How to Avoid Toxic Chemicals in Menstrual Care Products

Generally speaking, having your period gets a pretty bad rap.

menstrual pad

We associate “that time of the month” with mood swings, cramps and embarrassing mishaps. But to make matters worse, we now need to add “fear of slow or sudden poisoning” to that list, thanks to the very thing we need most: our menstrual care products.

Since our adolescence we have mostly taken for granted that the little wad of cotton we’re told to insert into our bodies regularly is healthy and safe for us. Unfortunately, like so many other modern conveniences, it turns out that tampons and other menstrual care products may be doing more harm than good. As outlined in our previous post, many of the major tampon brands have come under siege in recent years for causing everything from Toxic Shock Syndrome (aka TSS) to reproductive issues, immune system dysfunction and even cancer.

So why is this happening? The answer lies largely in toxic chemicals such as dioxin and chlorine bleach used to make tampons the bright white color that they are, because…why not bleach something that’s about to be soaked through in bodily fluids? And if that weren’t enough to freak you out, there have been traces of glyphosate (aka the active ingredient in Round-Up’s weed-killer) found in many mainstream cotton products, thanks to Monsanto’s controversial farming practices.

So what’s a healthy, menstruating person to do?

So what’s a healthy, menstruating person to do? Luckily, with all of this recent research comes options. Dozens of brands have emerged over the years — providing safer alternatives to the dangers of Tampax, Playtex and Kotex — in the form of unbleached and 100% organic tampons, pads, panty liners and wipes. If you opt for an applicator, brands like Public Goods, Kali and Lola use BPA free plastics to ensure that as few chemicals as possible come into contact with your most vulnerable body part.

But for those looking to nix disposable menstrual care all together, another option has arrived… we welcome: the menstrual cup.

While they’ve been around for a few years and are rapidly growing in popularity, menstrual cups still lag behind tampons as the leading choice for menstrual care. After decades of learning how to use tampons and pads, it can be strange and even scary to imagine a different way.

Menstrual cups are akin to a prophylactic diaphragm in the way that they are also a silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina, and acts as a fluid barrier. Rather than blocking semen coming into the vagina, the menstrual cup collects blood from the body, which can then be dumped when the cup is removed and cleaned. Unlike tampons, which should be changed every few hours, cups can safely last up to 12 hours depending on your flow and the size of the cup.

Beyond the joy of fewer changes, cups are more cost effective, offer little to no pH disruption, no odor and no leaks at all when properly inserted. And of course there is the obvious benefit to the planet by not creating waste, nor taxing cotton supplies.

So if after all of that, you still need convincing to switch to sustainable tampons or a menstrual cup, consider the fact that many brands, including Kali, Lola, Lena and Cora offer women’s health programming, education and menstrual care products to women in third world countries. And if convenience is your thing, these brands and more are part of a new, subscription-based trend in menstrual heath, where thoughtfully-packaged, safe products are delivered to your door.

Bio: Natalie Decleve is a bicoastal personal stylist and journalist specializing in living both sustainably and stylishly. Her global approach to style and commitment to the greater good are evident in her contributions to publications such as Mind Body GreenHarper’s Bazaar, SELF, Bon Appetit, A Hotel Life and her own site, Natty Style. Her natural philosophy on style is aimed at empowering her clients to look as authentically great on the outside as they feel on the inside. Follow @natty_style to get inspired.

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Comments (2)

  • Thank you so much for mentioning menstrual cups! They really are the best option if you have access to sanitary water to clean them, as most of us in the US do. I brought this up during the release of Public Goods’ pads and tampons (which I bought anyways because my work doesn’t have free ones and everyone deserves to not bleed against their wishes). When can we expect a Public Goods menstrual cup?

    • Hi Kat,

      Thank you for reading!

      Regarding the menstrual cup launch, I’ll try to get you an exact release date once we have one. For now I think it would be some time in 2020.

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