Feminine Hygiene

April 3, 2008

Responsible Choices for Feminine Hygiene Products

by Hayley Riach


Menstruation has been viewed as a taboo in many cultures since early history. However, some cultures choose to understand natural female cycles in a different way – with understanding, sometimes jealousy, and even reverence. The following are some examples of perspectives Westerners may benefit from.

An elder from the Beng people of Ivory Coast, Africa is quoted, “Menstrual blood is special because it carries in it a living being. It works like a tree. Before bearing fruit, a tree must first bear flowers. Menstrual blood is like the flower: it must emerge before the fruit – the baby – can be born. Childbirth is like a tree finally bearing its fruit, which the woman then gathers.”

Women of the Yurok tribe of Northern California isolate themselves from others during their cycle. This is done because “a woman that is menstruating is very powerful…she should not waste her energy on every day matters, or concern herself with members of the opposite sex….All of her energy should go toward the purpose of her life, and the gathering of her spiritual energy.”1


Most women of the past did not use any type of feminine hygiene products to inhibit flow. Long skirts may have been worn to hide menstrual blood that was allowed to flow down the legs. Before the 1900s women did not bathe or do laundry as frequently as we do now. They found it disgusting to dirty their loose briefs with menstrual fluids.2

However, there are examples of knitted cotton pads that were affixed to undergarments with a snap or were held in place by fabric attached to a belt worn around the waste. Examples exist from the 1890s.

Mass production of tampons began in the 1940’-50’s with companies such as Johnson and Johnson. Little care went into safety of the product in a highly industrialized era.3

It wasn’t until recently, the 1990’s, that companies were even asked to provide an ingredients list on products. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney introduced the Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1999, which called for “independent research to determine the extent to which the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other additives in tampons and related menstruation products pose any health risks to women”.

Thoroughly Avoid

Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins, or PCDDs, commonly known as dioxins, are significant environmental pollutants. Dioxins are released into the environment through burning in the presence of chlorine, sprayed onto crops via herbicides, and through bleaching fibers with chlorine, such as the cotton used in mass produced tampons.

“In humans the highly chlorinated dioxins are stored in fatty tissues and are neither readily metabolized or excreted.” Dioxins are thought to be three times more prevalent now than in pre-industrialized times. They can be found frozen in the upper atmosphere, they have climbed the food chain, and they are now found in all humans.

This family of chemicals is “shown to bioaccumulate in humans and wildlife due to their lipophylic properties, and are known teratogens, mutagens, and suspected carcinogens.” In other words Dioxins cause birth defects, malformations, permanently alter DNA, and possibly cause cancer. Other effects of Dioxin include: central and peripheral nervous system disease, thyroid disorders, damage to the immune system, endometriosis, diabetes, and problems with development of enamel on children’s teeth.5

Synthetic Fibers such as rayon should also be avoided when purchasing disposable tampons. Rayon contains polyethelene (a caustic chemical also found in oven cleaners) and polyester, which are suspected contributing factors of TSS. Almost all synthetic fibers are produced with chemicals that are damaging to the environment. Any mass-market product that advertises phrases such as “dri-weave top sheet” or “super absorbent layer” likely contains plastic material.

Conventionally grown cotton is one of the most pesticide laden products available. According to “the Sustainable Cotton Project in California, nearly one-third of a pound of chemicals is used to make one cotton T-shirt.”6 The chemicals in pesticides (one being dioxins) have a devastating effect on the environment. These chemicals disrupt normal human and animal hormone functions in the brain and body.


The Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1999 found that 73,000,000 women in the United States use tampons, and the average woman may use 16,800 tampons in her lifetime. The National Women’s Health Network states that twelve billion pads and 7 million tampons pollute landfills annually in the US.7 The plastic applicators are non biodegradeable and often end up polluting beaches when flushed.

Basics of Responsible Choices for Feminine Hygiene Products

If you must purchase disposable products, try to choose companies that provide biodegradeable products and by-products (packaging).

Choose products made from natural organic (no pesticides) fibers.

Choose products that do not use Chlorine or Organo-Chlorine in the bleaching process. A safe alternative whitener is Hydrogen Peroxide.

Try to avoid dyed materials. Only a small percentage of dyes used in the textile industry are environmentally safe.

Avoid menstrual cups made from polyethylene, a chemical compound often found in oven cleaners.

Please check out the following chart for specific brands that most closely meet the above criteria.

My Recommendations

I experimented with a few of the products on the chart, the Diva Cup, Natracare tampons and pads, and Seventh Generation tampons. The Menstrual Cups are a great idea, however they will probably not work for you if you have a tilted cervix. Also, make sure you purchase the right size! There are two different sizes available, one for before pregnancy and one for after pregnancy.

The Seventh Generation products functioned well. The packaging is great except for a small amount of clear plastic that encases the tampon. The company is trying to switch to 100% recyclable packaging.

NatraCare is a superior product when it comes to healthy, natural disposable tampons. They are worth the extra buck.

I plan on making my own washable pads very soon. I can’t think of a better way to honor ones shelter…our own bodies and mother earth…than through the experiential understanding one would gain from making, and maintaining our own feminine hygiene products.


1 Feminine Hygiene. From Rentokil Initial Research and Development. Retrieved Jan. 5,

2008 from <http://www.riresearch.


2 From Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2008 From


3 Norwegian Knitted Pads. From Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.

Retrieved Jan. 8, 2008 From <http://www.mum.org>

4 Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1999, 5H.R. 890. From Thomas Library of

Congress. Retrieved Jan. 24, 2008 From <http://thomas.loc.gov/>

5 Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins. (2008, Jan. 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Retrieved Jan. 24, 2008, from



6 Toxic Shock! How Safe are Feminine Hygiene Products? (July 1, 1997). The Free

Library by Farlex. Retrieved Jan. 24, 2008 From <http://www.thefreelibrary.com>

7 Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1999, 5H.R. 890. From Thomas Library of

Congress. Retrieved Jan. 24, 2008 From http://thomas.loc.gov/



Disposable Organic Cotton Tampons & Pads

Product: Natra Care

Health: organic cotton, rayon-free, non-chlorine bleached, no perfumes or dyes

Environmental Impact: organic cotton, 100% recycleable, biodegradable applicator, no dioxins

Absorbabcy: regular abs. 8 grams

Cost: 16 ct $6.75

Product: Seventh Generation

Health: organic cotton, rayon-free, non-chlorine bleached, no perfumes or dyes

Environmental Impact: organic cotton, 90% recycleable packaging, no dioxins

Absorbancy: regular abs 6-9 grams

Cost: 20 ct $14.95

Sea Sponge Tampons

Product: Jade and Pearl Sea Pearls

Health: no synthetics, no dioxins, textured like vaginal walls

Environmental Impact: sustainably harvested, lasts approx. 6 months, can be boiled & re-used for other purposes

Absorbancy: 6-9 grams (or insert 2 @ one time)

Cost: 2 sponges $9.95

Organic Washable Cloth Pads

Product: Glad Rags

Health: Organic cotton, no dioxins, breathable, friendly dyes

Environmental Impact: re-usable, approx. life 5 years

Absorbency: adjustable, use 1 or 2 inserts

Cost: $190 full cycle

Product: Luna Pads

Health: only cream color is organic cotton

Environmental Impact: re-usable, approx. life 3-9 yrs.

Absorbency: varied thickness options

Cost: $18.99/day

Product: Many Moons Alternatives

Health: organic, undyed cotton

Environmental Impact: re-usable, approx. life 5 yrs.

Absorbency: adjustable, use 1 or 2 inserts

Cost: 6 pk + 12 liners $60.00

Product: Make Your Own!

Health: use friendly or very used materials

Environmental Impact: use old wash rags, recycled materials, lasts up to 5 yrs

Absorbency: create your own absorbency with custom thickness

Cost: your time

Menstrual Cups

Product: Diva Cup

Health: materials: latex-free silicone, medical grade

Environmental Impact: lasts many years

Absorbency: holds 2-4 oz. fluid

Cost: $37.50

Product: Moon Cup

Health: materials: silicone rubber, medical grade

Environmental Impact: approx. life 10 yrs.

Absorbency: holds 30 ml

Cost: $35.00

Product: The Keeper

Health: materials: latex

Environmental Impact: approx. life 10 yrs

Absorbency: holds 30 ml

Cost: $35.00

* The above information was collected from company websites and healthfood stores. Feel free to contact me if you have additional or more accurate information than the above. Hayley Riach, Heylich@hotmail.com. See other pages (above) for personal experience & recommendations.


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