By Julia Podobed, psychologist
It is assumed that personal care products are designed not only to simplify the life of modern women, but also to protect them against external pollution, hinder the development of bacteria, and generally safeguard women’s health. However, in practice this is far from the case.
According to a recent study on the safety of women’s pads in Russia, only 20% of 31 samples tested met basic safety requirements. In the remaining 80% of the samples, enterobacteria, Staphylococcus aureus and mold fungi were detected. Laboratory data indicates obvious problems within the production process as well as potential health threat of such hygiene products to the health of people who menstruate.
But even those conventional pads which have not been immediately identified as a health threat to consumers, are far from being safe for women’s health. They may contain up to 90% of plastic and plasticising chemicals that can cause allergic reaction and skin irritation. This facilitates the penetration of infection into the body, since reproductive organs are most vulnerable to disease during menstruation. .Due to the presence of a protective plastic layer, heat and air exchange ceases. this may contribute to a “greenhouse effect”, increasing the growth of pathogenic bacteria.
Additionally, plastics, dyes, fragrances, odor neutralizers, phthalates and other synthetic components added to feminine conventional hygiene products often cause allergies, as well as thrush, vaginosis, vaginitis, cystitis, dysbacteriosis and other feminine disorders. Conventional pads are most often bleached using chlorine dioxide which produces dioxins, well-known toxic chemicals banned by a UN treaty. They are associated with various adverse health effects in humans, and increase the risk of immune disorders, infertility and inflammation of the pelvic organs, which makes the permanent use of daily pads especially harmful.
Besides being toxic to humans, conventional feminine hygiene products damage the environment when they become waste. An average woman uses over 11,000 disposable, single-use menstrual products in her reproductive life. They cannot be recycled and end up in landfills, incinerated, or in illegal dumping sites where they continue releasing harmful contaminants into the air, soil or water.
Plastic feminine hygiene products do not decompose and may stay in the environment for more than 100 years. Eventually, they break down into small pieces of plastic or microplastics in the presence of light, which are detected in deep ocean causing additional negative impacts on wildlife.
So how can the problem be addressed?
Using organic pads made from certified organic cotton or cellulose that do not contain plastics, synthetic materials, or chemical additives (such as binders or surfactants, fragrances, or dyes) presents a feasible solution to this problem. They are not bleached with chlorine, and the protective layer consists of a fully biodegradable film based on corn starch. These pads allow air exchange due to their organic composition and the absence of polyacrylate gel (SAP). Absorbent core pads are made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) pulp and certified organic cotton top layer. These products currently include Natracare, Organic, Masmi, Vuokkoset and Naty.
Tendencies in Russia
In Russia, knowledge about organic feminine hygiene products is low. One can find some information via the Internet, but only minor on-line discussions are occurring among small groups of concerned consumers. Most women still prefer conventional products, and remain unaware of their potential negative health effects.
According to the marketing research of DSM Group in 2018, consumers prefer products from major brands such as Always (30.9%), Naturella (22.8%) and Bella (13.1%), which occupy half of the hygiene market in the country. When choosing feminine hygiene products, most consumers in Russia are guided by product price and convenience, preferring conventional pads and tampons made of plastic, since they retain shape better and do not wrinkle.
Information about potential adverse health effects of conventional hygiene products and the benefits of their organic alternatives is not broadly available in Russia. People are largely unaware of both positive and negative product characteristics, and thus do not usually seek out alternatives to conventional hygiene products.
However, some information can now be found on private websites, blogs and on product review sites. The media does not typically cover the topic, which has significantly limited public awareness on this important issue.
Nevertheless, organic hygiene products can now be purchased on-line from eco-friendly stores like iHerb, 4fresh, ekograd, or in specialized stores selling organic goods.
You have a problem? Talk about solutions!
Lack of public awareness about the availability of organic feminine hygiene products is a typical problem throughout the world. This is largely the result of the taboo surrounding discussions on feminine hygiene and menstruation as well as women’s health in general.
For a very long time this topic was considered indecent for wide discussion in society, and it was not customary to talk about it even among women alone. We are still experiencing repercussions from past prejudices and norms, which is why the dissemination of important health information is riddled with challenges. Many modern women are still embarrassed and ashamed to engage in these discussions, even in the doctor’s office.
Since these thinking patterns are passed on from generation to generation, mothers need to learn how to talk openly with their daughters on such natural and important topics as women’s health, and to become their guide to the world of adulthood. It is important to understand that the issue of women’s health is as normal and natural as any other physiological process. Often, teenagers face gynecological problems only because of the lack of awareness of the proper use of hygiene products and their possible side effects. The long-term daily use of pads and tampons is a frequent cause of pathological symptoms. 
It is important to remember that the more we reduce our consumption of and exposure to toxins, the more we reduce our risk of numerous health problems. This is only possible through awareness and the transition to healthier and safer products.