More than 10 years ago, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) sponsored a bill in the US House of Representatives "to provide for research to determine the extent to which the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other additives in tampons and similar products ... pose any risks to the health of women."
The bill never became law. In fact, it never even came to a vote.
After that effort to evaluate ingredients fizzled, is it now up to consumers to scrutinize labels? Yes-- and no. Manufacturers are not required to divulge all ingredients to the public, but mainstream menstrual products are made with materials that include chlorine-bleached rayon and cotton, plastic, polypropylene, sulfactants, and synthetic frangrance. That's enough to raise serious questions about their effects on personal comfort, health, and the environment.
Fortunately, women can take matters into our own hands with a variety of natural, organic, and even reusable feminine hygiene products. Here's a guide to the pros and cons of some alternatives.
Organic Cotton Liners, Pads, and Tampons
Pros: Replacing conventional products with those made from organic cotton may be the most convenient way to green your cycle. These products are free from chlorine bleach and protect skin: Conventional cotton is heavily sprayed with synthetic pesticides most hazardous to humans.
Cons: Organic disposables create more waste than reusable sanitary products. Since they're purchased more frequently, they cost more in the long run.
Pros: Moms who have made the switch to cloth diapers may recognize some of the benefits of reusable pads: They reduce landfill waste and save money over time. Cotton, hemp, wool, or bamboo pads are also more breathable than disposable pads made with glue and plastics.
Cons: Reusable pads are less convenient than disposables on-the-go, and the rinsing and washing process doesn't appeal to everyone.
Reusable Menstrual Cups
Pros: These flexible cups (made of silicon or latex) are inserted like a tampon, but they catch mentrual fluid instead of absorbing it. This avoids drying sensitive tissue and exposing the body to synthetic residue. The cup can be rinsed and replaced throughout the day and used overnight. Manufacturers suggest replacing the product after about a year.
Cons: Inserting a cup correctly takes practice, and some women find that rinsing it is messy.
"The Case for Natural Feminine Hygiene" by Henna Kathiya, Whole Foods Magazine, 4/11
"Cotton and the Environment," Organic Trade Association, www.ota.com, 2011
An Eco-Babe's Guide to Greening It: Everything a Modern Woman Needs to Know to Live an Eco-Friendly Life by Stephanie Byng ($14, CreateSpace, 2008)
"H.R. 890: Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1999," www.govtrack.us
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