I’m actually really excited about this topic. Which seems weird, I know. But I’ve recently received a few questions on this subject, and I love when I not only have an answer, but a really good solution! But first, let’s start with the problem.
Feminine products are, of course, made mostly of cotton. And cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop. Originally developed as toxic nerve agents during the second World War, organophospates, along with the similar carbamate pesticides, make up the most commonly used cotton sprays, such as aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos, parathion and endosulfan.
Looking just at aldicarb, one drop absorbed through the skin could kill a man, yet it is still the second best-selling cotton insecticide (and, not surprisingly, 16 U.S. states have reported it being found in their groundwater). In fact, among the top ten most commonly used insecticides for cotton production, three rank as the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health as determined by the World Health Organization. Six of the remaining seven are classified as moderately to highly hazardous.
(Although I am focusing primarily on health concerns from cotton products, the environmental toll from conventional (non-organic) cotton production is breathtaking, not to mention the humanitarian concerns for workers and children, especially in other countries.)
The residual/ retained toxins in cotton are worrisome enough in clothes and cotton products like swabs and cosmetic rounds, but it is downright scary to consider placing these toxins against such absorbent parts of the body as your vulva or the inside of your vagina!
There are other chemicals to be concerned about, as well. At least trace amounts of dioxin (a known carcinogen linked to cervical cancer, breast cancer, endometriosis, and immune system suppression) are present in all non-organic disposable pads and tampons. Conventional brands are also bleached. Because manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients on the label, you don’t really know what you are putting in contact with your most sensitive tissues. Rayon, which is often blended with the cotton, can contain its own questionable chemicals.
Doesn’t it make sense that prolonged exposure and absorption of these poisons could contribute to the rise in issues such as PCOS, infertility, or even just extra cramping and bleeding? In fact, many feel that avoiding exposure to these chemicals in such a sensitive area could lead to reduced pain and bleeding. Personally, I feel the duration of my periods has shortened, and I’m impatiently looking forward to experiencing less menstrual pain!
And don’t get me started on the fragrances…
Before I go into what works for me, consider this: Even if the rest of this section loses you, you should at the very least switch to organic cotton menstrual pads and liners, even if disposable. You can find them among the selection here. (The only ones I’ve personally tried are NatraCare pantyliners, and I did not care for them. Very linty.)
OK. The solution I’ve come to use, and love, are cloth organic cotton pads (sometimes called mama cloth). Yes, cloth. As in, reusable.
I know this seems odd to many of you, and even gross. But have an open mind.
First of all, these are so comfortable to wear. Many women I know are sensitive to the chemicals used in disposable pads and liners. These are free of those nasty irritants, and very soft and absorbent. (They are particularly nice for new moms using them for postpartum care.)
Secondly, they really work. I haven’t had any issues with leaking, even at night. Actually, I really haven’t had any issues at all.
And finally, the environmental benefits of giving up disposables are obvious! I regret the years of products (and money) thrown into the garbage!
Now, some things that might be considered negatives:
*They are bulkier than thin disposable maxi pads. This hasn’t been an issue for me, although I am conscious of it and don’t wear particularly thin fabrics clinging to my tushie while I’m using them. I actually prefer the feeling of these, as it feels very secure to me.
*Obviously, they need to be washed, and stored until that time. See the ‘how-to’ below.
*Unless you’re made of money, you’ll probably buy a limited amount and may need to wash mid-cycle. This really isn’t a big deal but does require more coordination than just buying extra packages of disposable pads.
I chose Sckoon brand organic cloth menstrual pads (they can found among this search), but most brands work the same way.
They are comprised of a “pad,” which snaps to your panties, and a “sheet” which is folded and fits into the pad to be held in place. On most days, you would change just the sheet as the day goes on, and not the pad.
While this may be common sense to most of you, I will explain it to you like you’re an idiot. Because I am an idiot. And it took me a few tries to figure this out.
The pads are available in pretty patterns. (Often, you can find “bundle” deals on Amazon for lower prices if you don’t mind not picking a specific fabric. This is how I bought my stock.) The fabric pattern is placed down, facing your panties. This allows the little pockets (or bands, depending on the brand) to face up to hold the sheet against you.
The sheet can be folded in thirds or fourths, depending on the brand and your preference. Often, you don’t even need change the sheet through the day, but just need to fold it in a different way to have a clean section available on top. Make sense?
Storing & Washing
There are a few ways to store your used but not-yet-washed pads and cloths. At first, I used a large, lidded plastic container under my bathroom sink. It was about half-full with water, and I added a few drops of tea tree oil to keep bacteria growth at bay. This worked well for me for a while, but then I would sort of forget to wash the pads for a while… and, well, it wasn’t good. So I think this solution works for those who will be very diligent in washing promptly.
This summer, we’ve been traveling a lot. So when these trips coincided with my period, I would use a wet-bag for storage. Those of you who cloth-diaper will know what this is; it is basically a zippered, water-proof bag. They are designed to contain not just messes but also odor, and work very well. I now use the wet-bag for storage all the time. (I just throw it in the wash with the pads and liners.)
The pads and sheets are very easy to wash. Simply wash separately with mild detergent (stay tuned as we finish the Non-Toxic Home Care series for recommendations) in warm or hot water. (Keep in mind that hot water will set iron (blood) stains.) I use a second rinse cycle when I wash mine to make sure that any detergent residue is rinsed away. They can be machine or line dried.
I would recommend buying just one or two pieces to see if you like them, and then figuring out what kind of stock you need. My cycle is typically very heavy for the first day and a half to two days, and then moderate for a few days following. As I mentioned above, I do feel like my cycle is getting shorter. Here is what works for me:
Sckoon nighttime pad (comes with a sheet)
Tampons themselves can be of concern, organic or not. The most common health risk associated with tampons is toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Experts believe TSS is underreported. Tampons are not sterile and are very drying to delicate to vaginal tissue. This makes it possible for small sores or tears to develop, which in turn allows bacteria to enter the body. This overdrying and lack of breathability can also lead to bacterial vaginosis, or yeast or other vaginal infections.
If you do choose to use disposable tampons, I feel it is imperative that they be organic and chlorine-free. I mean, you are practically ingesting them!
Believe it or not, I’ve heard you can buy cloth tampons (I don’t have a source to recommend) and many people make their own! Check out this site for sewing ideas and this one for knitting. (Of course, these types do not have applicators. And please make sure you use organic/ toxin-free cloth or yarn!)
Many people find success with other insertable devices, often called “cups.” I have no experience with these, but here are some options:
(You have to admit these pictures are pretty convincing. Oh, they’re not what you think.)
Personally, I still have concerns about materials placed inside your body. Make sure you are comfortable with that idea, and note which cups contain latex, if you are sensitive.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to make a change?
Update: Make sure to check out the Comments below for some more great recommendations!
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