From absorbent underwear to innovative reusable technology, the feminine care industry has improved leaps and bounds over the past couple of years and women are finally being offered the range of products they deserve. Despite the fact that periods affect 50% of the population, it has taken us years to have access to practical, safe and sustainable ways to manage them.
One of the reasons for this lack of progression is the stigma attached to it in many cultures. From being labelled as ‘witches’ to being banished to period huts (which FYI, still happens in some areas of the world) periods throughout time have been treated negatively. Plus, we technically have more periods nowadays than ever before thanks to contraception - women throughout history often spent most of their fertile years being pregnant.
Thankfully, for the most part the days of using wood, papyrus or ‘Lister’s Sanitary Belt’ – which looks like a device made for torture – are far behind us with tampons and self-adhesive pads having been invented in the 1970s to provide a more convenient way to manage. However, many of these traditional products were, and still are, made with potentially toxic ingredients including rayon, polyester and pesticide-treated cotton. The environmental impact of these items is also an issue as tampons and pads are both single use products, often packaged in wasteful plastic packaging that is either sent to landfill or ends up in the ocean.
Enter new-age period brands such as Thinx, Yoni and OrganiCup. All companies that were founded by women hell-bent on making periods sustainable and we’re here for it. As with any change however, swapping to a more sustainable way of life can have its moments, especially when it surrounds a topic that doesn’t get much air time. At Glasshouse we have recently extended our existing range of feminine care products to include the reusable tampon applicator by DAME, and as every woman’s experience is different, we’re sharing four stories from real women on the highs and lows of their journey towards a plastic-free and healthier period.
“Up until a few years ago I was using a mixture of tampons and sanitary towels, usually just using whatever was on offer in Superdrug. The realisation that most traditional period products are made from plastic (which could contaminate our waterways) or cotton (a water & land intensive crop requiring the use of pesticides) made me rethink how I deal with my period. I also watched a documentary where, amongst other things, a fully formed nappy was dug up at a UK landfill site and the thought of future generations digging up the remnants of periods past was enough to make me purchase my first Mooncup, which I now use alongside period pants and reusable pads. Whilst I’ll admit getting the Mooncup in isn’t always the smoothest transition, once it’s in position I can get on with my day and almost forget I’m on my period (if it wasn’t for the cramps). Thankfully, I’ve never had any leaks and I feel more in tune with my flow than ever before, I guess because you’re more ‘hands-on’ when emptying a Mooncup than you are swapping a pad over. I also use WUKA period pants when I’m staying in – they’re more absorbent than you’d think and are made using CO2 neutral fabric – plus reusable pads by Cheeky Wipes occasionally. The only downside to using all these reusable products is having to clean them all, but it’s a small price to pay for not polluting the environment.”
“Since my teens I generally favoured tampons, and I started using chemical free brands from around the age of 22 when I was on a big mission to minimise the use of any chemicals and toxins in my life. This was back when ‘natural beauty’ sections in shops consistent of a few soap bars and some under arm crystals, so toxin-free tampons were especially hard to come by, but they did exist in the speciality organic shops. I don’t remember anyone talking about them as a potential health hazard at the time, but I felt an area of the body such as this was especially important and susceptible to unnecessary chemical absorption. At the moment, I am also loving using Thinx pants. I am lucky enough to get away with just using them as my periods are generally quite light. I also use Yoni Panty Liners on the last few days of my cycle. I did try the OrganiCup briefly, but I haven’t felt brave enough to pursue something that takes time to get used to at first, whereas I find using the Thinx pants very freeing and comfortable. Ultimately our options have definitely improved since the days when I was first looking for chemical-free organic cotton tampons, but I still feel that these products need to become more readily available in major stores and supermarkets for people to see it as their first option rather than just an ‘alternative’.”
“I used only pads and tampons until quite recently. I had no preference on brand really, but I dreaded my period every month as I have quite a heavy flow. I’d have to use thick pads – which made me feel like I was wearing a nappy – and the realization that I was getting through a whole box and a half of tampons every month terrified me. Not only for the environmental impact but for my bank account as well. I eventually bought an OrganiCup after my sister began raving about them and honestly, I would never go back. Initially getting used to putting it in and the feeling of it was difficult and I nearly gave up in the first month, but after persevering I am a total convert. The great thing about OrganiCups of course is that you only have to buy a couple of them in your lifetime. It’s so much cheaper in the long run and much more sustainable. I find it such a relief to only deal with it a couple times a day rather than constantly having to swap tampons and pads.”
“Over the past few years I have become more interested and involved in organic and sustainable beauty, naturally this lifestyle choice began to filter into every aspect of my lifestyle. Prior to this, I’d never considered what my tampons were made from, but on discovering that they contained all manner of fragrances, plastics and chemicals I immediately switched to organic brand Yoni. I don’t use applicators, so this wasn’t a problem for me, but I was still concerned about the environmental impact of using and throwing away tampons and their packaging. Luckily, brands such as Yoni and DAME use bioplastics for their wrap, and the tampons themselves will biodegrade eventually too. One thing I also love about these brands is that they are made by women for women, so it feels like the product was really made with you in mind. Personally, I’d love to swap to the even more eco-friendly option of the OrganiCup, but if I’m honest it still scares me. I’m afraid of accidently spilling the cup in a public toilet! I have close friends who swear by menstrual cups, so I know they work, but I’m still getting there. However I think the more sustainable options out there the better and easier it will be for everyone to find something that’s right for them.”
All in all, the market has definitely improved with more and more sustainable personal care options becoming available. However, periods don’t come cheap, and many of the most impoverished girls in this country and across the globe still struggle to afford basic items. “I think young girls growing up today have lots of options when it comes to having a planet-friendly period. But sadly we’re not yet at a point where they are being accessed by the people who need them most.” Says Kyra.
Recent reports have shown that some girls are even having to skip school during their period for lack of proper provision. Thankfully, the government does have plans to introduce free sanitary items for schools and hospitals which is a great step in the right direction, but as Kyra suggests, these also need to be sustainable. “I’m supporting the Environmental Campaign from the Women’s Environmental Network in the hopes that we’ll get to a point where organic, plastic-free, reusable period products are handed out in schools and hospitals and stocked as standard in high street shops.” You too can make your voice heard by signing a petition for plastic-free period products here.
To browse the range of organic, sustainable and plastic-free feminine care products we stock at Glasshouse, visit us at the Salon, head to our online Shop online or click the link here.
Words & images: Phoebe Grace Ede