The Case for Natural Feminine Hygiene

Why natural/organic feminine hygiene products are the best choice for your shoppers.

Written By:
Henna Kathiya
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Many Americans recycle, carry reusable bags and use reusable water bottles. What else can consumers do to protect the environment Well, women can play a special role in conservation if they choose green menstruation products. The market for eco-friendly feminine hygiene products—be they disposable (but organic) or reusable products—is evolving and ever-changing to better meet women’s needs.

Reusable Products
When the word reusable comes to mind, feminine hygiene may not be the first thing women think of. That’s exactly why retailers should showcase such items to remind shoppers that there are numerous products on the market that serve as reasonable, if not preferable, alternatives to traditional ones. While these natural products, such as washable cloth menstrual pads and reusable menstrual cups, are not for everyone, those who have switched to eco-friendly options are typically pleased with the results. Reusable products can save money over time, too.

Tampons may not seem like an obvious item to reuse, but it can be done with the right material. For instance, sea sponge extracted from the ocean floor is about as natural as you can get. When made into an applicator-free tampon, the sponge can be rinsed every few hours and reinserted. It should be cleaned and air dried regularly, and can be reused for several months. They’re biodegradable when ready for disposal. While all sea sponge tampons will reduce waste, you can make the most ecologically sound purchase by finding sponges that are sustainably harvested.

As cloth baby diapers are making a comeback, the same can be said for cloth menstrual pads and liners. Considering the waste from disposable pads, cloth products are a great choice. The pads can be washed and reused, and while the initial investment may be more than disposables, quite a bit of money is saved in time. One manufacturer estamines a cost-savings of $200 per year (1).

Many women like reusable pads for their softness and comfort; pads are often made from cotton or hemp and are free from chemicals found in traditional disposable pads. Absorbant inserts allow for airflow, which reduces irritation and eliminates odor (1). If clients are worried about cleaning soiled pads, tell them to try storing used pads in a water-filled container to soak. This may help stains from setting in until they can be washed. The process is easy and prevents the waste and discomfort that most women find with traditional disposable pads and liners.

The last category of reusable natural alternatives to traditional menstrual products is the cup. These small, bell-shaped cups can be inserted into the vagina to catch the menstrual flow. Though disposable cups are available, the most popular eco-friendly type is the reusable kind that can last up to a year (2). This depends, however, on a woman’s vaginal pH, how the cup is cleaned, the cleansing agent and other factors (2). Such cups are made of rubber or silicone. Women tend to like their comfort, easy clean-up and eco-friendliness.

Organic Disposables
If reusable is not the route your shoppers prefer, several eco-friendly disposable products are available. The fibers used to make traditional tampons (cotton and rayon) and pads (processed wood pulp) are usually bleached with chlorine. Chlorine bleaching is a source of dioxin, a known carcinogen that can also, with prolonged exposure, cause endometriosis. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration asserts that the amount of dioxin present in today’s tampons is negligible; however, experts counter that dioxin in tampons is still a concern, as it comes in contact with the most absorbent tissue in the body. Plus, no matter how you look at it, chlorine is harmful to the environment (3).

This is why organic pads and tampons are a better option for not only the environment, but also for health. Choosing organic tampons or pads will help reduce the environmental damage caused by the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the farming of conventional cotton. Many organic products are unbleached or non-chlorine bleached.

A lot of women are unaware of the health risks often associated with tampon use. With conventional tampons, a common problem is that the body naturally dispels the fibers. Most common tampons are made with rayon, which is a straight, smooth fiber made from wood pulp. These smooth fibers have little integrity, so they slide apart more easily when wet. To avoid fiber loss, it is best to stay away from feminine hygiene products made from synthetic fibers that have chemicals in them and choose organic tampons (4). Such products also don’t produce toxins that are associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). WF

References
1. “The Willow Difference,” information provided by WillowPads.
2. DivaCup, www.divacup.com, accessed Feb. 17, 2011.
3. “Choose Organic Tampons or Organic Pads,” www.greenyour.com/body/personal-care/feminine-hygiene/tips/choose-organic-tampons-or-organic-pads?subject=9133, accessed Feb. 17, 2011.
4. Natracare, “Fibre Loss in Tampons,” Jan. 14, 2011,www.natracare.com/p112/en-GB/Your-Health/Fibre-Loss.aspx, accessed Feb. 17, 2011.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2011