Sustainable Beauty Pt2: Feminine Hygiene
Yep, we're talking about periods! More specifically, what your period is doing to the environment. But, firstly, let's clarify something: Periods are nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of people have them, and that means lots of people have to deal with them. Whatever your experience, someone else out there has gone through it too, so never suffer in silence. Now we're all comfortable talking about our coochies, let's get to the matter:
Tampons and pads have been the standard products we've used for years, but only recently have we learnt the environmental impact of these products. For example, the tampons, pads, panty liners and their packaging we throw away amounts to a huge 200,000 tones of waste each year, and all of these contain plastic. And it's not only the waste we should consider, as the production of cotton for tampons emits a huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming (which, in turn, contributes to why we've all been sweating so much this summer!). Here I want to talk about my experiences using a couple of more eco-friendly alternatives, to give you an honest view of what these products are really like, and whether they could be the future of our panty-related problems.
Reusable Pads/Panty Liners
My journey in to more sustainable periods began with reusable pads, specifically from Hannahpads. Other brands are available, but I will refer to Hannapads as it is what I have experienced. I had wanted to try reusable pads for a long time, but as a student I couldn't really afford them. My sister came to the rescue and bought me a set for my birthday, and I'm so glad of it! Like most things, the reusable pad has had its pros and cons, but it has been an overall positive experience. My kit came with 3 pads of different sizes and designs, a laundry soap and stain remover, as well as cleaning instructions my sister had written out for me.
First impressions, they're really pretty! This alone makes your period feel slightly better. The organic cotton is also much softer than the standard plastic pads, which is even better if you're a little on the sensitive side down there, like me, and find pads irritating. Whilst the pads don't have sticky backs to adhere to your undies, they have wings that wrap around like the conventional pad does, and they attach with a little popper. So far I have experienced no issues in regards to leakage. The pad does move around a bit, but doesn't get stuck to itself or bunch up like the conventional pad does, so it protects as it's supposed to!
I was hesitant at first about the cleaning process, but it's not gross at all! From the Hannahpads website:
"Many people think cloth pads are smelly and filthy because of the blood, and so nobody wants to touch it. However, it’s not your period blood that stinks. The odor occurs due to the chemical reaction and bacteria growth from the blood touching the disposable pads."
I was advised to clean my pads in the shower when I'm in there anyway. I give them a good rub with the laundry block, and this gets them pretty clean to start with. After my shower I rub in the stain remover, fold the pads back up, and then pop them into the wash basket. It's a simple process, and these cleaning ingredients have actually been a life saver on other occasions- it's the best stain remover I've ever used! The pads dry quickly on the radiator, but cannot be put in the dryer.
However, I have had some experiences that mean my reusable pads aren't quite as convenient as their disposable counterpart. I work away from home quite often, and spend weekends with my partner, so I'm away from home about 50% of the time. The whole Hannahpad kit is quite cumbersome to carry around 'just in case', and cleaning in the shower isn't always possible. When I've been caught off guard and I'm away from home, I have had to reach for the plastics. Similarly, on occasions when I've had a particularly heavy flow, keeping up with the cleaning and washing of the pads just hasn't been possible. Again, I've had to go for disposable pads whilst my reusable ones are in the wash. Secondly, the initial purchase of these products can be quite expensive, so I'd rather not have to buy large quantities in order to keep up with my flow. The final drawback I found with my Hannahpads is because they are that little bit thicker, I don't quite feel comfortable wearing them with tight clothes such as leggings, especially in these warmer months. This, however, could just be an issue with my own confidence, as I know people who will happily wear them all year round.
Overall, I get very good use of my pads and will continue to do so, they're just not quite perfect for me. However, if you're a home bird with a pretty regular flow, I can see no issues!
What are these funky little cups everyone's talking about? Menstrual cups! They're like a tampons reusable cousin- kind of similar but not really. Like with the reusable pads, there are many brands available but I will just refer to the brand I've used, which is Organicup. The Organicup can hold up to 3 tampons worth of blood, and can be worn for up to 12 hours. Due to them being made from medical-grade silicone, the cups last for years, not hours. They have a handy 'savings calculator' on their website which shows you how many pads/tampons will be saved from landfill, should you buy a menstrual cup. Organicup also have a number of partners across the globe, educating women about their periods and helping end period poverty. So far, they're pretty win win.
Like with the menstrual pads, your first purchase will feel expensive in comparison to a box of tampons. I bought my cup from Greenlife on the high street and (I think) it was about £20. Of course this is more expensive than tampons, but my cup should last me 10 years, meaning I've spent £2 a year on it. I definitely would spend more on pads and tampons!
So far I've been for a run with my cup, slept with it in, and had it in all day -and I've had no leakage! What also makes it preferable, for me, to the pads is that I only need one and it can fit in my handbag. The cups are far more convenient, and I will never be unprepared.
Now, this might be a little bit TMI for some people out there, but there is one other thing that I think makes the cup superior to the traditional tampon: going to the loo! It's no mess, no fuss, you can just leave it where it is.
Like with the reusable pads, there are some drawbacks. Firstly, learning how to get it in and out is a bit of a journey. I've had a few disasters (RIP the white bathroom mat) but, once you have managed to get it in the right place, you'll forget it's even there -but please don't forget that it's there!! As previously mentioned, I'm pretty sensitive in that area, so all that fiddling around can be pretty irritating and uncomfortable.
Whilst Toxic Shock syndrome is incredibly uncommon, using cups instead of tampons does not remove the risk of experiencing this.
I fully understand that not everyone will be in a position where they can make these purchases, and you should not feel guilty if this is you! We all do whatever we can to help the planet. However, if you think you could foot the initial costs, then I truly think these products are worth the investment. The combination of comfy Hannahpads and convenient Organicup works perfectly for me! And I think they can be a regular part of anyone's lifestyle, even if your periods aren't so regular! The modern tampon with applicator was invented in 1929, and we haven't seen much change in the design since, so maybe it's time to try something new.
I wish you all luck in your menstrual missions, and we can all help the Earth one little step at a time. I hope I could help you make some decisions.
The future is female.