Hygiene Plus Green

Natural products can help women protect their bodies and the environment.

Irritability, bloating and fatigue; many women dread receiving Mother Nature’s monthly gift. The good news is that they can fret less thanks to natural and organic feminine hygiene products. They let women use the types of products with which they are comfortable, without the worry of introducing harmful pollutants into their bodies and the environment (1).

Feminine Hygiene without the Risk
Why are so many women trading in traditional pads and tampons for those that are organic and natural? Well, they are devoid of chemicals thanks to organic cotton. They also are gentler on the body because they do not contain rayon, plastic or wood cellulose. Rayon is typically used in traditional tampons and wood pulp is commonly found in pads for absorbency—two substances many women want to avoid (2). In fact, one natural brand was developed in response to growing environmental concerns surrounding the use of rayon, the overuse of pesticide sprays in cotton crops and dioxin pollution from chlorine bleach (1).

Of note, dioxin has been linked to serious heath problems, including cancer. In 1992, a Congressional subcommittee discovered an exchange of memos in which U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists reported finding trace levels of dioxins in tampons. According to a magazine for vegans, “Dioxin is 10 times more likely to cause cancer than was believed in 1994, says the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)], and a lifetime of exposure to tampons, in particular, can mean a significant accumulation of toxins in a woman’s body and many non-cancer effects, including birth defects and child developmental delays” (3). In fact, the chlorine dioxide used to whiten cotton can “theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels,” stated FDA (3). Although the chlorine bleaching of pads and tampons has become somewhat safer since the 1990s, the EPA notes that there is no safe dioxin exposure level. Over the course of her life, a woman may use 11,000 tampons, equalling a dangerous amount of dioxin exposure (1).

Traditional tampons may also cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare, but serious condition that is associated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and can have lethal effects on the body. In the 1970s and 1980s, more than 50 women died from TSS and over 1,000 contracted it. The outbreak was caused by the use of synthetic fibers in tampons, including viscous rayon. You may be shocked to know that this material is still used today in some traditional tampons (2).

Nowadays, however, TSS occurs less frequently with the use of 100% cotton products. But, most of the traditional cotton in the United States is pesticide laden, further compromising the health of the women who use them. If you are asking yourself how this could happen, the answer is quite simple: many women are mislead by the “natural” look of conventional feminine hygiene products because of their packaging.

It gets deeper; a study by waste consultant Franklin Associates indicated “6.5 billion tampons and 13.5 billion sanitary pads, plus their packaging, [end up] in U.S. landfills or sewer systems each year” (3). And, volunteers from Ocean Conservancy found more than 170,000 tampon applicators along American coastlines during a study conducted over a two-year time span.

Pick Your Product
The following is a smattering of safe, environmentally friendly feminine hygiene products:
• Menstrual cups are inserted internally to catch the menstrual flow (2). Some are disposable, while other popular varieties can be reused for years. Cups are made of silicone and rubber, which are gentle on the body’s mucous membranes. Some brands can be worn for six to 12 hours, then emptied, cleaned and reinserted (1).
• Menstrual pads are available in disposable and reusable choices. Many women like them because of the comfort and softness organic cotton offers. Just like traditional pads, they are available in varieties for light and heavier flow (1, 2). Liners are another alternative, with postpartum absorbancies also available.
• Organic tampons, both with and without applicators in a variety of absorbencies, are popular, too.
Given these selections, women will have no trouble protecting their bodies and the environment. WF

1. J. Newell Health, “Going Green with Feminine Hygiene,” www.healthnews.com/family-health/womens-health/going-green-feminine-hygiene-1107.html, accessed March 25, 2010.
2. J.M. Chua, “Go with the Flow,” http://planetgreen.discovery.com/food-health/go-with-the-flow.html, accessed March 25, 2010.
3. VegFamily, www.vegfamily.com/earthtalk/feminine-hygiene-products.htm, accessed April 12, 2010.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2010