Description: Feminine products are those used to catch menstrual flow, whether internally or externally. There are millions of women in the world who menstruate. Gone are the days of menstrual belts to which pads were attached, and forward marching is the freedom and flexibility provided by tampons and ingeniously designed “no leak” pads and panty liners. Unfortunately, there are many health risks associated with regular tampon use, and disposable pads and tampons account for an ever-growing amount of waste. For these reasons, it is important women learn about alternative feminine products, and the many healthy options that are available during the menstrual cycle.

Environmental Factors: The environmental ramifications of disposable feminine hygiene products are enormous. For example, of the millions of women who menstruate regularly, each menstruates approximately 30 years and has, on average, 360 periods within her lifetime. If each woman uses roughly 20 disposable menstrual products during each period, she will ultimately throw away 7,200 pieces of trash. If you multiply this number by the millions of women who purchase disposable products, the numbers become difficult to wrap one’s head around. Such figures also provide perspective about the incredible relevance of menstrual health to our population at large.

Health Factors: A healthy vagina is continually producing fluid mucus that flushes away dead cells and bacteria. At the same time, the walls of the vagina are themselves very absorbent and highly sensitive to anything foreign within its balanced environment. Cotton and rayon tampons are designed to be absorbent enough to minimize any chance that menstrual blood could exit the body. However, the absorbency of most tampons is strong enough to also leach moisture provided by the protective mucus that lines the vagina. This disruption to a woman’s normal vaginal pH balance can leave her more susceptible to infections and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by a bacterial toxin and has been associated with tampon use. Additionally, many bleached tampons contain trace amounts of a toxin called dioxin which has been known to cause cancer in animals. It has also been alleged that some manufacturers of tampons have allowed the presence of asbestos in tampons which promotes excessive bleeding and necessitates the use of increased numbers of tampons. It is for all these reasons that alternative feminine products are in growing demand.

What to look for: Choose organic products whenever possible. Consider this an investment in your health and well-being. Disposable tampons and menstrual pads are a simple way to incorporate organic menstrual products into one’s life. Also consider purchasing reusable, organic cloth pads and panty liners. Another wonderful replacement option for disposable tampons is the menstrual cup or the sea sponge. The menstrual cup is made of rubber or silicone; it is inserted into the vagina, where it sits just under the cervix and collects menstrual blood. The sea sponge is an absorbent sponge that also absorbs menstrual blood. Both the menstrual cup and sea sponge need to be regularly emptied and rinsed.

Uses: Monthly menstrual cycles and other needs, e.g., spotting, post-birth bleeding, surgery, etc.

Where to find: Health food stores, and other alternative markets, co-ops, and online sources.

Avoid: Bleached and rayon tampons that are known to contain dioxin. Also, avoid using tampons too thick for the flow of blood, which have a greater absorbency than the menstrual flow; i.e., if a woman is in the lightest part of her flow, she should not use a “super” absorbency tampon because it will unnecessarily dry the natural moisture of her vagina. Avoid products with added scents. Whenever possible, avoid disposable products.