Fact Checked by Jennifer Chesak, May 10 2019
I got my first period when I was 11 years old. I’m 34 now. That means I’ve had (hold for minds to stop being blown...) roughly 300 periods. In the 23 years I’ve been a bleeder, I’ve tried and tested a lot of products and brands.
My usual menstrual product purchase ritual is thus:
- Get telltale cramps informing me my period is about to start.
- Rush to bathroom to see if I have anything left to use.
- Find two light-day tampons and an empty box of liners.
- Run to the drugstore and buy whatever is on sale or whichever box’s color scheme speaks to me.
- Dash back home, stash some tampons in my cabinet and purses (which inevitably get lost in the abyss), and the ritual repeats itself two to three months later.
Are you thinking, “So? What’s wrong with that?”
But it dawned on me last year that I wasn’t being conscious about my menstruation. (A 2019 study shows that awareness can influence people to choose products that are better for the environment.) Why was I putting so little thought in the products I interact with intimately — and which contribute to so much waste globally?
Environmental impact of menstrual products The average nonorganic pad takes 500 to 800 years to decompose. A cotton tampon takes around six months. However, nonorganic tampon brands aren’t biodegradable: They may be wrapped in plastic or use a plastic applicator.
Add that up with the estimated 45 billion menstrual products that end up in the trash every year, and it can’t be good.
So, I decided to devote some thought to it.
Here’s what I learned
Tampons are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a class II medical device, on par with condoms and contact lenses. But the FDA still allows a small amount of dioxins (a byproduct of bleaching rayon) and glyphosate (a pesticide used on nonorganic cotton crops) to be in them.
While it’s only at high levels that these ingredients could harm the body (the amount found in tampons is so small it’s not a risk), critics of nonorganic tampons take issue with the fact that brands aren’t required to list their ingredients.
Things to consider before buying organic
- You still need to change organic tampons every eight hours and use the appropriate size for your flow (i.e., don’t use a super when a regular will do).
- Organic tampons don’t remove the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Some brands and blogs would lead you to believe that chemicals and rayon are the cause of TSS, but research shows TSS is a bacteria issue. The risk increases when you wear super absorbent tampons or tampons for longer than recommended.
- Having the “organic” label on a box of tampons means the cotton had to be grown, manufactured, and treated in a very specific way, including using non-GMO seeds, not using pesticides, and whitening with peroxide and not chlorine. Look for products with Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) certification.
- OB-GYNs agree that nonorganic tampons are just as safe as organic tampons, so it’s more a personal choice than a health-related one.
Big-brand tampons are safe to use, but if the thought of ingredients like dioxins (
So, it was time for me to look into organic and reusable alternatives to tampons and pads.
LOLA: light, regular, super, and super+ tampons
LOLA has made great strides in educating menstruators about why we should care about what goes in our products and our bodies (not to mention, their social media game is on point).
LOLA is a subscription service that lets you customize what products you want and how often you want them.
For instance, I have one box of tampons (seven light, seven regular, four super) delivered every eight weeks. My period flow is all over the place, so sometimes that number of tampons can cover me for three cycles.
When I don’t need more, LOLA makes it easy to skip my next shipment without canceling my subscription. They also offer sex products, and I can highly recommend their lube.
Ingredients: 100% organic cotton (GOTS certified), BPA-free plastic applicator
Cost: $10 for one box of 18 tampons<
|complete transparency with product ingredients||requires commitment; not easy to try just a couple tampons to see if you like them first|
|all products are certified organic||personally found them to be not as absorbent as other brands|
|easy to customize and edit subscription service||not available in brick-and-mortar stores|
|wide range of products|
L.: regular and super tampons
A friend of mine purchased this brand from Target and lent me a few in my “time of bleed.” I excitedly texted her after using my first L. tampon, saying, “Umm, most absorbent tampon of my life?!”
I’m someone who needs to wear a liner with my tampons because my period doesn’t play by the rules. But this brand seems to truly prevent any leakage for me. It was an aha moment. I wish Oprah were there.
Like LOLA, you can set up a subscription with L., but they’re available at Target as well.
Ingredients: 100 percent organic cotton (GOTS certified), BPA-free plastic applicator
Cost: $4.95 for a box of 10 tampons
|customizable subscription||limited product options and sizes|
|all products are certified organic||though Targets are everywhere, having this brand in drug and corner stores would be a game changer|
|widely available since Targets are everywhere|
Tree Hugger Cloth Pads: liners, light, heavy, and postpartum pads
On top of trying organic tampons, I was interested in reusable pads. Not only do they help avoid suspect ingredients and chemicals, they’re also eco-friendly. I tried Tree Hugger, but GladRags are another popular, comparable brand.
Opening up a box of Tree Hugger pads is a delight. The fabrics they use are soft and adorable. One of my pads has unicorns on it and says, “Fluffy pillows for your vagina.” When has a pad ever made you smile?
And above everything else, they’re effective and comfortable. They use a button clasp to hold place in your underwear (though mine have been known to slide around a bit). I found they’re much less likely to cause chafing than regular pads. I haven’t found any issue with odor.
Ingredients: cotton, bamboo, and minky fabric options
Cost: $55 for sample kit (one of each size), $200 for “All You Need” kit
|good for your body, good for the planet||initial cost can be prohibitive (one heavy flow pad is $16.50)|
|very comfortable||not available in brick-and-mortar stores|
|come in many types of fabrics and patterns|
You may note the cost of these pads is a bit high. Yes, they’re pricey, but you have to think of it as an investment.
If you added up all the money you’ve spent on disposable pads, that cost far outweighs the initial cost of buying reusables. In fact, they have a savings calculator so you can see for yourself. According to my pad usage, I could save $660 from now until menopause.
I’m a big fan of Tree Hugger’s reusable pads and will continue to purchase and use them. Though there are things I like about the subscription tampons I received (like not having to buy them from a 17-year-old boy behind the register of a Walgreens), I think I’ll end my subscription with LOLA since they don’t seem to be the right fit for my flow.
But I do recommend exploring your options for alternatives. Whether you want to avoid suspect ingredients, support sustainable farming, make environment-friendly choices, or simply like the idea of having tampons mailed directly to you, there’s likely a brand and option that’s the right fit for you.
Go forth and menstruate consciously!
Meg Trowbridge is a writer, comedian, and one of the hosts of “Vicious Cycle,” the podcast about periods and the people who get them. You can keep up with her menstrual shenanigans, along with her co-hosts, on Instagram.