The Femcare revolution: how green is your period?
In recent years the femtech scene has pretty much exploded. With an influx of female entrepreneurs driving innovation and investors finally starting to take notice, the technical progress for products aimed at women is beginning to gather pace. Whilst this progress is wholly positive, it does shine a light on some of the archaic practices and outdated designs we’ve been dealing with up to this point.
The tampon controversy
Female hygiene products, such as tampons, have faced some of the greatest scrutiny in this newly enlightened world. Whilst artefacts resembling tampons can be traced back to ancient times (Roman wool up your vaginal canal, anyone?) the tampon, as we know it, was patented in 1929 by Dr Earl Haas. Aside from a slightly seeker applicator - and the introduction of glossy adverts featuring girls cycling in white shorts - the concept of the tampon hasn’t particularly evolved since before the Second World War.
Most traditional tampons are made from a combination of rayon, cotton, polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Many non-organic menstrual products are bleached for aesthetic reasons (why anything doing the job of a tampon needs to look good, we’ll never know) and to make the rayon more absorbent and softer. This process creates the chemical dioxin. Dioxin is harmful to both our bodies (consistent exposure has shown to increase chances of infertility and skin disorders) and the environment, and yet has been a worrying byproduct of tampon manufacturing for decades.
There are also other toxins wrapped up in the creation of sanitary products, including pesticides and GMOs, which are used in the vast majority of non-organic cotton farms. This dangerous combination of chemicals is known to cause damage to the human body and is probably why Dr. Joseph Mercola once described tampons as a "ticking time bomb” in his eye opening 2013 Huffington Post article.
When it comes to sustainability, mainstream tampons also fall short. The majority of the materials used to create sanitary products aren’t biodegradable and along with their packaging they create around 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. Our oceans are possibly the biggest victims of period waste. 8% of all waste that enters water treatment works comes from period waste, including non-flushable items such as pantyliners. They can also end up on our coastlines - in 2010, a UK beach clean found an average of 23 sanitary pads and 9 tampon applicators per kilometre of British beaches.
As the general public has become more enlightened to exactly how their products are made, the consumer market has been demanding more from their tampons. We want them to be better for both our bodies and the environment, is that too much to ask? The vagina is one of the most absorbent parts of the female body, so it’s understandable why women don’t want to insert something that has been treated with the same chemicals they might find under their kitchen sink.
Change is coming
But, a revolution is coming. A group of pioneering femcare companies are spearheading the movement for more safe and sustainable sanitary products and consumers are here for it. Organic tampon sales have soared by 70% in recent years and are on their way to becoming common place thanks to brands such OHNE. Environmentally friendly tampon alternatives have also spiked in popularity - companies like TOTM have taken menstrual cups from something we used to gawk and giggle at to something positively Instagrammable. But other companies are using technology to take the eco-friendly female hygiene evolution a step further.
One of these brands is Dame, who are on a mission to turn your bathroom green. Not only do they offer a range of organic-chemical free-tampons, they’ve also created D, the world’s first reusable tampon applicator. Dame began life as an online subscription service for traditional sanitary products, but they decided to change their offering when they learned about the effects these products were having on the planet.
“100 billion period products are thrown away around the world each year, most of which contain plastic and cannot be recycled. We realised that our business was contributing to the problem, and that the current reusable options available on the market were only being used by a minority, so we decided we needed to think of a way to speed up the shift to more sustainable solutions.” said Dame co-founders Celia Pool and Alec Mills. “We felt we needed to create a solution that was based on what women were already comfortable using, so that they could easily make the switch.”
Whilst Dame’s driving force is to limit the impact sanitary products have on the environment, they are also aiming to reduce the stigma surrounding menstruation. The award winning design of the D applicator helps them do both. “Our products are designed to be displayed on the bathroom shelf, rather than hidden away, so that we can finally normalise periods as an everyday part of life for half the global population”
Another gynaecological game changer has arrived in the form of the tampliner by Callaly. The Tampliner is a unique period product that combines an organic tampon with a mini-liner you wear between your labia, to reduce the risk of leaks. The design, created by gynaecologist Alex Hooi and garment technologist Ewa Radziwon, uses the highest quality materials to ensure women are getting a top class, as well as eco-friendly, menstrual experience.
“Alex had spent many years speaking to women who were unhappy with their period products because they were either uncomfortable, inconvenient or prone to leaks – not to mention the fact that an unregulated industry led to people putting sheddable, unsterilised materials inside their bodies,” says Ewa, who now serves as the brand’s Head of Product. “He wanted to create a better, cleaner and more convenient option so he enlisted my help as someone who understands materials and how they work with women's bodies, and who can also draw from my personal experience.”
Callaly are also committed to reducing period waste: their virtual applicator removes the need for traditional applicators that can take centuries to decompose. “There's so much more awareness these days of the impact all our consumer choices are having on the environment,” says Ewa. “It makes sense that women are starting to question what we're putting inside our bodies, and considering the impact our period products might have on our health and the world around us.”
If there was any doubt that women are ready for an upgrade of their feminine hygiene products, Callaly diminishes it. There is currently a waitlist for Tampliners and people are already signing up for their upcoming extended product range, which will be launched this summer.
Callaly’s success – and the rise in popularity of other organic and eco-friendly feminine hygiene products – is not surprising when you consider the world we’re currently living in. At a time where wellness is the new rock’n’roll and Gwyneth Paltrow the new Mick Jagger, it makes sense that we are standing up and demanding safety and sustainability from the products we are putting into our bodies each month.
“We’re more conscious than ever before of what we’re putting in our mouths and on our skin. reflects Celia of Dame. “The natural progression of this is that we’re now starting to question what we’re putting in the most intimate and absorbent parts of our bodies - our vaginas.”