Let's talk about the 'monthly monster'; 'the shark week'; 'code red'; 'Aunt Flo'; 'the Niagara Falls'; or 'the English have landed'. A number of concealing terms that are used internationally for that period in the month we'd rather not talk about. Whatever we call it, menstruation is a natural cycle that affects about half of the world's population. Today is Menstrual Health Day, so let's talk period.
Menstruation is no fun, so let's not make it any harder for ourselves than it already is. Comfort and confidence in the menstrual products we use are also important for our self-confidence. So what products can you use if you’re switching to a more sustainable lifestyle? After all, those expensive disposable menstrual products are not that healthy and create a large and ever-growing mountain of waste. That’s why we would like to share some options with you that are better for our bodies, wallets and the environment.
What’s the problem?
It's a bloody waste
Women use up to 12,000 disposable menstrual products, such as sanitary pads or tampons, during their lifetime. When you consider that approximately half of the world's population menstruates, this creates an enormous amount of waste. Menstrual products may seem harmless but those soft white bandages consist largely of plastic, some pads up to 90% and tampons up to about 10%. This has a major impact on the environment but also on our health.
It goes beyond waste
We know now that appearances can be deceptive, as those cotton-like products we put in our bodies are full of chemicals and toxins. Even though tampons and sanitary pads appear to be made of (non-organic) cotton, they also contain rayon, plastic and other synthetic materials that in turn contain toxic chemicals such as BPA, BPS and chlorine. If the cotton is not grown and processed organically, pesticides, insecticides and bleaches are used. You don't want to put that in your body, do you?
Fortunately, there are many alternatives available that are much better for people and the environment.
What are the alternatives?
But I think it’s... gross! An understandable and common reaction from people who hear about reusable menstrual products for the first time. To be honest, it was our reaction too at first, but we swear by it now! So, what are the options?
The menstrual cup is a real game-changer for us. Endlessly reusable, comfortable and easy!
It's a bigger investment at first, but in the long run, it’s (much) cheaper. The cost of one menstrual cup is equal to the cost of 5 to 6 months of disposable menstrual products. Menstrual cups can last up to 10 years, which means saving more than 95% compared to disposable period products.
The menstrual cup is the closest thing to a zero-waste period. All you have to do is clean and sterilize it properly in between periods.
Menstrual cups are made of soft medical-grade silicone and are free of plastic, latex, toxins and bleaches. By using a cup, you take good care of your body.
The cups are worn inside the body just like a tampon, where the blood is collected. Cups have 3 to 4 times the capacity of tampons and can be worn for 8 to 12 hours at a time, giving you unmatched freedom compared to traditional menstrual products. I can even wear the cup for more than 12 hours at a time on light days, but for hygiene reasons, it is recommended that you rinse it off with water in between.
Another great advantage of a menstrual cup is that you don't have to deal with strings, so you can jump into the pool without any worries. You can also wear it at night and while exercising, so it’s extremely comfortable.
It may take some time to get used to it at first, but the most important thing is to choose the right cup size depending on how heavy your period is. To use it, simply fold the cup so that you can insert it like a tampon. As soon as it’s in the right place, it creates suction and does the job. The best part is, you don't feel a thing and for a split second you might even forget that you have your period.
Absorbent underwear gives you an unprecedented feeling of freedom. It looks and feels like ordinary underwear but offers the protection you need during 'shark week'. There are different models with different absorption levels ensuring they don’t cause leakage. So, just like reusable pads, you can use period panties as your go-to menstrual product, on lighter and heavier days.
I myself use menstrual underwear as a backup for the menstrual cup on heavier days. During the day it makes me feel safe and at night it allows me to sleep throughout the night.
It’s a relatively new product on the market, but there are already many options available. We are big fans of ImseVimse's menstrual underwear. They are made of 95% organic cotton and 5% elastane and unlike the period panties of many other brands, which are only washable at 30 or 40 degrees, Imse's underwear is washable at 60 degrees. This ensures that no bacteria and odours remain in the underwear.
Reusable sanitary liners and pads
Washable panty liners and pads made from organic cotton work just like regular pads but offer gentle and natural menstrual protection that is kind to the skin and chemical-free. They basically work the same as menstrual underwear but you attach them to your regular underwear. There are different models available, for the night or while exercising, for lighter and for heavier days.
Also in this case, use it as your go-to menstrual product or as a backup!
Eco-friendly tampons and pads
Reusable period products are the most sustainable option but if it’s one step too far for you, there are good eco-friendly options available for everyone.
As we discussed earlier, it’s important to know what you put into your body. So choose tampons and pads made from organic cotton, free from synthetics, harmful chemicals, perfumes and plastic. We did a lot of research on eco-friendly tampons and pads and ended up choosing &SISTERS. The &Sisters pads consist of just two ingredients: organic cotton and a waterproof backing sheet that ensures a clean and dry skin. This waterproof layer is made from a cornstarch bio-polymer which is compostable.
The tampons are made from just one ingredient: pure, natural, organic cotton fibres and thread. Don’t mess with the punani please.
Are reusable period products the right choice for me?
The answer is a wholeheartedly "YES"! One of the best swaps I made is the Ruby Cup. This is one of those products that makes me think: I wish someone would have given me one in my teens. I can wear it for 24 hours, you don't feel it, you can swim worry-free, it is healthier for your body and it is SO MUCH cheaper. So are there no disadvantages at all? Oh yes there are, I have tried doing a handstand for a minute and that does not always end well. Moisturizing your hands before changing it is also not a good idea.
It’s also good to know that 25 tampons or menstrual pads each period x 12 months of the year x 10 years of the life of the menstrual cup: 3,000 sanitary pads or tampons that would not go to the trash. And the period panties as a back-up ensure that I can even get through the heavier days worry-free and comfortably.
Hopefully, we've convinced you that zero-waste menstrual products are a lot nicer than the regular disposable ones but for those of you that aren't convinced just yet, the plastic-free single-use menstrual products made from organic cotton are also a good option. Menstrual care is very personal and ultimately everyone should do what they feel comfortable with. At the end of the day, we all want to take care of our great 'Aunt Flo' as best we can.