Menstrual stigma can have a wide range of effects on young girls and women and can even influence how we care for our bodies and the products we choose to use. As a young girl I remember learning about the two ways to capture my blood flow: pads or tampons. I used tampons more often when I was younger because they provided me the luxury of never having to touch or see my menstrual blood – a byproduct from menstrual taboos that made me feel like my blood was “gross.”
As I entered my late teens I began to take notice of how often I would experience vaginal irritation during menstruation. I was growing more comfortable with my menstrual blood so I made the switch over to pads. However, I still continued to experience irritation. Eventually I made the connection that the tampons and pads I was using were the clear culprits of my discomfort. Then and there I went to the local co-op and bought organic cloth pads and have never looked back.
There has been growing pressure by individuals and advocacy groups for manufacturers of tampons and pads (most notably Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark) to reveal a list of ingredients being put into their fem-care products – and subsequently into our bodies. Synthetic fibers, “fragrance,” colorants, adhesives, foam and polyolefin fibers are just a few of the ingredients listed. What is most concerning about this list is that it is not complete. We still do not know what types of chemicals are being used to make “fragrance” and the manufacturers are under no obligation to tell us. Not to mention, it is not clear what types of chemicals or pesticides are sprayed on the cotton used to make pads and tampons.
Why should women care about this?
Well, there are several reasons. First, irritation, rash and/or chronic infection can occur in women and girls who use these chemically laden products. Second, although the instance has lessened with the removal of super-absorbent tampons from the consumer market, Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a very serious health risk. In fact, a 13-year old girl recently died from a misdiagnosis of TSS after using tampons. TSS occurs when toxic bacteria enters the blood stream via the vagina and attacks your body. The onset is fast and, if left untreated, deadly.
Finally, our vagina and labia are incredibly vascular and filled with mucous membranes, which means they are permeable to bacteria and chemical molecules. So think of it like this: let’s say, on average you use two tampons and one pad a day over a 5-day menstrual cycle. This means you are exposing your labia, vagina and subsequently your bloodstream to chemicals 15 times per month (or 180 times per year). Extrapolate that out over the course of a woman’s average number of reproductive years (40) and you are exposing your body and reproductive organs to chemicals 7,200 times. That sounds like 7,200 reasons to make the switch to organic products and reusable fem-care products.
Other than the link to Toxic Shock Syndrome (and even that has been debated) there is no indisputable proof that synthetic fibers, fragrances and chemicals like those found in disposable pads and tampons are harmful to a woman’s health. But there is also no evidence to say they are not. And there, my friends, lies the problem. Manufacturers of these products do not have to prove their products are “safe” for consumer use and up until recently the ingredients used were not available to the public. Well, now you know.
Many of us are choosing to switch our food, household and beauty products over to organic because of the perceived health benefits. Why would we not put the same emphasis on the fem-care products we use? Empower yourself to make healthy decisions for you body by being an informed consumer.