More than half of the population must use them monthly, but do most women think about how fem care (as the industry calls them) products impact the environment or even their bodies? Nope. Kind of a big oversight for something you’re so, um, intimately involved with. Think about it: conventionally produced tampons are made of cotton, which is one of the most highly sprayed crops on the planet. They can also contain plastic, rayon, and are often scented. Here is an excerpt from Planet Home about the risks associated with using them:

According to the National Research Center for Women and Families, approximately 43 million women in the United States use tampons.  And no one knows the cumulative health effect of using conventional feminine care products.  While the boxes on most drugstore shelves aren’t required to list ingredients, most tampons are cotton or a cotton-rayon blend with scent.  Fragrance can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals and can also be irritating to skin, especially in such a delicate area.

Conventional cotton often comes from genetically modified seeds and has been sprayed with pesticides, which is bad for farmers and the environment.  According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, cotton farming uses about 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of the pesticides.  These pesticides used on cotton happen to be among the world’s worst: Five of the nine most commonly used have been identified as possible human carcinogens.  Others are known to damage the nervous system and are suspected of disrupting the body’s hormonal system.

Highly absorbent rayon is manufactured from wood pulp, a process that involves bleaching with chlorine-containing substances.  The eventual product may contain chlorinated hydrocarbons as well as dioxin residues.  Highly absorbent synthetic fibers can be a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome.  Although some synthetics have been banned, the FDA still allows the use of viscose rayon in certain amounts in tampons.  Dr. Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at the New York University Medical Center, and a leading expert on the health risks of tampons, says that rayon can still create a breeding ground for toxins.  All-cotton tampons present the lowest risk.

Luckily, there are alternatives!  And plenty of them.  Look to these companies for eco- and you-friendlier fem care:

7th Generation

Maxim

NatraCare

To avoid using an agricultural/disposable product, you can choose a reusable one. Glenny, my editorial assistant, swears by The Keeper. Here are some of her thoughts on it:

“I purchased my first and only Keeper back when I was a college sophomore, about seven years ago.  Short of waxing poetic about it, I will share my top five reasons for absolutely loving my Keeper:

1. It saves me money.  As a college student I only had to pay $18 for mine, but you can purchase yours today for only $37!  Compare that with the monthly expenditures on tampons and other menstrual products and you’re saving a bundle.

2. Its a small step toward a healthier planet.  Made of natural gum rubber it is a zero waste product.  No throwing out wrappings and used napkins, no toxic cottons to worry about.

3. I’ve had mine since 2004 and it is still in top-notch condition.  Life expectancy is 10 years!  Honestly, my relationship with my Keeper is the longest and healthiest I’ve ever had.

4. No toxic shock syndrome.  Enough said.

5. Portable!  Slip it in your purse for those days when you might start your cycle.  No need to lug liners and tampons around with you, and you’ll definitely never have to sneak out to the pharmacy for an emergency purchase.  The Keeper is small and discreet, and usually comes with a darling little bag to keep it in.

No matter which option you choose, make sure you’re thinking about your body and the environment.  You’ll be much happier because of it!”