When it flows, choose wisely

Cotton pads may contain pesticides that are used to grow the cotton plant, which can get absorbed into the skin upon use.
Illustration: Saai
Illustration: Saai

CHENNAI: While sanitary napkins and tampons are the basic need of every woman, experts say that women have largely favoured pads and tampons due to their ease of use and convenience. However, despite their functionality, these products come with disadvantages of their own.

Cotton pads may contain pesticides that are used to grow the cotton plant, which can get absorbed into the skin upon use.

Similarly, some companies use bleaching agents to give their pads a clean-white appearance. The fibres in pads are chlorine-bleached to give them their clean and sterile appearance. This bleaching process creates dioxin, a highly toxic pollutant.

Dioxin accumulates in body fat over time and can stay there for up to 20 years. Exposure to dioxin can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, hormone dysfunction, endometriosis, and various forms of cancer.

Aside from these dangers, sanitary pads contain chemicals like Phthalates and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Phthalates are used to make plastic more durable, while VOCs are used as an ingredient in paints, carpets, adhesives, foam, air fresheners, cleaning products, cosmetics, etc.

“The vaginal mucous membrane is a very thin layer which makes it prone to absorbing such chemicals. This may increase the risk of developing cancer of the cervix, uterus and skin. Use organic cotton pads that are free of pesticides and bleach,” opines Dr Spoorthi Arun, internal medicine, Promed Hospital.

Cotton plants are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, which stay on the cotton long after it has been harvested. Side effects of exposure include infertility, hormonal disruption, thyroid malfunction, diabetes, endometriosis, and depression.

Dr Spoorthi added that tampons provide greater physical freedom as compared to pads. However, people who use super-absorbent tampons are at a risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) if they’re left in for too long.

“TSS symptoms can range from high fever, low BP, and vomiting, to organ dysfunction, fast breathing, headache, insufficient urine production, and mental confusion, which can be life-threatening,” said Dr Spoorthi.

Several super-absorbent tampons were removed from the market and the number of people developing TSS reduced drastically. However, it’s important to remember to change pads and tampons frequently.

Experts say that a highly feasible alternative to both traditional products is the menstrual cup, which provides functionality along with a decreased health risk. They’re silicon-based, which typically devoids them of toxic chemicals that can cause such harm.

There was also a Lancet Public Health study which found menstrual cups a safe and effective alternative to manage periods.

“Menstrual cups are environmentally friendly as they aren’t disposable and can be reused after sanitisation. It’s important to clean them and sanitise them after each use,” says menstrual educator Kavya. “There are reusables such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, period panties, and microfibre pads that are more environmentally friendly than other sanitary products.”

Which is why it’s noteworthy that the Greater Chennai Corporation is distributing sanitary napkins in government schools. Experts opined that need of the hour is on the side-effects of using napkins or tampons so that the public can make an informed choice.

“There is a general lack of awareness on the choices of sanitary products and not many people know how/what to choose. Menstrual cups are a convenient and sustainable.

But there’s a cultural taboo of introducing a foreign object in a person’s body parts. Plus, usage of cloths is still prevalent in the rural parts of the State,” explained obstetrician and gynecologist Dr Arvind Santhosh.

“Also, menstrual cups are also not advertised enough because they’re a one-time investment unlike the use of sanitary napkins or tampons. That’s why they’re also promoted more, which pushes up sales as well.”

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