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No one wants to discuss feminine hygiene products. Not ever.
It’s usually embarrassing and the topic can make even the strongest woman incredibly uncomfortable. Mothers purchase their daughters’ products and pray for them to read the directions instead of asking questions.
When a girl hit puberty, it’s automatically assumed that she’ll use pads for protection and sanitary reasons. Eventually, some young women may use tampons as well. They’re convenient, absorbent and, after a learning curve, reasonably easy to use. They’re on hand for when you need them. Women cycle every month from puberty to menopause and use what they require during those times.
But with studies questioning how these goods are made and what toxins they contain, women have new information to consider. The dangers sanitary products pose is a real concern. Ignoring them can lead to bigger health problems in the future.
The Science of Skin
Your skin is your largest organ. It is also the thinnest and most permeable organ. For women, this includes the skin around the delicate vaginal area. Any substance that comes in contact with your skin can be absorbed into your body, directly into your bloodstream.
It is this quality that makes topical medications so effective.
Your digestive system is designed to process compounds and rid your body of potential toxins. When something is absorbed through your skin, it doesn’t go through your body’s natural defense system. Your skin is unable to weed out the good stuff from what is potentially toxic.
A good rule of thumb in regards to skin care is that if you wouldn’t eat something, then you shouldn’t apply it to your skin.
Skin Health and Feminine Hygiene Products
Let’s talk about how conventional tampons and pads are manufactured. A single sanitary napkin can contain enough plastic to make four plastic bags. Chemicals within the plastic include potentially toxic chemicals, pesticides, and petrochemicals. That’s quite a chemical concoction to put in contact with the most sensitive skin on your body.
Since these products are considered “medical devices,” manufacturers aren’t required to disclose all of the ingredients they contain. Companies typically disclose that a pad contains foam and an absorbent material.
One woman compared a 100% organic cotton pad with a nationally known brand of pad. When burned, the organic pad burned slowly and steadily, leaving behind almost no residue other than the ash from burning. By striking comparison, the national brand pad created thick, black smoke and left behind a thick residue.
This led analysts to suspect that it contained petrochemicals, synthetic materials, and dioxins. Chemicals that have known links to cancer, heart disease, harm to developing embryos, and organ damage.
Tampons are manufactured using a blend of cotton, rayon, or a blend of the two materials. All tampons – organic or synthetic – have to pass the same standards for absorbency and protection.
Could Your Pad or Tampon be Harming You?
How can a clean, white pad or tampon cause damage? Consider whether or not that tampon is made with organic cotton. If not, chances are that it’s made with GMO cotton treated with crop pesticides. It’s a fact that 94% of the cotton grown in the United States is genetically modified.
If it’s an “odor neutralizing” product or contains any sort of fragrance, it contains a chemical soup of contaminates that can potentially cause infertility, neurological defects, hormone dysfunction, and cancer.
The average woman will use between 16,000 and 24,000 tampons in her lifetime, depending on how long her body menstruates. Without the ability to rid these toxins absorbed topically, they accumulate over a lifetime.
Tampons can also create an ideal environment for bacteria to develop and thrive. The walls of the vagina are so thin and delicate that regular use of feminine hygiene products can cause micro-tears. This presents a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a potentially life threatening condition caused by either a strep or staph infection resulting from tampon use.
Do you wonder why feminine hygiene products are so bright white? In order to get that pure white look, manufacturers use chlorine bleach. A by-product that forms from this bleaching process is dioxins. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes dioxins as a serious threat to public health and determined that there is no safe level of exposure.
However, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that there is no discernible threat to the health of tampon or pad users from these dioxins as they are below detectable limits. They believe that “trace amounts” of dioxins are acceptable and safe to the human body.
If you use a product on your skin as much as 24,000 times during your life, is that considered a “trace amount” by the FDA? Clearly, the cancer-causing effects of these toxins are of very little concern to a government agency that long ago stopped caring about long-term consumer health.
Alternative Feminine Hygiene Products to Consider
There are alternatives that you can choose to lessen your exposure to the materials contained in various feminine hygiene products and nursing pads.
- Organic cotton tampons. These products must pass an absorbency test so you are not likely to find any reduction in the quality. Organic tampons continue to test well beneath detectable levels for toxins. Look for 100% organic on the label.
- Organic sanitary pads. Available in health food stores and recognized by more national supermarkets every month, these pads are a safe alternative to traditional pads. Again, absorbency is regulated so you are not losing quality by choosing a safer product. Read the label carefully.
- Menstrual cup. This is an alternative to tampons or pads altogether. This silicone cup is inserted into the vagina during menstruation. Many women are choosing this option because it can be worn overnight, which is not recommended for any tampon.
- Homemade products. Before WWII, disposable products weren’t available. Women had to fashion their own re-usable, washable pads for use during their periods. Some were made from absorbent towels, flannel, or similar cotton fabric. There are many resources online that provide information and even sewing patterns to make your own sanitary pads. The environmental advantages aside, you do need to wash these pads so preparation is key.
Whether you choose organic disposable products or make your own, there are alternatives to feminine hygiene products mass-produced with chemicals and plastics.
Contact large manufacturers and push for product disclosure as well. If it goes into or on your body, you have a right to know what’s in it. If you can’t pronounce it, chances are it’s not good for your delicate skin. Using safe feminine hygiene products is another aspect of living a cancer-free lifestyle.
Research is key. Find the solution that’s right for you and share the news with your females friends and loved ones.
No matter what you use, chances are it still won’t be a comfortable topic… but it may help save someone’s life!
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Helen L. says
Not only are those tampons dangerous to women’s skin, so are the Depends and other products used by the menopausic women.
Mary Beth Akers says
Are there alternatives available for those?
I am wondering about baby diapers. They don’t burn either. Might these be a source of a problem?
Unfortunately baby diapers are really horrible! They are way worse than tampons, and pads. I researched them 9 years ago when I had my first baby.
There are organic ones, and they are more expensive, but it’s motivation to potty train sooner too!
When my babies were small, I used old fashioned cloth diapers. It began when my first born had an allergic reaction to LUVS – it was a horrible rash. A little inconvenient with more frequent changes, but the upside was, potty training was a breeze – all 3 were easy peezy!
Rhea, I agree. We cloth diapered our 2 boys. Totally worth it!
Maggie M says
There have been great advances in cloth pads over the years made by companies like Treehugger Cloth Pads, super absorbent, so soft, easy to use and wash… Leaps and bounds from the homemade pads sewn from rags you mention in your article!
Katie Did says
Historically, these items used to have asbestos in them! I imagine it’s absorbent and that’s why, although I’m not sure of that. I am pretty sure that they’ve taken the asbestos out … but have shown the same concern with our health by what replaced it. And now that our cotton growers are turning to GMO’d cotton, who truly knows what the impact will be? Yes, it’s “inconvenient” to have to wash out your pads, but in my opinion it’s even more inconvenient to get some kind of cancer! And it might be more expensive to buy the organic brands but, as my current life’s motto goes … You either pay now in health or pay later in sickness. The choice is yours ladies!
I wish the organic ones weren’t so dang expensive. When you’re broke, and you go through A LOT of these products each month, it’s hard to cough up so much money.
I’ve read that and experienced myself that using cloth pads over a period of time reduces the amount you bleed because there is no irritation… it’s worth the investment for your health in the long term 🙂
Rhian Jones says
A menstrual cup works out cheaper by far in the long run. Takes a bit of getting used to but I love mine now.
Charlene Bugbee says
What are the names of the Organic brand if pads?? And where can you find them ? Thank you..
Melinda, it takes a certain amount of confidence, cleanliness, and determination, but many of us have used sea sponges successfully, in combination with cloth pads for just-in-case. You need to rinse the sponges out more often, and boil them often, but they are much softer and less likely to cause harm to the vaginal lining, they’re re-usable, and the sea sponges are sustainably farmed. They cost WAY less than tampons and pads, and last for up to 6 months before the repeated boiling begins to make them crumbly. Wet and soften one before use, and choose a size that doesn’t compress too much inside you, as it will absorb more. For public bathroom booths, take in a dampened cloth and a water bottle to assist with clean-up.
It’s worth investing in a silicone cup. I did with money I got for Christmas one year and thought it would pay for itself within six months. In fact in almost half that time as my periods were very heavy then. They hold as much fluid as two super tampons.
Christabella J says
Hi there…..which brand of silicone cup do you recommend /use?? And can they be expensive? I never thought silicone cups were even safe!!! Wow!!
I use the Diva Cup! Works great!
Kristin Payne says
I have been using Diva Cup and it seems to work pretty well. I am just getting ready to replace my 1st one as I have had the current one for 14 months. I spent $37 at the time. I would say that is a cheap investment. The ONLY reason I am getting ready to replace is because of the discoloration. There is a learning curve with this as well. Read the directions and over the first couple times of using it you will get used to how it should feel. If this isn’t your cup of tea there has also been the release of underwear called THINX. They are pricey so prepare for that. It is a reusable, washable, absorbent underwear. They offer them in light, medium, and heavy styles and recommend that you have a minimum of 2 pair. Good luck!
Thrivemarket.com sells organic cotton tampons and they seem pretty reasonable. 40 tampons for $7.90 – $9.90 (depending on absorbency).
Yes, I was thinking the same thing! Cloth pads (not homemade) need a mention here. I use Pink Daisy brand, but there are many brands out there. And no it’s not gross?
There is something I use that has changed my life and I will never go back to regular tampons again… Sea sponge tampons! There is a learning curve but once you’ve got it, it makes the cycle so much more manageable. I encourage everyone to do a little reading!!
Kate Law says
Disposable cups are an option too! Don’t forget those 🙂 I alternate between the Diva cup & Flex disposable soft cups.
In my 20’s, natural sea sponges were still being sold in every pharmacy and were labeled for use as a tampon. I never had any problem with them at all, and used them on the days that I was off work and could rinse them conveniently. They are still available, although regulations prevent their being labeled for use internally as a tampon. I’m only speaking from my own experience here and have no idea if there was a solid medical reason for that label change.
Audrey Cochran, RN, MSN, BC. says
On TV news we see toddlers in foreign countries only wearing a T-shirt. They use the gutter for a bathroom, or rush to their outdoor toilet area do so as to not soil themselves or their hut. In Africa where babies are carried in a sling on their mother’s back, she is considered a bad mother who cannot detect her child’s need to be removed from the sling and held out over the side of the trail. A half century ago one summer I taught all 3 of my sons, only wearing T-shirts while watching me hang the clothes outside, to run to the dirt bordering the clotheslines to empty their bladders. When they developed that much awareness I told them, “now run in the house and use the toilet like daddy does.” We are one of few countries who sells supersize diapers.
For more than 50 years I taught women to not rush to the bathroom when they got home from errands, but to “wink” their anus (the muscle around the hole in back) to calm their bladder down before approaching the bathroom. Some told me when they did that while making love their husbands told them to tell me thank you! Surgery is seldom necessary. I had a 3rd degree tear following one delivery, but using these techniques I recovered and at age 83 I am still the boss of my bladder. You an be too if you work at it for several weeks. First week squeeze 1 second then relax for 2, the second week squeeze 2 seconds and relax for four, until you can squeeze for 5 and relax for 10 etc.
What are the implications of silicon worn against such sensitive skin?
You can also purchase reusable organic cotton pads–it is not necessary to make your own. Lunapads is one brand name.
silicone cups are the best! I used the same one for 5+ years (paid for itself after 3 or 4 cycles), then immediately post-childbirth I used organic cotton/flannel pads that went right in the wash (cloth diapers for my baby – no way I was putting scary disposable chemicals on her perfect brand new skin!), then got a new menstrual cup once my cycle returned that will potentially last me until menopause.
I will never again use tampons. I used to be so confused at the bright red blood at the end of my cycle, until I realized it was coming from tampon-induced vaginal tears! tampons, even the organic ones, just aren’t good for your vagina – vaginas are not supposed to be dry and tampons over-absorb necessary moisture. cloth pads and menstrual cups are the only things I’ll encourage my daughter to use when she gets to be old enough.
thanks, Ty, for sharing this vital topic.
Here is what I’ve been using and I love it! Check out this Holy Sponge! etsy.com/shop/HolySponge
R Krishnan says
Using neem oil and turmeric powder will be very much useful for their hygiene
Cecelia H says
I discovered THINX period underwear last year after having my second child was born. They are incredible- comfortable, clean feeling, and very absorbent. I wish they were available when I was in high school & college– I had many “mishaps” due to heavy flow.
They are working to remove the stigma & shame around menstruation.
Jani Teeter says
I changed to cloth pads from an etsy seller 5 years ago I swear they made my periods lighter less crampy and they do not leak twist or smell waaay more comfortable the always and just as thin. No leaking ever easy to wash and still look brand new. I won’t ever go back not to mention much more environment friendly and no noise in public washrooms. Check out youtube and look up yurtcraft pads. Awesome and I love them
Sharla Peterson says
So what about toilet paper??
Almost all commerically grown cotton is GMO. That means that just before harvest, the farmer sprays the cotton “bolls” with glyphosate. He has no reason to invest the extra cash in the GMO plants, if he doesn’t intend to use glyphosate. He sprays the fields just before harvest to reduce the weeds that grew over prior weeks. This clearing operation prepares his field for the next crop in rotation. If it’s GMO (the plant), then the whole rotation is based on glyphosate (the most toxic biocide ever). Google glyphosate + tampon to review Monsanto’s patent.
The glyphosate moleucle is highly polar, and highly soluble in pure water. If you’re using the old fashioned method, with yoga shorts and simple cotton towels folded as pads, like your grandmothers did for 1000s of years, and organic cotton cloth is not available or is cost pronibitive, just rinse any cotton towels in hot water before use. No need for detergents, which can have cancer causing chemicals as well. During your flow, gather the damp towels in a small plastic bag or wash tub. When the flow ends, rinse the towels in plain water, but do not discard the rinse water. Take the rinse water out to your garden or compost pile if you have one. Basically return “it” (hundreds of terrabytes of useful biological feedback information about your entire feminine body and general health) to the “terroir” of the surrounding Mother Earth that grounds and protects you. It’s a farily complicated topic called pleomorphism, which I won’t belabor, but when you do this, you create an important feedback loop with mother nature. You create a connection with Mother Earth that will slowly increase the health and fertility of your garden soil, the plants in your garden, and you and your family.
You can also use a natural sponge
Mary O'Neill-Winston says
I used a diaper service that supplied everything – cloth diapers, diaper covers, diaper pail and scented odor control. And best of all it was reasonably-priced.
Christabella J says
O wow….I gotta find these!
What about incontinence? There’s no help with those. Too expensive to use one or two a day. :/
Silvia Logan says
I never use tampons. I always use sanitary pads, whenever I have my periods. My father does not want me to buy organic stuff, because he complains that it is too expensive.
I would never use diva cup or any silicone in my body. Silicone is a known adjuvant. The shell of my breast implants were made out of silicone and I nearly lost my life. I’m still fighting to regain my health.
I would love to try the organic pads or the cloth ones.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
Look into sea sponges. I’ve felt so much relief and peace about this natural alternative to menstrual management since I started using them. Learning curve just like with tampons, but so worth it.
Nancy Jenkins says
I am wondering about Incontinence diapers and pads, how safe they are? Is there alternative like those with periods have for those that have incontinance?
Nancy, what I did, was take cloth diaper inserts from when my two Littles were in cloth diapers and repurposed it for my monthly cycle… Organic cotton and wash them of course, but it works!
Love ya Ty but this article probably should have been submitted under your wife’s name…more appropriate. Anyway the main thing I think a person should walk away with is the fact that sanitary pads are a safer non-toxic and more logical choice than tampons. If I had to put something internal then I would use organic; otherwise most people will not due to the cost. Usually you want to keep blood in your body but not this blood. It is meant to flow out of the body and a pad is the way to go. Extreme bleeding would indicate to me there is an hormonal issue that should be addressed or that you are using birth control which negatively will affect your body. Re: baby diapers- a big mistake when women quit using cloth diapers. You simply wash them w/gentle detergent. No rash – no toxicity. Don’t listen to the blah blah that your washed diaper is not safe enough. The soiled ones rinse in the toilet first or double rinse in machine. The padded diapers I would only use if traveling temporarily. I know what you might be saying- daycare doesn’t allow cloth diapers. What better reason to stay home & attend to those children God gave you? Their health & livelihood should be your priority. Too many women who CAN stay home don’t want too & I don’t think there’s any remedy for that.
Rose-Marie Edwards says
Are there any suppliers for organic depends!
what about toilet paper? I am sure there are chemicals and a bleaching process as well!
You can buy cloth pads online. Many sites available
Or cloth diaper!
Naomi D'Cunha says
Interestingly just this year I developed an allergic sensitivity to non-organic pads where each time I used one I would get a red itchy rash. Definitely not what any girl wants in that area!! Doesn’t happen with organic pads. Don’t know what to do with my small stock of non-organic pads now as would hate to pass them on and cause those symptoms to anyone else. I thought maybe the manufacturers had changed the source of their cotton and it is laced in pesticides?
Mary Smith says
Why would women be uncomfortable talking about this? It’s a part of our monthly rythym. Saying that women are uncomfortable talking about it is strange and degrading. It is a natural part of our biology.
Check out the website Lola! Feminine product.
When I did have my period, it was rather heavy (I am now a senior citizen) . I needed to wear 2 tampons-one on top pf another- AND a napkin on my first 2 days. and still change every 4/5 hours. Who knew all this monsanto stuff in the 60s and 70s?My period was so heavy I would get an unexplainable craving for liverwurst sandwiches the day before my period..it took me years to figure out that probably it was just my body’s natural ” wisdom” to get the nutrition it needed!!. I just hope that when I used these tampons then, it was much more safe.
Anyway, at home or at night, I would let everything flow freely. In the old days, we just used old soft ratty towels that we folded and then pinned with safety pins to an old, ratty undie.Yes, it was a pain to have to wash a stained towel but I solved that problem by just tossing it in the shower in the morning and just washing it out in the warm water while I showered. Washed the indie too. Hang it up in the morning and it is dry and ready to use again that night. I would be wary of the silicone cups I am hearing about. Is silicone a safe plastic to use in the body? As Ty writes, if it is not safe to put in your mouth, it is probably not safe to put next to your skin? I would do more research on those products before using them, And always always remove them at night and let your body be aired out and cleansed at night. That’s my motto.
Wendy Field says
What is a silicone cup and what does it look like and where do you get them? I am in the UK.
Does anyone know of a cloth option for incontinence pads
Corinne Dashjr says
I am so grateful to a friend for introducing me to these washable pads. I used disposable Always and other pads and pantiliners for years (what a money drain!) before buying this set last year, and it has lasted me all of last year and this year. After having another baby in November 2015 and using the pads from the hospital, it was such a relief to start using these more comfortable washable pads again! I don’t see the exact same set I bought but this page has more options from more sellers: https://www.etsy.com/search?q=washable%20feminine%20pads Mine button on the underside of my underwear and they last longer and keep their shape better if air dried after washing instead of putting them in the dryer.
Reverend Darlene Engebretsen says
Here is a much cheaper alternative to expensive organic pads and tampons. Buy several organic washcloths to use as pads. Don’t use them for anything else. Wash them as needed. PERIOD! ( Pun intended. ) They aren’t as convenient as the commercial pads, but this method is still a lot better than having toxic junk on your skin.
What about menstrual underwear like thinx? Are those safe to use?
Stephanie D. says
I’m surprised this article didn’t mention natural sea sponge as a tampon alternative. I’ve been a diva cup user for almost 10 years and will never touch a tampon again. I’ve had a few people tell me that due to a tilted uterus, they cannot use a menstrual cup. A sea sponge may be messier to clean but would certainly be a great alternative in these cases.
Just got ladycup. Wish I had found this option 30 years ago….no leaking, no smell, no discomfort, environmentally friendly, and now I read that its better for my health. I’ll never buy another box of tampons again!
Christy Kane says
Thanks Mary Smith! I agree. I have never had a problem discussing this subject. Actually, I can surprise people with my casual talk and comfort on the topic. Also, thank you Ty for the article. I wish I knew years ago that women have so many options and that there are so many health concerns over the toxic items we’re using.
Nathalie Fortin says
But menstrual cup is really dangerous cause if you hold back blood in some hermetic way, you can get the toxic choc.
I’ve recently purchased an organic pads and panty liner brand through Target online. It’s called L Organic Regular Pads
Everything bad, poisonous or deadly for us is specially made and designed to be “cheap”. mcdonalds “dollar menu” is a perfect example. people dont understand the danger of saying “oh i could pay $20 for this meal at a real food join, or, i could buy like, 3 mcnuggets and 10 burgers for the same price!” organic products arent actually “expensive” they are normally priced for the product youre getting. its just that everything else is priced cheaper to make you buy them.
example: a car that requires no gas to drive, BUT, flood the cabin with carbon monoxide – $500 OR a car that gets 35 miles to the gallon and is rated #1 in top safety – $5000
sure, the second one SEEMS like its expensive, but its also a regular car that wont, oh i dunno, KILL YOU.
Clare Spontak says
When I taught in the inner city of Atlanta, I heard social workers year after year giving the puberty talk to girls as young as 2nd grade. One thing they made sure to stress to the girls was that tampons and pads are NOT reusable. I was shocked the first time I heard that, and asked one of the social workers why she felt it necessary to tell them something so obvious. She informed me that many of the girls’ mothers (who sport fake nails, expensive hair weaves, and have the latest iPhones) resent having to “waste their EBT money” buying tampons and pads for their daughters. So they convince the girls to hang the pads out to dry and re-use them.
This talk wasn’t unique to our school, as the social workers gave identical speeches all over a huge city-wide area. Clearly this was a widespread practice. Yet the article makes no mention of that reality.