Feminine Hygiene Products? Go Organic
There is a large selection of feminine hygiene products available. Are some better than others? Do feminine hygiene products impact overall health? Do menstrual products impact planetary health? Choosing the right product is vital to get you through your period comfortably but we can also make choices that are less harmful to Earth.
Anatomy and Physiology
The female genitals have evolved to be a self-cleaning system and are richly supplied with blood vessels. As a mucous membrane, the vagina secretes mucous to protect against pathogens and is host to a diverse and delicate microbiome. The vagina can secrete and absorb fluids at a higher rate compared to our skin surfaces. Other highly absorptive regions of the female genitals are the external portions of the vulva, including the clitoris, clitoral hood, labia minora, and urethra. Due to the high concentration of blood vessels and the highly absorptive nature of the vaginal mucous membrane, what we put in and around them can easily be absorbed and circulated in our bodies.
Systemic Effects of Vaginal Absorption
The vagina is a targeted method of administration of drugs due to high absorption rates and lack of liver metabolism. Hormone replacement therapies that are inserted into the vagina result in systemic concentrations that are 10 times higher compared to oral administration.1 This marked difference is due to the first-pass effect. When substances are absorbed through the digestive tract, the blood supply and absorbed substances travel to the liver to be metabolized before entering systemic circulation – this is called the hepatic first-pass effect. This decreases the amount of substance that enters the systemic circulation and is the reason why doses are higher with oral administration compared to vaginal applications. When compounds are absorbed through the vagina or vulva, the compounds directly enter systemic circulation, completely bypassing the liver. This makes toxins absorbed vaginally more dangerous because they are not neutralized through the liver’s metabolic processes.
Why Choose Organic?
Feminine hygiene products contain many chemicals including phthalates, synthetic fragrances, plastics, parabens, pesticides, herbicides, and more. Many of these compounds are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) that can affect fertility, metabolism, brain health, cognition, and have been associated with asthma, behavioral and neurodevelopmental issues, diabetes type 2, and obesity.2 Contact dermatitis or eczema is a common consequence of using non-organic menstrual products. Tampons have more disadvantages than pads because of high surface area contact in the vagina compared to pads or liners that only contact the external surfaces. Non-organic tampons use synthetic rayon viscose instead of cotton which can create a more harmful situation. Consequences of this could result in toxic shock syndrome, microbiome imbalance, tissue dehydration, and increased EDC absorption. Organic menstrual products carry fewer pesticides and herbicides as organic cotton is grown with fewer chemicals. Many organic feminine hygiene brands are fragrance, paraben, phthalate, and plastic-free making it easier to avoid harmful toxins that can cause damage to your intimate areas and your overall health. Natracare is a brand that prides itself on being plastic-free since 1993 and offers a wide selection of pads, tampons, liners, wipes, and, incontinence and maternity products.
Apart from your health, planetary wellbeing is another reason to make the switch to organic feminine hygiene products. Organic cotton feminine products are grown with fewer pesticides and herbicides which makes this a safer option for you, organic cotton farmers, and the planet. Wildlife including bees and birds are highly affected by agricultural sprays so choosing organic is gentler on the ecosystem and wildlife. Organic cotton also takes less water and energy to grow. Plastic tampon applicators are terrible for our oceans and planet health which is why organic brands use cardboard applicators or make applicator-free tampons. Making the change to organic feminine hygiene products may take some adjustment but will benefit you, the community, and the planet.
- Nicole W. A Question for Women’s health: Chemicals in Feminine Hygiene products and personal Lubricants. Environ Health Perspect. 2014;122(3). doi:10.1289/ehp.122-A70
- Wang Y, Qian H. Phthalates and their impacts on human health. Healthc. 2021;9(5):1-9. doi:10.3390/healthcare9050603