This post originally appeared for Organic Spa Magazine in September 2019.
Following the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March, menstruation is having a moment. And as more and more female entrepreneurs emerge into the femtech industry, women are becoming more discerning about the products they put onto and into their bodies -- including sanitary pads and tampons.
Sold on drugstore shelves and via Internet subscription services, clean period care products have become a household name for good reason: the FDA does not require menstrual care manufacturers to disclose potentially toxic ingredients in their products.
This shocking statistic inspired Yanghee Paik to co-found Rael, a line of clean period products made from organic cotton. Paik lists chlorine, pesticides and acetone among the potential toxins in conventional period products. Most people with periods menstruate for 40 years of their lives -- and for some, repeated exposure to these chemicals could lead to irritation and/or allergic reactions.
“Finally now a lot of women are realizing that we need better products, and also sustainable products, and that we can do something about it,” says Paik. If avoiding toxins alone isn’t enough of a reason to switch to clean period care, consider the effect of menstruation on the environment. Each year, 20 billion period products end up in North American landfills alone. Most of us contribute about 300 pounds of period waste over four decades of menstruation.
Sustainable period product companies like Rael aim to interrupt this vicious cycle of landfill, without compromising quality or comfort. Paik and her co-founders grew up in Korea and noticed that Korean period care products used special technology to make them both high-performing and comfortable. Today, Rael’s femtech is inspired by the same technology -- with an eco-friendly twist.
Rael’s sanitary pads and tampons combine a certified organic cotton topsheet (grown in soil that hasn’t undergone pesticide application for a minimum of three years) with absorbent corn-free natural pulp. They also offer 100% biodegradable tampons, complete with a cardboard applicator, and will soon begin to offer reusable fabric menstrual pads.
“We’re making an effort to promote that [these products are] better for the environment and better for our health, and there are these better options that women can choose,” says Paik. “The more consumer education we do, [the more] people begin to know what’s better for the environment and better for their bodies.” However, Paik notes that there is still room for improvement in the femtech space: the company has not yet displaced plastic wrappers or adhesive in its period care products.
Rael offers just one eco-friendly alternative to traditional period care products in a sea of advancing femtech. Here are some of the best swaps for a more sustainable period:
Biodegradable tampons. Rael’s 100% biodegradable tampons are made from chlorine-free organic cotton with a cardboard applicator. Keep an eye out for the brand’s reusable menstrual pads coming soon.
Period underwear. Thinx makes period underwear and activewear (think: athletic shorts and leotards) with absorbent, reusable inserts. Its gender-neutral silhouettes make Thinx perfect for all people with periods.
Menstrual cup. Though using a menstrual cup requires a certain amount of comfort with one’s body, these biodegradable cups are both eco-friendly and affordable, with each $30 cup lasting ten years. Saalt makes soft period cups to simplify the insertion process and minimize discomfort.
Sea sponges. Biodegradable, sustainably harvested sea sponges can be transformed into eco-friendly tampons (though technically, the FDA restricts the use of the word “tampon” in their marketing). Jade & Pearl’s reusable Sea Pearls period sponges get the job done.