This post is in partnership with Hancock Regional Hospital as part of their empowering women and children site. All thoughts, experiences, and opinions are my own. Be sure to check out their site for additional resources and support.
FUN FACT: The average woman uses over 10,000 feminine hygiene products over the course of her life! That’s a lot of waste (like over 300 lbs to be exact).
Most of the tampons and pads we were handed as budding women are actually full of harmful chemicals! You see, according to a Time article, “tampons are considered medical devices, there’s no labeling requirement for ingredients…So for allergens or chemicals linked to cancer or other toxicity, even if you want to avoid them you can’t because you can’t see them.”
Seriously, pause to think about it, what are the most common feminine products made of? How do they get tampons so WHITE (cough*bleach*cough)? And then we are taking these things full of chemicals and putting them into one of the thinnest, most absorbent layers of our skin! But I’m going to leave the scary stuff up to the actual doctors (read all about it here).
Aside from the harmful chemicals found in traditional pads and tampons the waste they create is often times one of the most harmful to our environment: plastic.
FUN FACT #2: The ocean is estimated to have more plastic than fish in it by 2050! (proof)
A few years ago, I heard a horrible story about a women who had her leg amputated due to toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Between learning more about the harmful chemicals in feminine products, and learning more about the environmental impact they’re having, I decided to look into alternative feminine hygiene products that were both natural and environmentally friendly.
Here’s what I found as the most popular, natural, and environmentally friendly options available for your period:
BLESS! Thinx were the first product I tried and I LOVE them. I’ve been using them for three years now and tell everyone about them. I also tried one of their competitors, Dear Kates. Both are built around the same concept: underwear with special fabric that absorbs your period. To clean them you simply rinse in the sink, wash in cold water and hang dry and continue to reuse them!
The products have a different fit and feel though. Thinx are a little tighter. I typically wear either a small or medium in underwear and their medium feels a little snug. Thinx have a thick, sturdy, and secure feel to them. They make their garments with a single inner and a single outer layer, meaning the entire garment feels consistent, and has a smooth finish. Thinx are the black options pictured below.
Dear Kates run a little larger. I received a medium and could’ve used a small. The material is also not consistent throughout. The part that’s “period proof” is thicker and stitched into the thinner outer layer, which means you can see the lines of the period proofed layer stitched in. As a result of the different layers stitched together like this, the butt kind of reminds me of a diaper.
Both options are ultimately more cost effective than tampons and pads, and environmentally friendly! Thinx look more like everyday underwear from the outside. With Thinx, I never feel embarrassed walking around in them, whereas with Dear Kates, due to their stitching of the period proof portion into the garment, it’s obvious there’s something going on in there. If you order Thinx stay true to size or size up if you’re between sizes, and with Dear Kates size down. Both get the job done though, so go with whichever is cheaper if you don’t care about the aesthetics.
Cost of Period Underwear:
One pair of underwear can run you between $18-35 – so building a period set can cost you around $150, but I’ve been using my same pairs of Thinx for 3 years and they are still in amazing shape and going strong.
Environmental footprint of Period Underwear:
1 pair of underwear seems like it’ll last at least five years, so that’s zero waste per period for all that time!
Diva cup, Moon Cup, the Lunette, and the Keeper are just a few out there.The basic concept is that you take the silicon cup, squeeze the sides and insert it at the base of your vagina. Most cups come in two sizes: if you’ve given vaginal birth and if you haven’t. They typically only need to be changed once every 12 hours and have zero waste. It does take most women a few months to get used to the inserting and pulling out process, and many women suggest timing the change of your cup to when you’re home (like 7 am and 7 pm) so that way you don’t have to worry about cleaning it out in a public restroom.
Cost of Menstrual Cup:
These will typically run you around $30-40, but they last 10 years! So it’s a HUGE cost savings compared to tampons and pads. Unlike period underwear, you only need one of these, not a set, so it’s definitely your cheapest option on the list.
Environmental footprint of Menstrual Cup:
1 last for about 10 years, zero waste per period for that long. Probably your lowest environmental footprint option too!
Sea sponges are exactly what they sound like, the sponges you find in the sea (sorry Spongebob!). They’ve actually been used for thousands of years! They work just like tampons, but without the harmful chemicals AND you reuse them! You simply rinse the sponge, ring out the excess water, and insert. Once the sponge is full, you’ll put it out, rinse it thoroughly, ring out the water and re-insert. The caution here is obviously it’s tough to change in public.
Cost of Sea Sponge:
Prices vary from $3-15 per sponge
Environmental footprint of Sea Sponge:
You can use the same sponge throughout your period, and it should last you about six months. But since it’s literally a natural material it’s 100% biodegradable
These are typically more absorbent than traditional pads and you can adjust their absorbency. Most women state loving them. TBH, I’ve never tried them because I hate pads. They just never sit in my underwear correctly and while women say these are much more discrete feeling than traditional pads we all probably received growing up, I just have no interest in testing them out when I have period underwear.
Cost of Cloth Pads:
It’ll probably cost you between $80-160 to build up your set. Since the pads need to be rinsed, cleaned, and dried after each use you’ll probably need at least 8-10 if you have a period that last 4 days. But after the upfront cost of building your set, the price will go down to nothing for future periods.
Environmental footprint of Cloth Pads:
A cloth pad should last for at least five years
Okay, so if you’re totally weirded out by all the options above (which are 100% better for the environment than traditional tampons and pads) but you just can’t bite the bullet then at least go for organic tampons.
Skip the plastic applicators and choose cardboard — or better yet, opt for applicator free tampons! There are tons of subscription boxes out there today like Lola and Ellebox. I’ve only tried Ellebox of these options and I didn’t care for their cardboard applicators. Some pushed out fine, but others would get stuck and I had to take it out of the applicator and just put it in (like you would an applicator free option). They do offer bio-plastic applicators which are made from 90% sugar cane and 10% plastic and more environmentally friendly, but I haven’t tried that option.
If you do have to use tampons, opt for organic, chemical free, applicator free options to minimize the chemicals you’re putting in contact with your body and waste. But keep in mind, that tampons are not required to label all the chemicals, so even if it’s organic or cotton it might still have some nasty stuff in it!
Cost of Organic Tampons:
The average box of 36 tampons costs $7
Environmental footprint of Organic Tampons:
The average woman uses 20 tampons per cycle!! So thats the wrapper, applicator, and then actual tampon all adding to your environmental footprint, times TWENTY!
So let’s say “good-bye” to the harmful stuff and hello to natural and environmentally friendly products for our periods!
Personally, I love period underwear, they feel like any other day of the week and I don’t have to worry about inserting or pulling anything out. If I have something going on where I might want to feel more “secure” (like a long walk or workout in public) I’ll use a cup or tampon during the day while out and about, but then right back into my period underwear when I get home. If I’m doing light activities (like just sitting in a meeting) I’ll wear period underwear.