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.
I was getting rashes/feeling terrible/my crams were so much worse when I’d use regular pads. If I HAD to use a tampon (possibly TMI but I am a heavy bleeder), it was f*cking hell. My heart would beat really fast, my cramps would get even worse. I would dry up. :( I made the switch to cloth and have had none of those problems… plus… all of those cute prints, c’mon. As a back up, if necessary, I use sea sponges. I have had no problems using these methods and feel about seven million times better. I will NOT go back. I’ve finally got a happy hoo-hah!
:) nice. I agree, the prints are so awesome. I just cut up a purple unicorn flannel pillowcase to make into cloth pads once my sewing machine comes back from it’s tune-up. Super excited! It’s makes your period so much more fun.
Way back when… tampons were infused with mercury. Yep, the stuff that is classified as a highly toxic waste and causes all sorts of problems. The manufacturers claimed it was for sanitary purposes — mercury does kill things. People demanding the truth produced documents saying the mercury was there because it increased bleeding. So we’d have to buy more tampons! That’s when I stopped using them.
Warning: they might still contain mercury.
I’ve heard this, as well! Where did you see that they might still have it?
I use a menstrual cup and I love it! I’ve read that we not only shed blood, but tissue during our cycles. So tampons end up stuffing that tissue-shedding process up, hence more/worse cramps.. I didn’t look into it much, so I have no idea if it’s actually true. But I have noticed that my cramps are gone now. It could have to do with the toxicity of the tampons as well of course.
Well, the endometrial lining is more than just blood, it’s just highly vascularized, which is why we perceieve/note it as blood. Or do you mean vaginal cells? We are always experiencing vaginal cell slough to some extent.
I just find tampons so drying, after using a menstrual cup I don’t know if I would go back to using something to soak blood rather than catch it (internally).
Yeah, I agree. I use a cup and will never go back – I always had trouble with tampons leaking and that is completely gone now, even wearing it for a couple of days (accidentally!). Another plus is I think I understand my cycle more with the cup. I can see exactly the quality and quantity of the blood, and have more awareness of what is normal and abnormal.
I might have to try the softcup though, because it SUUCCCKKSSS to not have sex while I’m bleeding.
Thanks for posting on this – i think it’s way overdue for women to find/use better options than the mainstream disposable products for both health and environmental reasons. I’ve been using The Keeper (natural rubber cup) for over 12 years and I love it and combine that with cotton pads at night so haven’t purchased any menstrual products in over a decade! The cup has a small learning curve but once you’ve got it down, its pretty reliable in my experience. And comfortable.
Certainly it’s a great option. I can’t feel it at all.
I do like cloth pads better nowadays for myself, but just for a few random reasons. I think menstrual cups are definitely something easier to accept by most people.
Washable pads are so comfortable. I do a cold rinse with some white vinegar, then just wash with the rest of the laundry. I store them in a cloth drawstring bag until it’s time to wash them. My flow is normal, not particularly heavy so they work well. Cups are pretty good too. :) I have the keeper. I also know knitters who have made reusable tampons from organic cotton. I’m sure there are directions on the interwebz somewhere!
Neat about the knitting re-usable tampons! I might have to try that one some day!
I looked them up. They look awesome, but not super comfy. I’d love to hear from people who tried them.
I recently started using a Lunette menstrual cup and I love it! It’s perfect whether I’m running, swimming, or sleeping. I’ve actually never felt so clean (and odor-free) during my period. I wish I had known about them years ago!
I would like to try Lunette … I tried and tried and tried with the Diva cup (like for 6 months), but it only made the proper seal a few times. It had a tendency to “ride up.” When I poked around, it seemed sealed, but was always leaking. People have said that different cups work better for different … ah, vaginal geometries, I guess.
I also got a pile of reusable pads (from Luna Pads) about the same time, 5 years ago. Strongly recommended. They aren’t quite enough (without backup) on the first 1-2 heavy days, but on all the rest of the days they’re perfect, much more comfortable than disposable pads.
At first, I was really fussy about soaking in water and vinegar and washing them separately, but I hated it, what a chore. So, here’s a secret, I swear it’s not gross: There’s less mess, less odor (really none) and less hassle just by letting the blood dry on them in a hamper for dark-colored laundry, or in their own space (like a paper bag), then launder them when you do the rest of the laundry. I even put them in with other darks. Of course the pads get stained — but they will anyhow, even with fussy soaking, and besides who cares. However, not once have any *other* clothes got stained with this lazy, low-maintenance way of washing. I don’t even have a washer at home, I take care of them at the laundromat and no one has ever noticed or complained.
I didn’t venture into this realm til I was 30 and therefore missed 15+ years of NOT getting ripped off at the drug store. Young ladies, start now!
I use the diva cup and was so much happier when I found it!! It’s a crime that most women know nothing about these products, but since they are almost a one time purchase, I’m sure the advertising budget is non existant.
Ditto! I bought my first one about 10 years ago and have not looked back since!
I’m a longtime lurker on this site and I’ve even spoken with Matt re. diet on the phone. But first comment here! I just wanted to say I love all the new contributors! Everything so far has been right up my “interest alley.” I’m pretty sure part of the reason I got endometriosis was a decade+ of wearing tampons every month. I’m looking forward to trying some of these alternatives when my period returns postpartum.
I use organic cotton tampons and pads and they work excellently, although they are a bit pricey. I don’t think I’m ready for cups or rewashable pads yet, but maybe someday. I didn’t really notice much of a change from the conventional stuff, but I feel better about it mentally.
I never would have thought that I would have loved re-usable pads as much as I do, but I do! This was partially due to the fact that I didn’t even use disposable pads pre re-usable days, pads were just so gross to me. If you can sew I would recommend making one and trying it (it can cost a bit to “just try” a re-usable option).
This from the person who wants to protect their anonymity! Ha! :)
I love the softcups. No need to throw the away after just one cycle either, I’m sure that’s a marketing tactic. I had a keeper for about 10 years and the rubber did start to get kind of stiff, so that’s probably why they originally said to replace every 10 years, I don’t know if that would be an issue with all the silicone ones they have now.
Yeah, that is what I have heard from most people. They do look like they would be more likely to wear out than a menstrual cup, but I would think you could use them for a few months, at least, right?
i have bought and used the cloth pads. they are wonderful. even if you don’t always use them, they are nice to have around for when you may run out of disposables, or when you are going to be hanging out at home.
cloth diapers are a similar topic, as are wipees (aka “the freshy fresh”) one of my children had a goofed up gut due to antibiotics and that led to a sore fanny. (that is slang for the rear end all you non-US people who are snickering) cloth diapers and plain water were better for him than wipees and disposables.
Oh yeah, disposable diapers and wipes are definitely health risks, as well. Toxic gick. I am one of those “let people do whatever they want” kind of gals, but I think if I could ban chemical nastiness from the world I probably would.
I have been using organic pads for years. I believe that even organic tampons are inherently unhealthy. and only save them for special occasions like swimming or vacations. I can no longer use them now though as the last time I did I ended up crying my eyes out and being in pain for two days due to them triggering interstitial cystitis pain. I only wore the tampon for like 10 minutes, but it triggered horrible pain. :(
Many women with IC also cannot use cups. They actually hurt my bladder even before I developed IC.
Ever since I stopped using them I can’t get over the fact that they are soaking things up and drying out the vaginal environment. Thinking about it sounds mighty uncomfortable, yet I used them without qualms for years!
to tell you the truth, i don’t really trust shoving something up there and leaving it there for hours–just don’t like the idea of it, seems like asking for trouble. however, when you are young and invincible you are more apt to think its oh so important to be able to be in a bikini on such-and-such a day. (ride horses! play tennis!) i’m not sure i could go back in time and unconvince my younger self. i truly think we are meant to bleed out, just as i think we are meant to have pubic hair and that we are NOT meant to have something tightly strung across our bits, like a thong or tight jeans. bits need air and flow. JMO.
It’s definitely all about the choices people want to make. Whatever is right for them. I just like to make sure that those are informed choices. So often we don’t have the info we need.
WOW! I live in the third world and I didn’t know about the cups! Maybe some day I’ll dare to use them, but for now I’ll stick to my “normal” pads, what I’ve been using forever without much problem (just some itchiness that goes away quickly). But it’s really nice to know there are alternatives, thank you, Hannah.
Just yesterday I was reading the TSS warning that came with a box of tampons, thinking how fucked up it is to have to use something that poses that risk. Even if the risk is relatively low it seems that a product that has it wouldn’t be any good for your health. Anyway I was wondering if there were any alternatives for women and I check in here this morning and there’s my answer, funny how that happens sometimes.
It would be great to see more posts about alternative health/hygiene products and methods. There are so many of these that are just accepted as normal and necessary today that are completely unnecessary and even harmful (and way more costly than alternatives). Girls have it really rough, with all the stuff you mentioned above and more. But all of it is just a part of our culture and most people accept it and don’t consider alternatives, so it would be nice to see some more information on this so that people are aware of other possibilities.
On another note, I’ve been loving the new contributors to the site. I was skeptical at first, mostly because I like Matt’s writing style and perspective, but it seems like the new design for the site will create so much more potential for new (and credible) information.
I will keep that in mind for future articles :)
I have tried sea sponges, but they were not a great choice for me. Tampons have always been uncomfortable for me and the sponges were no exception. Plus my flow is too heavy and I bled through too quickly. I do love reusable pads, though! I have Glad Rags and they are great! My skin gets very irritated by conventional pads and I can manipulate the coverage with my Glad Rags to suit my needs. I am afraid to try a cup, though I love the idea of one. I have NEVER not been bothered by a tampon so maybe I’m just not a good candidate.
This is something new to me, and I have some questions. The first set is about menstruation cups and the last is reusable pads.
1. How often do you ?empty? the cups?
If you don’t have a set time, how do you know when it? ready to be emptied?
2. Do you only empty the cups at home or anywhere?
If you are anywhere how to you clean your cups when you use a public bathroom?
3. How do you know what size cup to get?
Is it better to go bigger to avoid breakthrough bleeding?
1. Has anyone ever experience breakthrough bleeding with reusable pads?
Was is due to the material, padding, or the flow of the period that caused it?
2. I have ‘smelled? other girls before, as we all know it’s not pleasant smell. Why is it that the cloth doesn’t have an odor?
How often do you change your pad?
What do you do if you need to change it when you are out?
Would you then worry about smell?
Hi, Kelly :)
I am relatively new to the cup idea as well. I’d seen them in the stores, but thought it was just a little too gross for this “heavy bleeder” to even contemplate. After reading this post, I had many of the same questions you have stated here. Since Hannah and others are being so awesome at answering questions, I’m sure someone will chime in, but if you are curious in the meantime, I can tell you that I got my questions answered on YouTube. There are tons of videos about every possible angle and idea regarding the cup and its use. You might want to check those out. I just typed in “menstrual cup” and rode the wave.
Hope that helps!
1. Totally depends on your flow, some people do it about every 12 hours, some people every 2. This will also depend on the day of your cycle. I’ve never had an overflow issue. I assume that those with heavier flows just err on the side of caution and do it more often and then get a handle for knowing how often it needs to be emptied. I would think that if it was in danger of overflowing you could probably feel that. A HEAVY period is defined as over 80 mL of fluid (throughout the whole menses), and a dive cup is about 1 once/30 mL, just to give you an idea.
2. Depends on how often you need to empty them and what you are doing on those days. Generally anywhere. This is an easy routine if you know you want to empty your cup and you are in a stall bathroom: Go to the sink and wash your hands (since you are going to want clean hands to remove it anyway) and grab a couple extra paper towels, one being wet is best. Take the paper towels into the stall with you. Empty the cup into the toilet, and then wipe off the cup with the wet paper towel. Re-insert and then use the dry paper towel to wipe off anything on your hands and then wash hands as usual. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
1. I haven’t had the problem. I would say it could be due to any or all of those factors. You just have to make sure you change them often enough and/or choose thicker ones for heavier days.
2. I haven’t experienced a bad odor with cloth, just normal period kind of smell (which isn’t bad). I think that maybe the chemicals wixing with the fluids might make the normal stuff worse in this regard.
Personally, when wearing the pads, unless I am just being lazy, I just tend to notice when I am bleeding (you don’t bleed 100% of the time during your period) and go to the bathroom, so I don’t go through that many pads. A lot of people who change them when they are out use something called a “wet bag” which keeps everything contained until you can get them home and soak them/rinse them out.
Did that answer everything?
Thank you so much! :)
Cloth has less odor! I don’t know why but perhaps it is due to air flow? I love my cloth pads. Sooo much more comfortable, NO leaking, no adhesive sticking to pubic hair, and not hot and sweaty feeling.
Which would you say is the best option for someone with endometriosis? I’m nervous of anything internal, as I’m concerned that this could be what causes endometrial cells to become misplaced. Is there any validity to that, or am I just being paranoid?
I would use cloth pads. I would say that misplacement of endometrial tissue is very unlikely to be caused by something like cups (perhaps tampons, though, cause of the chemical stuff), but cloth pads are just awesome, anyway, and if you are wary of internal I would just steer clear. It might also be better to have as little as possible in there if you have a bunch of pain associated with your endo (most people do). Sometimes I have this soreness in my vagina when I am bleeding, ugh, no way do I want to use anything internal on those days.
Thanks for the advice! Look forward to reading more of your posts.
Which menstrual cups and/or reusable pads do any of you recommend?? I’m interested in getting either or both and trying them out. I’ve always had cramps, and they’re worse when I use tampons, but I’ve never thought about why that is!
I personally have only used the diva cup and home sewn pads. I make pads that I can wear without underwear that have a loop in each side that I can thread an elastic belt through. They are as long as normal underwear from front to back and I just have multiple layers of flannel in the pad area. It’s kind of confusing to describe, but I am going to be putting a pattern on my website with pictures and such soon. I just need to get my sewing machine back from it’s tune up.
Please do put your pattern on your website – I’m really keen to try them.
I’m working on photos and such right now, so it should be within the next couple of days!
DivaCup works great for me! Some women who have not liked that one have done better with the LunaCup. Always make sure you snip the grabber end thingie to adjust to your comfort level so it’s not prodding you all day. That’s the only thing you may need to watch out for.
Oh, and the reason why they say to replace it after a few years is that the silicone may begin to crack after washing so often. (After each period I boil mine in hot water with a splash of white vinegar) It definitely does discolor over time, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
CUP ALL THE WAY!!! Less cramps, no vag dryness, no scrambling for tampons because it stays in a cute little baggie in my purse, no mess (HALLELUJAH!!!), no grossing out Hubbs, get to swim and mess around, change it maybe twice a day…. Seriously, CUP.
Plus, getting to observe your discharge level and consistency can be very beneficial to keep track of your health and fertility.
I have used the Diva Cup for a while. I appreciate it even more since I got a copper IUD (no more hormones!) which has made me bleed very heavily. It’s easy with the cup – it’s large enough to hold enough flow to completely soak several pads. So instead of changing pads every 1-2 hours (yes, the bleeding is this bad for 1-3 days), I empty the cup every 4 hours or so. And no cramps at all, even though chances of bad cramps are higher with the copper IUD. I strongly suggest the cup to anyone with heavy bleeding.
This article led me to order a Diva Cup. I’m 40 years old and I have never had such a stress-free period experience! Empty it morning and night and for the remainder of the time I wouldn’t even have known I was having my period! I’m so grateful for this information, here in Australia no one has even heard of reusable cups, now I’m telling everyone!! I just wish I had known about them 20 years ago – I sure as hell will be introducing my daughter to them when her time comes.