According to a research, an urban woman disposes almost 16,800 pads in her lifetime. Despite the costs that are incurred to buy these pads every month, the growing health risks and grave environmental impacts associated with disposable napkins, many still find it difficult to switch to reusable alternatives.
Some of the harmful chemicals that can be found in sanitary napkins and tampons are:
Dioxin: We have a tendency to assume that if the product is pure white, it is clean. However, the cotton that is received after harvesting, is usually cream in colour. The manufacturers of sanitary napkins use a chemical called dioxin to bleach the cotton. Unless the pads are specifically labelled as non-bleached one can assume it has undergone this process. Although the levels of dioxin in sanitary napkins are quite low, they are still dangerous as dioxin accumulates in the fat stores of the body and can add up to the residual levels over time. Dioxin is linked with the following side effects in the body: pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cancer, immune system damage, hormone dysfunction, impaired fertility, diabetes and impaired thyroid function.
Rayon: Apart from cotton, rayon is yet another synthetic polymer that is added to these napkins to enhance the absorbing capacity. Rayon also has dioxin in it.
Pesticides and Herbicides: These are the chemicals that are sprayed on the cotton crops. A chemical named furan stays on the cotton long after it has been harvested, which can cause harm. These have been linked with the following effects in the body: infertility, hormonal disruption, thyroid malfunction, diabetes, endometriosis and depression.
Artificial Fragrances and Deodorant: These substances are added to the napkins during the manufacturing process. Although they can also enter the bloodstream, like in the cases of pesticides and dioxin, they can also have an effect locally on the vagina and in turn cause allergies and skin reactions.
Toxic Shock Syndrome: Toxic shock syndrome is not caused by the chemicals discussed above, but rather from an overgrowth of staphylococcus aureus bacteria in the vagina which causes a release of toxins and poisonous substances into the bloodstream. These toxins can cause a sudden fall in blood pressure.
Using sanitary napkins or tampons for prolonged periods can encourage the growth of the staphylococcus bacteria. The occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with tampon use may be a sign of toxic shock syndrome: diarrhea, vomiting, sunburn-like rash, dizziness, cold and fever.
The alternatives: For women and mothers of newly pubescent girls who wish to choose a safer route, fortunately many options are available.
Organic sanitary napkins: While these products may avoid the pesticide residues from commercially grown cotton and the chlorine dioxide gas used in bleaching, there still remains the problem of disposal.
Organic Cloth Pads: One option for safe and reusable sanitary items would be organic cloth pads made with cotton, hemp or even bamboo. They are not a hassle to store or clean.
Used pads can be placed in a small bag such as a cosmetic bag for when you are home to rinse and soak them. The ones with wings fold up onto themselves and snap shut so only the outer layer is showing - this is great for disposing used pads.
Menstrual Cups: For active women and girls, a reusable menstrual cup made with natural, nontoxic materials like gum rubber is an excellent choice. A good quality cup costs about Rs 700, but you will likely never have to buy another one for the next ten years.
Menstrual cups are easy to use and in most cases, you don’t even need a pad when wearing one. Just be sure to get the correct size.