The amount of toxins in our world today is staggering; toxins that are hurting our health and the health of our planet. The good news is that many of us are moving towards greener and healthier options in all areas of our lives. And an important area for us as women to consider, is that of feminine hygiene products. In this essay I will share with you about the importance of natural feminine care for optimal health, and about the main industry leader—Natracare, that has been providing women with natural and organic hygiene products for over 25 years.
In order to understand why natural and organic feminine care products are necessary, we first have to understand what is problematic with the conventional products that are widely available on the market, and have been for decades. Although this topic does not get enough attention, it is one that is starting to get the attention of concerned citizens and organizations, leading to necessary change for the benefit of all. If we want optimal health, weight and well-being, today it is imperative that we consider the types and amount of chemicals in our lives. Our first step is awareness to know what we are dealing with and where it is found in everyday products. Our second step is detoxifying our lives by transitioning to healthier/safer products. The more we reduce our intake and exposure to toxins, the more we reduce the risk of numerous health problems.
The Toxic Nature of Feminine Care Products
Modern, conventional feminine hygiene products are loaded with health and environmental problems. They are made from over 90% petroleum-based plastic, and dioxin-releasing chlorine bleached wood pulp. Most are based on synthetic fibers, and include various harsh chemicals. Any cotton used is either genetically modified or treated with numerous pesticides, many of which are suspected human carcinogens. According to the Organic Trade Association, cotton is one of the most chemically dependent crops, ranking second for pesticide use. Cotton, and corn which is also commonly used in these products, are two of the top GMO crops.
Chlorine bleaching of the wood pulp used in pads exposes both women and the environment to dioxins – a very harmful group of chemicals. Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, cause cancer, and are persistent environmental pollutants. The plastics used in many of the “dry weave” products have been linked to various allergies, irritations and sensitivities. All of these problems amplify even more when it comes to tampon use, which contain rayon and other synthetic materials. To learn more about the toxic nature of feminine care products, I recommend reading Conventional Feminine Hygiene Products: A Women’s Issue with Toxic Implications from Andrea Donsky, author and holistic nutritionist.
So why are these synthetic fibers and toxins used in feminine sanitary products? For the most part, it comes down to the bottom line, as with most things on the market today. It is all about making the cheapest, yet most profitable product. Synthetic fibers for example are more absorbent than cotton, and also cost less to produce, never mind if we factor in using organic cotton. Secondly, our disposable economy does not have a positive track record when it comes to making safe products for us, or our environment. Most resource extraction, production, transportation and disposal is highly taxing and destructive to the environment. That is not even considering the impacts most products have on us, our health and well-being. Thus when it comes to today’s feminine care products we have a market dominated by toxic products. The good news is that natural options exist, specifically when it comes to pads and tampons. Of course if you would like something even more environmentally friendly, consider other healthy menstrual devices.
The Health Impacts of Toxic Feminine Care Products
From a health and wellness perspective this is all a big deal. The genital area of women (the vagina and surrounding areas) has a large surface area that consists of a highly permeable mucous membrane. It is comprised of a thin layer of cells, with a rich network of blood vessels close to the surface, and is a warm, moist environment. This means that chemicals can be easily and readily absorbed into the body via the vagina, just like via the mucous membranes in our mouth, and why you should be using a natural toothpaste for example. This means that as a woman you are much more prone to chemical uptake by the body depending on the types of products you use in and around the vaginal area. Aside from sanitary napkins and tampons, this includes personal lubricants, wipes, douches, powders, etc. And seeing that feminine hygiene products commonly use ingredients that may be/are hormone disrupting, carcinogenic, allergenic or genetically modified, it would be prudent to do what we can to minimize, if not altogether eliminate the uptake of these into our bodies. Environmental Health Perspectives has written an outstanding piece that outlines the health problems associated with the use of all conventional feminine personal products, which I highly recommend reading.
Secondly, many commonly used chemicals in conventional feminine care products can damage and/or irritate the vaginal cells, leading to others problems, including an increased risk of yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections, and other bacterial infections. Using synthetic and/or non-organic feminine hygiene products may also cause skin irritation, itching, swelling, and burning which may lead to discomfort during intercourse.
Pads directly touch the mucous membranes of the vagina for hours and days straight, every month, for about 40 years of a woman’s life. This allows for a staggering compounding effect of toxins over the years. Tampons further exacerbate the problem as they are directly inserted into the vagina. We know that toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a serious condition, that can even be fatal, and which is directly linked to synthetic fiber tampon use. According to internationally recognized Dr. Joseph Mercola, who has also written on the subject of toxic feminine care, absorbing chemicals via other parts of our body may actually be worse than eating them outright as they bypass any filtering or neutralizing by the digestive system and end up directly in our bloodstream.
All [synthetic] fibers cause the production of large quantities of toxins absorbed by the vaginal mucosa, which is highly vascularized.
Philip Tierno, professor of clinical microbiology and pathology, New York University
Natracare’s Natural & Organic Feminine Hygiene
Natracare originated in the UK in 1989, founded by Susie Hewson. Natracare was launched in the USA in 1993, and today has several international divisions. The products are made in Europe, mainly Sweden or Greece. Over the years the company has won awards and remained committed to high level standards and ethics. Their products only use organic and natural materials that meet the highest organic, environmental and biodegradable standards, sourced from raw material producers that manage and monitor resources respectfully.
The Natracare natural feminine care line includes a wide assortment of products for all women’s needs. These being: panty liners, ultra and maxi pads of various lengths, tampons, maternity pads, incontinence pads and wipes. The pads and tampons are all made from 100% organic cotton, do not contain any plastic, synthetic materials, chlorine, chemical additives such as binders or surfactants, fragrances or dyes. They are based on plant materials and free of polyethylene, polypropylene and polyacrylate. The absorbent core of the pad is made from Forest Stewardship Council certified pulp (FSC) and the top cover of 100% certified organic cotton.
Natracare products are also healthy for our planet. Their products range from being 95% to 100% biodegradable, and benefit the planet by not using or releasing harsh chemicals during the production and disposal of their products. The cardboard boxes that most of their products come in are also made of recycled materials.
To learn more about the company or products, visit Natracare’s website.
I first tried Natracare products a few years back, and have had some experience with two other brands of natural sanitary napkins over the years as well. With respect to Natracare, I will share feedback about my experience to help you know what to expect when it comes to these natural products. Overall they are a great choice for our health, and the health of our environment, and products that I definitely recommend.
- Tampons: For starters I don’t use tampons, so I cannot offer any feedback regarding those, other than saying that their ingredients are fantastic where tampons are concerned.
- Pads: When it comes to the pads, I use the ultra regular kind, and have not tried any of the other varieties. If one is coming off of conventional pads, especially some of the most heavily marketed ones, it may take a little adjustment to the natural pads, as they are a bit stiffer than many conventional ones. The other small drawback that you may find is that the adhesives are not as sticky as their conventional counterparts. Both of these are understandable given the completely different quality of materials used, and small offsets, compared to their many benefits. Everything about the pads from the outer wrapper to the inner cover conveys the feeling of natural. The outer wrappers are fantastic, thin, paper-like pouches. It is easy to see how eco-friendly these are. The ultra pads are thin as expected, yet perform with adequate absorbency, as expected. The top cover is cottony soft and super breathable. How well the pad size and absorbency will work for each woman depends on several factors, including the heaviness of the menstrual flow. As I do not have heavy periods, I found these meet my needs perfectly.
- Liners: With respect to the liners, there are many varieties to suit all needs that vary in shape, size and absorbency. The liners are very comparable to conventional ones and a pleasure to use, being the right mix of soft, flexible and absorbent.
One of the most impressive aspects about Natracare’s products is that even though they are not obligated to, they disclose their ingredients on the product package. In the US, tampons and pads are considered medical devices by the FDA and thus not required to disclose ingredients on packaging. I have no doubt that if all sanitary products had to disclose their ingredients, more women would be inclined to choose less toxic options.
The organic pad and liner ingredients are as follows: cellulose from wood pulp, organic cotton and corn starch.
As you can see above, I don’t think it can get any better than that when it comes to sanitary napkins, and aside from the cotton being organic, the corn used for the corn starch is gmo-free.
The organic intimate wipe ingredients are as follows: organic cotton wipes, aqua, glycerin, organic rose extract extract, organic rose oil, organic chamomile extract, organic calendula, polyglyceryl-10-laurate, levulinic acid, sodium levulinate, terpineol, potassium sorbate, sodium phytate.
The intimate wipe ingredients are profoundly better than conventional wipes, including those for babies (parents take note). They are alcohol free, contain no SLS, parabens, chlorine, or synthetic preservatives. All of the ingredients highlighted in blue are classified according to the EWG Cosmetic Database with having the lowest hazard ratings.
Natracare Price & Availability
A box of Natracare pads cost anywhere from $4 to $6 depending on the retailer, so it can be very comparable to their conventional counterparts. The wipes, liners and tampons are slightly cheaper. The count per box varies from 10 through 30 depending if it is a liner, pad or tampon.
In Canada, you can find Natracare products easily available at health food stores, some leading grocery and drug stores, or buy Natracare online from Well.ca
In the US, you can find Natracare products easily available at health food stores, some leading grocery and drug stores, or buy from online retailers like Amazon.com (see below), or Vitacost.com.
Natracare products are widely available throughout Europe, and numerous other countries throughout the world. To find your area, see the Natracare international product locator.