads
I’m not a fan of pads, myself, but I understand a lot of people prefer them. For those that do, there are washable pads. If you own a sewing machine you can even make them yourself!
These pads are going to have no chemicals and be so much more comfortable. Some cloth pads use a removable liner, and others have a waterproof lining which makes changing them out throughout your day, easier.
My friend made some of her own, but I always come across really cute ones on Etsy. Check with the seller to see how they will package them, so you know you can compost what they do send. Lunapads are another brand I see people always talking about, although I have not tried them yet.
No. Not those granny panties hiding in the back of your drawer for those heavy days, in case you leak. These are thicker panties that hold 1-2 tampons worth without leaking through and staining your skirt.
I was particularly excited about the brand Thinx, but after more research I realized they contain a high amount of nylon. Even the cotton panties contain elastene which is not biodegradable and will pretty much last forever. That is what we are trying to avoid.
Luna pads also contain 5% spandex which, like elastene is not biodegradable. These are supposed to last 5-10 years, though. So if they really do, then I still think we can justify using these.
Some period panties have different panties for heavier days and flows. Others have inserts to put into the panties. Either way, everyone I have heard that uses them says they are the most comfortable panties ever!
Onto Healthier, Happier Periods
Now that we have discovered what truly lurks in our monthly tampons and pads, we can remove some of the toxins from our lives. I have heard amazing stories of people switching to non toxic period alternatives and having easier periods with less cramps, less bloating, less fatigue. All those things we all hate about our periods. Mine were never that bad before, but I hope you see a difference!
Also, realize how much we are saving from going to the landfill or floating around our oceans. We are one step closer to saving 20 billion pads, tampons, applicators, etc, from being dumped into landfills because YOU switched to a healthier alternative.
Let me know if you have tried any of these alternatives, or which ones you are excited to try in the comments!