Organic pads and tampons: An expensive fad or a healthier, greener option?
Going organic has become a way of life for many. While some insist on going to farmer’s markets for their weekly quota of fruits and vegetables, others opt for organic clothes and cosmetics. So, it was just a matter of time that organic alternatives for female hygiene products, like pads and tampons, were available as well.
Today several brands like The Organic Code, Purganics and Natracare are widely available in supermarkets/can be delivered home. Such organic hygiene products are made from non-chemical, non-carcinogenic and biodegradable materials, such as compostable cellulose wood pulp and plant starch as well as unbleached cotton. They are also safer as they are not bleached with substances like chlorine.
It is however pricier than your average sanitary products (a packet of 10 organic pads costs upwards of Rs 300 approx, a packet of tampons costs upwards of Rs 400). That can act as a deterrent in a country where reportedly 70% women cannot afford sanitary napkins (Sanitary Protection: Every Woman’s Health Right, 2011).
Such alternatives come at a time when there is growing awareness and interest about alternatives to sanitary pads, be it a return to the use of cloth as our grandmothers did, as well as reusable menstrual cups.
But are organic pads and tampons better than the regular ones you have been using all along? Experts say yes. Dr Suruchi Desai, consulting obstetrician and gynaecologist at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, says that organic pads/tampons are superior to commercially available pads because they let your skin breathe. “Regular sanitary pads have a lot of plastic content and can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. Organic pads contain an absorbent cellulose core which locks away menstrual fluid to keep you dry, and a soft organic cotton cover that allows your skin to breathe,” she says.
Dr Shraddha D Upasani, gynaecologist and obstetrician, Upasani Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, points out that organic cotton lasts longer and can better help maintain hygiene. “While organic pads are made of 100% organic cotton, the rest are a mix of plastic, cotton and a few other elements. This makes the organic ones more hygienic and comfortable to use,” she says.
One of the first brands to offer alternative feminine hygiene products was Natracare in 1989. It was started by UK-based environmentalist Susie Hewson after watching a documentary on dangers of chlorine bleaching (a process used in making pads; short-term exposure can expose you to high levels of dioxins resulting in skin lesions, and altered liver function) to health. “The vagina is a very absorbent and sensitive part of the body. So, avoiding any use of potentially harmful or irritating materials is of paramount importance. There have been studies to show use of organic products leads to a reduced risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS; a life-threatening bacterial condition linked to types of super absorbency tampons) as well,” says Rachael Evans, who handles marketing and customer support for Natracare.
While it is still a niche product, there are more options becoming available for Indian consumers. This month saw the India launch of Organyc, an Italian brand of hygiene products. Pri Shewakramani, founder of The Organic Code (the company that brought Organyc to India), mentions that their products are also free from other toxic materials like parabens, latex and perfumes, and dermatologically tested to show reduction of skin irritation.
Purganics, an Indian startup launched by animal lover and yoga practitioner Nisha Bains, offers organically certified pads, panty liners and tampons made from GOTS-certified organic cotton, free from plastic, chlorine-based dyes, petroleum-derived products and pesticides. She started Purganics a few years ago while working for blue chip companies in the USA. “I suffered a bout of period-related rashes and after reading about the toxic contents of my period products, I made the switch to organic pads. When I moved to India, I struggled to find options and decided to start Purganics,” she says, adding, “Sanitary napkin manufacturers never disclose what goes into making their products, but rely on marketing gimmicks to mask what their products truly contain — toxins, plastics, SAP’s (derived from crude oil) and artificial fragrances.”
Aside from the health benefits, organic hygiene products also reduce your carbon footprint. As compared to them, commercially available pads are difficult to dispose, and can take hundreds of years to decompose. According to periodofchange, a campaign started under The Kachra project (a socio-environmental movement for waste management), an average woman throws away about 150kg of mostly non-biodegradable absorbents every year. A further plus is that the organic options are made from sustainably sourced materials which protect the soil and water systems, and ensure low carbon dependency.
But even organic hygiene products have their limitations. So, experts insist that you change the tampon/pad at regular intervals (never leave the tampon on for more than eight hours, pads for more than four hours). “Irrespective of whether they are organic or conventional, it may cause infections if worn for long periods,” says Dr Upasani.
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