FEMININE HYGIENE: A Natural Approach
Feminine hygiene products available to us today is completely different from the old and bulky sanitary pad belts that our moms grew up with. We have so many choices that it's important to know what's out there to be able to decide what's best for your body, your lifestyle, and ultimately, your health.
While conveniently not bulky, these popular little absorbency tools can be dangerous. Not only is there a concern of Toxic Shock Syndrome when leaving tampons in too long, but there are risks even when using tampons properly (e.g. choosing the right absorbency level, changing regularly, etc.). Pieces of the tampon can break off and remain in your vaginal canal - this can lead to inflammation and infection.
We also have to consider what's IN the tampon itself. This is something that is going to be in our bodies for 4-8 hours. Our vaginal tissues are sensitive and, as a mucous membrane, act as a route of absorption. We can absorb whatever these tampons are made of (good or bad), and that needs to be considered when choosing your tampons. Most are made of rayon and bleached with chemicals, which then creates
toxins as a by-product. Some even have added fragrances, which can irritate our vaginas even more. While these toxins are in trace amounts, if you're using tampon for 3-7 days every month for 40+ years, that can add up. I'm not here to tell you to never use tampons, but let's chat about what your options are when using them. Try alternating with pads or other sanitary products to give your body a break from the constant tampon use.
You can also reduce the burden on your body by using organic cotton-based tampons that are cleaner for you (and the planet - by avoiding the plastics!): some brands you can find are Naty, Natracare, or Seventh Generation. Above all, make sure that you're using them properly: change
them frequently (at least every 4-8 hours), and use the lowest absorbency level that your body needs that day.
These have come a very long way since our mothers and grandmothers use of them. While they may be convenient and effective, they now can pose some safety concerns. Many contain irritating fragrances, plastics, and bleached wood chips (the part that actually is absorbent). Like tampons, the bleaching process creates a by- product of dioxin which can be an endocrine disruptor (interfere with our normal
hormone pathways). Though it's less exposure and risk than tampons since it's not internal, it's still something to think about.
Other options to conventional sanitary pads include choosing ones that use unbleached organic cotton like Natracare, using reusable organic cotton cloth pads like Luna Pads or Hannah Pads, or even trying absorbable period panties like Thinx or Knix.
Despite a recent surge in popularity, menstrual cups have actually been around for over 80 years! They've changed in design and what they're made from, but the principle is the same: inserting a flexible cup into the vaginal canal to collect menstrual blood. This can be helpful to actually SEE what we're shedding - the colour, consistency, and especially QUANTITY can tell us a lot about our health.
When choosing a cup, make sure it is made from 100% medical-grade silicon that is NOT coloured/dyed. This is a material that is inert (which means it doesn't react chemically), doesn't leach chemicals, and is resistant to bacterial growth (but not totally impervious to - so make sure to change and clean your cup properly).
Menstrual cups come in different sizes, so make sure you get the one that's right for you (e.g. women who have given birth may seek the larger size). They can be tricky at first and may leak if they're not inserted properly, so make sure to read all the instructions for both use and care/cleaning of the cup. Some brands that can get you started are The Diva Cup, Lunette Cup, or even Tampax now makes a cup.
When choosing the right feminine hygiene products and routine for you, there are many factors to consider: cost, convenience, health consequences, and environmental impact. There are more sustainable and healthful options out there today than there ever has been, but navigating these waters can be confusing. Reach out to your Naturopathic Doctor to find out which forms might fit your period best.