Environmentally conscious alternatives to make your monthly cycle a little better

The conversation around our monthly period is slowly changing. Social media is breaking the taboo, phone apps are making it easy to track symptoms (the iWatch OS6 has caught on too), portable gadgets like Livia help soothe period pain, and e-menstrual cups, like Looncup, sync with your mobile phone and send notifications when they need to be emptied. Even though all these inventions haven’t officially made their way to our shores, indie brands in the country are stepping up to provide alternatives that are better for you, and the environment. If you’re switching up your skincare products every few months, maybe it’s high time you update your menstrual stash, too?

Natural pads and tampons: A 2016 study by The British Medical Journal found that 67 per cent of urban Indian women favour disposable pads, which generate 9,000 tonnes of waste annually. It also found that these pads contain dioxins, a by-product of chlorine bleaching that gives sanitary napkins their ultra-clean look. “Dioxins are often the cause of allergies and infections,” explains Dr Kiran Coelho, an Ob-Gyn at Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai. “Read the label on the package to ensure you’re picking a dioxin-free napkin.” While most popular brands aren’t transparent about their ingredients, it may be wiser to look up chemical-free options. This means the material (often cotton) should be grown without artificial pesticides. Look up Heyday for plastic-free pads made with corn and bamboo fibres; Laiqa for 93 per cent biodegradable napkins; and FLOH cotton tampons that are dermatologically tested and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved. Harshavi Jain, a fashion student who swears by home-grown brand Carmesi says, “At first I was worried the organic, fragrance-free napkins won’t be as good as the disposable ones, but eventually I got the hang of how often I need to change them.”

Expert speak: “There’s no truth in the myth that organic menstrual alternatives reduce cramps. Period pain is caused by the release of a set of lipids called prostaglandin in the body, it has no connection to your menstruation management method,” says Dr Suruchi Desai, Ob-Gyn at Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai.

Menstrual cups: First patented in the 1860s, the menstrual cup has gone through a few alterations over the years. The 1930s latex rubber version, invented by American actor Leona Chalmers, comes the closest to the modern medical-grade silicone cups used today. The cup works by being inserted into the vaginal canal where it stays (virtually undetectable) and collects menstrual fluid. The innocuous receptacle went mainstream mostly due to its convenience and ecofriendly benefits (it can be reused for two years). Indian cup makers like Boondh, Sirona and Stonesoup offer them in various sizes, and Rustic Art also has a collapsible design that can be folded and stored as a flat disc. Journalist Tanvi Kanchan switched to cups when she realised that she was consuming 50 sanitary napkins per cycle due to her PCOS. She says, “The first time I tried the cup, I used a pad just in case there was any leakage—I’d recommend this to all cup novices. It took me almost three months of regular use before I was confident enough to use the cup by itself.”

Expert speak: Dr Coelho says, “Unlike tampons, cups keep the menstrual blood from coming in direct contact with the cervix and the mouth of the uterus, thereby reducing the risk of toxic shock syndrome. Try different brands to see what works best for you.”

Period panties: It’s a simple idea: an underwear that doesn’t require you to wear a pad, tampon or cup through your period. It manages this with carefully engineered layers of cotton, spandex and highly absorbent polyester. Soch Green, an inclusive brand caters to all sizes from XS to XXL, and claims that its period panties can last up to 70 washes. The bright hipster-style undies can be worn with a cloth insert for extra protection. While most people favour this method for light flow days, a reviewer on the brand’s website said, “It has worked for me on all days of my period. I recommend buying as many as the number of your cycle days.” Another said, “The absorbent lining running through the back makes it great to use at night.”

Expert speak: “Period panties need to be washed thoroughly, and then air-dried in the sun to kill the bacteria. Drying them indoors can leave behind moisture that leads to infections. Moreover, having access to clean water to wash them is a matter of privilege,” says Dr Desai.

 Photograph: Getty Images

Reusable cloth pads: After years of education and advertising that declared cloth as unhygienic, the idea of reusable cloth pads seems redundant. But brands like Eco Femme and Soch Green strongly believe that a natural process like our period shouldn’t have to generate waste, and they’re tackling this with beautiful snap-in-place cotton and polyester napkins. They work like the regular disposable ones, but can be reused up to 70 times. Like period panties, they come with strict guidelines of wash and care too (rinse with cold water and always dry in direct sunlight), and you must have around 10-12 pads on rotation to last the entire cycle. “An eco-warrior friend gifted me my first cloth pad. Apart from the usual fear of leaks and stains, I was worried about the discomfort. But, it worked out pretty well for me,” says Aashna Shah, a preschool teacher. “I’m not grossed out by the idea of cleaning them—hey, there’s no shame in handling your own bodily fluids! But if I have a long day, I end up carrying the soiled pads till I get home to wash them.”

Expert speak: While Dr Coelho wouldn’t recommend this method, she says, “If you must try it, you need to know that improper washing and drying will put you at risk of bacterial and fungal infection.”

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