Today, I found myself smiling because, out of the blue, I recalled a tender moment I shared with one of my sons years back. He must have been 9 or 10 years old at most. For no apparent reason and with a look of grave concern, he blurted out, “Mom, what are those sticks you carry around with you?” He was of course referring to my tampons. 🤣
I suppose I was not particularly discreet about this; I am a gynecologist after-all. A teachable moment indeed!
I bring this story up because I have noticed over the years, a true evolution unfolding when it comes to periods and period products. These days, those who menstruate are more concerned about what their menstrual products are made of, what short or long lasting effects might be, cost and “tampon” taxes, and of course, the effects on environment. Discretion, comfort and brand loyalty are still important but have taken somewhat of a back seat to these other more pressing issues. Media outlets and reporters also seem super eager to learn about what’s new, what’s in and what’s not. So here goes: a quick period product primer to ponder.
Organic vs. Conventional… does it really matter?
Well this surely comes up time and time again in my office. Here’s the low down. Conventional pads and tampons are typically made with synthetic materials like rayon or a cotton rayon blend. Rayon is made from wood pulp. Up until the late 1990’s, chlorine bleaching of wood pulp resulted in traces of dioxin as a byproduct and a known carcinogen. A chlorine-free bleaching process is now used. True, although dioxins may be found in trace amounts in rayon/cotton menstrual products, exposure is considered by the FDA to be miniscule to none.
Slowly but surely, organic products have not only made a big debut but are quickly gaining in popularity. Many contain 100% organic cotton. Organic cotton is grown without pesticides or chemicals and will have labeling denoting this i.e.: GOTS (global organic textile standard). Again, chlorine bleaching has been abandoned.
In a nutshell, conventional menstrual products are satisfactory for many and use is supported in the gynecology world. For those with sensitive skin, chronic pain, constant irritation or infection, allergies or just personal preference, organic products may make a world of difference. Buyer beware, some products simply have a cotton cover; others are 100% organic cotton through and through. Keep in mind, fragrance and dyes are generally frowned upon in the gyno world.
What’s the FDA got to do with it?
Good news; the FDA regulates tampons as medical devices. In some states, including my home state of New York, ingredients must be transparent. This is a welcome change. Tampons are meant to be worn for 8 hours or less and used once and disposed of. Don’t even ask….
Thankfully toxic shock syndrome (TSS) talk has died down over the years. This is a serious illness that has been linked to uber absorbent tampon use. This potential risk exists with both organic and conventional varieties and is associated with absorbency rather than chemicals or ingredients. A general rule of thumb: use the least absorbent tampon appropriate for your flow and wear for no more than 8 hours.
Innovations and alternatives?
Typical tampons or pads not your thing? Consider these novel and hip alternatives. The tampiliner is poised to roll out here in the US. This combo tampon and pad is super helpful if you’re a leaker. Think of the cost savings! (www.callily.com) Menstrual cups and discs aren’t just for granola lovers. Cups and discs actually collect rather than absorb menstrual blood and allow for cost savings over time and convenience. They are kind to the environment. Yes, be patient… learning curve required but then it’s like riding a bike! Discs even allow for less mess sex on your period … if you’re into that, any many are. Menstrual undies are the latest craze, super popular for teens who are looking to be super discreet. Mail order direct to consumer products allow for convenience and customization of tampons, pads and undies. Finally, for those who don’t want to deal at all, menses can be halted. Yes, you heard me. Periods can be thwarted with hormones, IUDs, shots and even surgery … for those who think this is cool, speak to your gyno.