Last April, Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon—and no, she didn’t win the race, but people were talking about her story for months after the event.
It wasn’t that she broke a world record, or hobbled across the finish line after suffering a debilitating injury. Gandhi became a trending topic on Twitter simply because she decided not to use a tampon during her 26.2-mile run.
Her choice ignited a lot of outcry all over the internet—some people were disgusted, some empowered, and more than a few just didn’t see why using tampons or pads is such a big deal.
Most women have an opinion on feminine hygiene products, if simply for the reason that they have a lot of experience with them. In her life, the average American woman uses around 16,800 tampons. But for an item that half of the population relies on for one week a month, feminine hygiene products could contain some seriously harmful ingredients. It’s enough to leave some women questioning: “Do I need to be wary of what I’m putting in my body?” Here's what you need to know to best take care of your body during that time of the month.
Dangerous chemicals lurking in tampons and pads
The two most common options for women to use during their flow are sanitary pads and tampons. Both contain ingredients that can be concerning, to say the least. The brands that line most drugstore aisles contain synthetic materials like polypropylene, polyethylene, surfactants, perfumes, and polyacrylate super absorbents as well as chlorine bleached cotton. All of these additives can cause inflammation, disrupt hormones, and cause allergic reactions, which can be crazy uncomfortable and even lead to more serious issues like bacterial vaginosis. Even worse: Makers of pads and tampons aren't required to label what's inside their products, which makes it even more challenging for consumers to make informed choices.
Because the tissue in these areas is so sensitive, chemicals can leech through the skin into the blood. A study from George Washington University linked the use of tampons and sanitary napkins to elevated levels of diethyl phthalate, an industrial chemical that has adverse health effects and has been proven to disrupt reproductive and thyroid hormones. Plus, the fragrances and plastics in conventional feminine products trap heat and moisture, encouraging the growth of bacteria and yeast. We’ll pass, thanks.
They affect your carbon footprint—a lot
Conventional tampons and pads can have a nasty affect on sensitive tissues, but if that isn’t enough reason to switch to alternative methods, consider the effect on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average woman creates 62,415 pounds of garbage thanks to Aunt Flo. Plus, conventional feminine hygiene products are made with rayon, a recycled wood pulp, which can’t be recycled once it's used.
Green options are everywhere
Fortunately, you don't have to bleed freely like Kiran Gandhi in order to avert the toxic effects of feminine hygiene products. Look for tampons and pads that contain organic, non-bleached cotton if you prefer more traditional options. To keep things eco-friendly, try the Diva Cup, a reusable bell-shaped silicone cup used internally to protect against spills and leaks.
Having your period can suck, but it doesn't have to be detrimental to your health and the environment. Step out of your comfort zone and try an alternative option—you might be surprised at the outcome!
Illustration by Katherine Prendergast