photography by PHUONG NGUYEN
During the first season of FX’s incredible Better Things, there is an episode called “Lady Problems”—where Pamela Adlon’s character is the sole keynote speaker at a women’s empowerment seminar. During the speech, she asks if anyone in the room is currently menstruating. “We all bleed,” she tells them. “And we all suffer. And the bleeding stops, and we still suffer.”
So, in that vein, we’re exploring three popular alternative methods to your go-to traditional tampons.
Why organic? Well, the fact is, the FDA does not require manufacturers to provide the ingredients used in making tampons—yikes.
“Conventional cotton is harvested with toxic chemicals, and organic cotton is not,” says Kim Lambert, co-founder of SHE, a certified organic tampon company leading the field in environmentally-friendly, market transparency, and cost-effectiveness. (A box of 18 tampons—fully customizable in size—is $10.)
Not only are the chemicals in cotton harmful to you, they're also harmful for the farmers producing it. “Conventional cotton is harvested with harmful chemicals, exposing farmers to toxic pesticides and ultimately damaging entire eco-systems,” says Lambert. “To give you an idea of how highly concentrated pesticide use with cotton is, cotton makes up around 3 percent of the world’s agricultural footprint, but nearly 25 percent of the pesticides are used in that small sector. This equates to 55 million pounds of pesticides per year.”
And traditional tampons could be making your cramps worse, too. “When I attend international pelvic pain conferences, researchers present data on the mechanisms by which toxic and hormone disrupting chemicals, such as those used in the manufacture of tampons, cause epigenetic changes leading to pain,” says Dr. Eden Fromberg, an integrative obstetrician/gynecologist, holistic women's health specialist, and osteopathic clinical professor. “The last thing a woman having her period needs is a tampon containing toxic residues that make her cramps feel worse.”
Want to be even more environmentally-friendly? Thinx, the period underwear company, is working on a reusable tampon applicator for its organic tampons, which would eliminate plastic waste for those who prefer a plastic applicator while inserting a tampon.
Although they’ve risen in popularity in recent years, the menstrual cup is over 80 years old, and was first patented in 1937. This alternative product is meant to replace tampons by collecting menstrual blood, rather than absorbing it.
They’re typically bell-shaped and made of silicone, and come in a variety of sizes. Brands like DivaCup have made menstrual cups accessible while breaking down myths along the way—like the misnomer that menstrual cups are more expensive. One DivaCup is usually $39.99, and can be reused for at least a year.
And you won't have to constantly worry about leakage, either: The menstrual cup can usually be worn leak-free for about 10 to 12 consecutive hours, but “should be emptied, washed, and rinsed a minimum of two to three times daily,” according to the DivaCup website.
“Contraceptive diaphragms were probably the original menstrual cup. It's a great concept, a cup you can just empty,” says Dr. Fromberg. “Like the diaphragm, a woman needs to feel comfortable touching herself and feeling that things are in place. Removing and cleaning the cup on a regular basis to avoid infection is important.”
No tampons, no pads—just absorbent underwear. This is the new, easy, waste-free version of a panty liner or pad. Thinx has cornered the market with their clever campaigns and highly effective product—and have even gone beyond the underwear, with their just-released running shorts and leotards. Other popular leakproof brands include Knixwear and leggings by PantryProp and DearKate, which offer 100 percent leak proof protection.