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By Hannah Ransom

When it comes to assaults on our health, women have a special place in our society. We have products specially made for us or pushed on us that inhibit our paths to the best health we can get. Here are some examples (and perhaps ones that I will write on more in depth in a future article): Makeup, hormonal birth control, high heels, perfumes/fragrances, vaginal ?cleansers,? bras, and unrealistic body images. Do you get the picture? I know some of them sound a little crazy, and probably make you think I am a wacko, but rest assured, I still (occasionally) wear bras. What I want to talk about a little more today is ?feminine hygiene products.

?What?! You may be asking. Yes, that way in which we deal with our periods can be a big burden on our health.

Culturally, we are taught that ?fresh scents,? disposing of something after a single use, and a bleached white look are the epitome of clean, fresh, and safe. We may think a lot about what goes into our mouths, but disregard what is coming into contact with our skin (which, of course, absorbs a lot! Take for example hormone or sea sickness patches). Not only are these tampons and pads coming into contact with our skin, but they are coming into contact with a mucous membrane. Yikes!

Why might these symbols of cleanliness be a health hazard?

1.) They don’t have to disclose their ingredients, due to being ?medical devices. Couple that with the fact that women ?need? them every month and you have happy manufacturers who don’t want or need to prove anything.

2.) Rayon. This may sound innocuous enough, but it needs high amounts of bleaching and is what is implicated in toxic shock syndrome. The bleaching, since 1998, is now done with a technically chlorine-free process, but still releases a high amount of dioxins as a by-product and retains some in the product as well. Dioxins are associated with abnormal tissue growth in the abdomen and reproductive organs, abnormal cell growth in the body in general (cancer, anyone?), are an endocrine disruptor, and can suppress the immune system.

3.) Pesticides. Cotton is one of the most heavily-sprayed crops, and you know your menstrual product manufacturers aren’t buying organic!

4.) Petrochemicals. Both the plastics in pads and applicators on tampons contain these in large amounts. In addition, these plastics can restrict all important air flow. We are encouraged to wear cotton underwear, but overlook the chunk of the month that we may be wearing a plastic pad or panty liner (which many women are encouraged to use when not on their period!).

These are some examples of the ways in which these products can undermine our health. There is certainly more, but there is no reason to bore you. It’s actually pretty hard to find info on the health risks, though. If you do a google search for ?health issues feminine hygiene? you will find a couple links to people’s research on the health issues of conventional period protection, but many more on why it’s so important for women to have feminine hygiene products, and our push to get them to the third world countries.

If you want to watch a video lighting two different pads on fire, this may be all the demonstration you need…

So, what are the alternatives? It’s really good to realize that we have real options, and a lot of women find themselves a lot happier when they make the switch. I am going to present them in order of most culturally acceptable to, perhaps, least.

1.) Disposable organic cotton pads and tampons. If you don’t want to venture into new territory and go for something *gulp* reusable, go ahead and try these.

2.) The softcup. I am placing this one next due to semi-disposability and being able to wear it during intercourse without a fun mess to clean up. One version is completely disposable, one is intended for use for one menstrual cycle and then chucked. These are supposed to have quite a high capacity for those who can’t be bothered to change things regularly.

3.) A menstrual cup. There are a few different options in silicone and latex. They end up being about a $30 investment for a lifetime of use. They recommend a new one every ten years, but I don’t understand why, so I will say lifetime. I have one. I like it.

4.) Natural sea sponges. These are used internally. They tend to have a life of about 6 months (or more, states the website). They also are supposed to be fine during intercourse. Keep in mind that these are a sea creature and you want to make sure that anyone providing you with them is taking into account environmental factors.

5.) Cloth pads. Ugh, a pad AND it’s reusable? While they may seem a little antiquated to many, I do believe these are one of the best options. One of the biggest reasons? If you have the tiniest bit of sewing knowledge you can make them yourself. But even buying them you can find them for a decent price, generally. They are also surprisingly comfortable. I began making my own and feel only the slightest difference between them and wearing regular underwear. I’m going to sketch up a pattern for these soon and have it available on my website.

There are many options available that aren’t going to work against our health and according to most women are actually better than what we are generally inundated with. What do you like to use? Have you ever thought about it before? Are you happy with it or do you want to find something else?

Hannah Ransom is a 180DegreeHealth site author. She teaches an online fertility awareness class for women wanting to explore safer alternatives to hormonal birth control and intrauterine devices.Class is held the last Saturday of every month.You can read about it HERE.