5 Eco-Friendly Feminine Products You Should Consider
I fell in love with running at a very early age. I ran my first race in elementary school and ran cross country competitively from 6th grade until college. Performing while menstruating become a problem as I entered middle school. Running well over five miles a day wearing a pad meant chafing or discomfort. My range of motion was hampered; I felt disadvantaged. Though it was taboo back then, I chose to use tampons for training and meets. That choice really encapsulates what I've always sought from feminine care products: the minimization of my period, to near non-existence.
However, this may be exactly the reason why tampons, pads, and feminine washes today are failing to meet environmental and health standards. It's important that we make the connection that as we push for high absorbency, breathability, and odor diffusion in our products, companies must move towards synthetic ingredients to achieve this. I used to embrace this aspect of the feminine hygiene industry, believing that advances in science made better engineered pads and tampons, and that this meant a less encumbered me. But these advancements are more so made in the interests of big business and profit, not the women who use these products. The FDA does not require companies to list the ingredients for tampons and pads, meaning that any plastics, toxins, and chemicals in these products will stay a secret to you, the consumer.
There's a new breed of feminine care products out there though and they're not as "alternative" as you may think. These products are reusable, recyclable, or completely biodegradable. Over time, they save you money, and while they may help you manage your period, they don't encourage you to hide it.
So, without further ado, here are five palm-oil free and environmentally conscious feminine care products that won't compromise your health or code of ethics:
The Menstrual Cup
The average woman will use over 15,000 tampons and sanitary pads in her lifetime. This equates to nearly 200,000 tonnes of landfill waste in a year's time. The make-up of your tampon is also largely unbeknownst to you. For example, rayon can be a problematic material. As Dr. Philip M. Tierno told Vice Magazine, materials in [some] tampons, like synthetic rayon, "provide optimal physical-chemical conditions necessary to cause the production of the TSST-1 toxin if a toxigenic strain of Staphylococcus aureus is part of the normal vaginal flora in a woman." This was the experience of Lauren Wasser, who used Kotex's "Natural" Balance tampons and subsequently lost her leg due to complications of TSS.
Menstrual cups, on the other hand, are made of medical grade silicone and can be carefully used for years without having to be discarded. You can use the lines within your cup to monitor your flow and you can certainly use them overnight, without the fear of Toxic Shock Syndrome or the use of an alarm. There are many brands to choose from like the Lunette ($40) and the Diva Cup ($25-30), though we prefer the UK's Moon Cup ($30) because they don't offer cleansing accesories with conflict palm.
The Holy Sponge
If you're uncomfortable with the fact that silicone is not biodegradable at the end of its life cycle, then we recommend using a sponge to maintain your menstrual flow. Holy Sponge offers a starter kit ($20-22) that contains two sponges, a cotton bag, and tea tree oil for cleansing. The sea sponges are sustainably harvested from the coast of Florida and these reusable sponges can be used for up to 3-6 cycles each. They are soft, absorbent, and easy to clean. You can even compost them!
A sea sponge is where I might start to lose some of you. But when I spoke to Janeen Singer, Co-Founder of Holy Sponge, she enlightened me about the benefits and offered this advice to those who are hesitant to try it: "...I discovered that coming into contact with my own menstrual blood while rinsing my sponge was not only tolerable, but satisfying in a way that connected me to my own body. I saw my flow for the first time and learned how the quality and quantity of my blood was an indication of my overall health. This began my journey of healing my relationship to my blood and my body after years of using toxic, rigid, manufactured tampons"
I asked how the sponge compared to using mainstream tampons and Janeen's response was completely brilliant: "Sponges are similar to tampons in that they both are inserted and removed. Beyond that, they have little in common. Tampons are the most socially acceptable fem-care product in the US and upon their invention, they liberated women who were previously limited by their menstrual cycles. However, we've come so far from those days of women's liberation, and the values of the fem-care industry have shifted to profit and convenience over consumer health. Tampons are no longer simply made of cotton but rather a blend of GMO cotton synthetic fibers such as rayon. The process of making rayon requires many toxic chemicals that create toxic by-products, like dioxins- which have been proven to cause reproductive cancers, sterility, and immune-system disorders and we are putting these toxic sticks into one of the most absorbent parts of our bodies for an average of 38 years."
There's no point in convincing women that changing to sea sponges is going to be similar to tampons, in an effort to get them to make the switch. As Janeen points out, we have to embrace the differences and benefits that the sea sponge gives us, knowing that switching means leaving the institution of tampons behind and inches us closer to a greater sense of self.
Menstrual pads are a great choice if you want more protection while using your moon cup, just had a baby, or simply have a preference for non-insertion methods of blood management. Etsy has a wealth of pads available, offering different levels of absorbancy and design. Though they are reusable, it is important to be mindful of the materials used to make your pads. Always inquire about whether textiles are fair trade, organic, or recycled. Read more about the environmental impact of cotton: here.
The above pad is made by Holy Sponge ($15) and has been pre-washed (with soap nuts). They are machine washable and have snaps to secure them to your underwear. A Hippie Adventure is another good affordable choice. If you are a vegan, be mindful that many constructions do contain wool and fleece, so inquire about the vegan status of pads prior to purchasing. And if you're worried about leakage, most brands offer different levels of thickness and are reinforced by a bamboo core for heavy flow days.
Conflict-Free Feminine Wash
Feminine care products, the kind that companies convince you that you need, have fallen behind in the sustainable palm-oil game. Avoid glycerin derived from conflict palm-oil that can be found in your feminine washes and wipes by choosing a gentle cleanser that is palm-free. The Honey Pot makes three kinds of wash ($13.99) - normal, sensitive, and for those pregnant - that are all vegan and conflict-free.
You can make your own wash, the recipe here, but make sure that choose a Castile soap that does not use conflict palm-oil (Dr. Bronner's or pure olive Castile) and that you dilute the soap really well. The jury still seems to be out on whether or not Castile soap disturbs vaginal flora, so you may just have to try this out and see if it works for you. I personally haven't experienced any discomfort but, everyone is different,.
The Yoni Duster
If you want to stay away from some of the more questionable ingredients in your body powder or spray, like Benzethonium Chloride, or avoid purchasing from brands who use conflict palm, then Fat & the Moon's Yoni Duster ($18) is a good choice. It utilizes antimicrobial herbs like black walnut hulls and goldenseal and fights moisture with white clay and arrowroot starch. Though the price could be a bit more than you may be accustomed, the product will last longer if brushed on, as suggested. You can also attach a layer of cheesecloth, with a rubberband, to make it a more traditional applicator.
You can make a version for yourself at home, of course, but I wouldn't recommend using corn starch as many DIY recipes suggest. Stick with arrowroot powder, which also can be bought at your local grocer.
Companies do everything they can to convince you that the only way to be unfettered by your menstrual cycle is to create an arsenal of products in your house to mask its existence. What they're doing, however, which is incredibly oppressive, is forcing you to choose between your own personal 'comfort' and preserving the planet. The future of eco-friendly feminine products is deeply rooted in the past, which may be a major turn off to be people. But it is important that we, in an effort to preserve the world we live in, push back against the notion that menstruation and menstrual blood are disgusting, inconvenient parts of our lives.
If you're just beginning your journey into the world of environmentally positive periods, know that though it may be inconvenient and uncomfortable at first, you will eventually gain a greater connection to your own body and to yourself. Moon cups and cloth pads aren't just for 'hippies' any more, and we couldn't be happier!