Like it or loathe it, your period is going to be with you, or has been with you, for a while. And while many women don’t think too much about which feminine hygiene products they are using – I’m here to tell you that it’s really time that you do.
Let’s start with some numbers. The average age that girls start their period is 13. And, the average age of menopause is 51. That’s 38 years of menstruation. Let’s say that this average woman bleeds for five days each month – a total of 60 days/year. 60 days x 38 years = 2,280 days of bleeding. That is over six years total!!
Part 1: The Chemicals
Pads – In a study of 11 brands of menstrual pads, phthalates and xylene were detected in all of the brands; toluene in nine; and methylene chloride in two. These chemicals are used to make the pads thinner, more absorbent, sticky (backing), white and odour free. They can also alter a woman’s reproductive hormones, and have been linked to dizziness, skin irritation, allergic reactions, cancer and kidney and central nervous system damage.
Tampons – Conventionally made with cotton and rayon (which is from wood pulp), for some reason, tampons are white, although untreated cotton and rayon are not. This means that they are bleached, which causes dioxin as a by-product. Though it’s a very small amount, dioxin collects in fatty tissue, and trace levels can be linked to abnormal tissue growth in the abdomen and reproductive organs.
I recognized that the actual amount of chemicals found in conventional menstrual products is very small. And for many women, they are able to detoxify that amount with no negative effects. But not everyone is created equal, and some reproductive systems are significantly more sensitive to disruption than others. Chronic exposure to these chemicals reduces a natural antioxidant called glutathione, which is important for cleaning up the molecules that damage healthy cells. Do you know what else reduces glutathione? Acetaminophen (Tylenol). Now, let’s take a woman that has an eight-day periods instead of five. She has 11% more exposure to these chemicals. If she has bad cramps for the first three days of her eight-day period, takes Tylenol to deal with the pain, uses 5-10 tampons per day and super absorbent pads at night, she has a lot more going on, than a woman who has four light days of a painless period.
Part 2: The Environmental Impact
Tampons and pads wind up in landfills. Most likely wrapped in plastic bags which will keep them from biodegrading even longer. The average woman uses over 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. Close to 20 billion sanitary products are dumped in North American landfills every year. But, it’s not just the waste. A Life Cycle Assessment of tampons conducted by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, found that the production of plastic applicators as well as the plastic back strip of a pad, uses high amounts of fossil fuel generated energy. On top of this all, conventional cotton (not organic) uses more pesticides than any other crop.
Part 3: The Alternatives
My all-time favourite is a menstrual cup. Usually made of silicone or latex rubber. Shaped like a small oblong bowl, it fits inside the vagina snugly and collects menstrual blood throughout the day. It normally has to be emptied two to four times per day, though this varies depending on how heavy your flow is. It is washed with soap and water and then reinserted. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it means never running out of supplies and not having to have a bunch of different products/absorbencies. The initial cost is approximately $45 and they can be used for years and years before having to be replaced.
Organic cotton tampons and pads are also a great choice. They are unbleached and rayon free. The cotton is grown without the use of pesticides. These tampons are available with or without applicators (plastic free).
Reusable menstrual pads are just what they sound like – cloth pads that can be washed and re-worn. Brands like Lunapads have different sizes and designs.
All of the above are easily found in health foods stores. Diva cups, the most popular brand of menstrual cup, are available in most pharmacies.
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