Pads, tampons, wipes, and lubricated are advertised as being ‘for women’ frequently contain toxic chemicals known to cause cancers, reproductive harm, allergies and more. By choosing mainstream products, especially the brands that advertise heavily on TV, the internet, and in magazines aimed at teen girls and women, you will be absorbing a multitude of toxins through mucus membranes each month.
The feminine hygiene industry, much like the cosmetic industry, is largely unregulated- putting the burden of avoiding harmful products on you, the consumer.
What’s wrong with regular period products?
- Dioxins: Long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions. Chronic exposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in several types of cancer. Dioxins come from the chlorine bleaching of wood pulp and cotton. Lasts 14-20 years in the body, stored in fatty tissue.
- Polypropylene and propylene glycol (PEG): Hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, dryness and infertility.
- Fragrance: When you see the word “fragrance” on a product’s ingredient list, it could contain dozens of different undisclosed harmful ingredients.
- Pesticide Residues: Absorbed through mucus membranes, cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.
- Styrene: Known irritant, possible carcinogen.
- Chloromethane: In the past, chloromethane was widely used as a refrigerant, but refrigerators no longer use chloromethane because of its toxic effects. It is still found in feminine hygiene products.
- Chloroethane: Known to cause problems with the immune system and neurological system.
- Acetone: Irritant, neural toxicity.
- And more! This is not an exhaustive list of toxins found in name-brand (Always, Kotex, StayFree, Poise, Tampex, etc) period products.
What to look for on the labels of period products
Unfortunately, ingredients used within personal care products often are undisclosed. As we are becoming more educated to the toxins found in everyday items, we see better quality brands listing their ingredients and materials used in full transparency.
To be safe, unless the materials are disclosed, stay away!
Healthier alternatives exist, and in many cases, they are more effective along with being healthier and better for the planet.
Safe Alternatives to toxic period products
Thankfully there are many safe alternatives to toxic period products. Below we go over many different options. Most women choose a combination of 2-3 of these, such as a reusable cup with period underwear as a backup and disposable options for traveling.
Most frequently I use the Diva Cup and Period Panties.
Organic Pads (Disposable)
Natural pads, are used just like mainstream pads that you already are familiar with. Natural pads don’t have the irritating and potentially harmful toxins in them though! These eco-friendly alternatives are also better for farmers and the earth because the cotton used is organically grown.
Organic pads come in a variety of sizes and shapes to suit your needs.
Watch for: Some pads will have an organic cotton cover, but be filled with non-natural materials. Watch for brands that do not disclose all material contents.
Many pads contain a polymer inside to absorb moisture, just like mainstream diapers do. This may be preferred by you, but it’s not ‘natural’ and there really aren’t that many studies about these polymer beads and long-term contact between them and our mucus membranes.
Some recommended brands of organic disposable pads:
Organic Tampons (Disposable)
Organic tampons are easier to find than organic pads. They work the same as regular tampons, and come with and without applicators. Tampons are made fairly easily with just organic cotton, and natural tampons are made without using chlorine bleach or adding fragrances.
Where to buy Organic Tampons:
Period underwear is new on the market, and is a game changer! Stretchy, absorbent, leak-resistant and CUTE! High quality period underwear is a game changer for young girls getting their first periods, those who need good backup that doesn’t bunch and pull for a cup or tampon, and more!
Now that I’m expecting, I also am using period underwear for the slight leaks that come with sneezing ;) And I expect they will be fantastic postpartum as well!
How to use period underwear: Just like regular underwear, put them on in the morning. I check every couple hours for heavy days, or go all day on lighter days. You know you need to change when the underwear isn’t absorbing any more and you see some flow on the inside. Keep in a wet bag or plastic bag until laundry day, and then wash.
To wash: Run through a prewash with cold water, then wash with your regular clothes. Use hydrogen peroxide (1/4 cup directly on the inside of the underwear in the washer before water is added) if desired, but these wash clean with regular detergent.
How much to buy: Depending on your flow, period underwear can hold as much as a heavy pad. Start with 3; one for overnight, one for during the day, and one to wear while you wash. Washing every day gets old, so I recommend 10 pairs once you find a style and size that you like.
How long do they last? At least a year! I’m surprised at how well these hold up, with monthly use. My daughter and I have both been using them for a year and they still look brand new.
What to watch for: There are a lot of ‘period underwear’ options that are not absorbent, but are meant to be used with a pad or cup and help protect against accidental leaks. Watch for this if you want the kind that absorbs and contains flow without using anything else!
Also, there is some synthetic in the underwear (spandex and/or polyester) that may irritate some very sensitive people.
Where to buy Period Panties:
- Thinx brand includes Btwn (the young teen line) and Speax (the bladder leakage line). This is my favorite brand by far.
- Amazon has this 4period line that is not as good as Thinx, but still contains the absorbency we’re looking for.
Reusable Period Cups
Period cups are a tampon alternative that catch, rather than absorb, period flow.
Reusable menstrual cups, also known as a Moon Cup or Diva Cup, are soft silicone cups that fit inside the vagina around the cervix, and collect period blood. Rather than changing out like a tampon, menstrual cups are dumped into the toilet, rinsed, and re-inserted.
Cups stay in place really well, even when running, swimming, or otherwise being active! They are great because they hold quite a bit, so do well overnight also.
Cups come in 2-3 sizes per brand; one for young teens, one for those in their late teens-20s who have not had a vaginal childbirth, and the largest for those who are older than 30 and/or have had at least one vaginal childbirth.
Reusable cups are perfect for those who are comfortable with their bodies, love the reusable aspect of the cups, and have medium to heavy flow.
- Different cups are different softnesses, the Diva cup is most commonly known, but the Lena Cup is softer and many people prefer it.
- Don’t like how the cup feels? You shouldn’t be able to feel it most of the time. To get the correct fit, you may have to kegal it up to sit in place correctly! Insert cup as , then do a couple kegals, and the fit will be better.
- Clean after emptying with plain water. Warm water helps it to insert easier, as it warms up the silicone a bit. Clean after each cycle with hydrogen peroxide, by boiling, or by steaming.
Where to find Period Cups:
I used washable pads for years, with natural tampons and later a Diva Cup. Washable pads are great backup for other products, or to use on their own. Use just like regular pads, only instead of throwing them away, you’ll want to keep them in a wet bag (or ziplock if you’re in a pinch) until you can wash.
Recommended amount to purchase: Buy enough pads to skip a day or two doing laundry. If you estimate you’ll use 4 a day, you’ll want at least 16.
Your first month, I recommend trying a few different brands and sizes, one at a time, until you see what works for you, and then add to your collection. You’ll want some for heavy flow days, and some that are lighter and more of a panty liner to absorb spotting.
To wash: Pre-wash in cold, then wash as usual. Treat with hydrogen peroxide to remove stains, the blood will bubble right out and the fabric will not be bleached. I throw these in with my cloth diaper laundry if cloth diapering. Soaking really helps get cloth pads clean, and wet bags are used to keep them until laundry day, or transport from work or school.
What to look for in cloth pads:
PUL liner: This is the stretchy waterproof liner that keeps you from bleeding through. This is what most people want, but some, especially with light flow, prefer a 100% cotton pad with no waterproof liner.
A variety of sizes and thicknesses. I find that cloth pads bunch up a little, and so I prefer the kind that extend further toward the front and back, and have wings to stay put. You will want to try different options to see what works for you!
Where to find washable pads:
- GladRags has been around a long time, pioneering the reusable pad movement!
- Etsy is a great way to buy proven products and support homemade!
- Rael is available on Amazon
- Make your own if you’re handy with a sewing machine
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