By Hansa Makhijani Jain
The year was 1970 and the first stick-on pads had just been invented. Before that, women wore sanitary pads suspended from a belt under their panties – somewhat like a thong. Circa 2019, the options are aplenty: from pads to cups and tampons. Figuring out what is best for you takes several period cycles and a spirit of adventure!
As a Delhi mother of two daughters admits, she has tried every single pad in the market including cloth ones, and even four brands of menstrual cups in every shape and size, and has finally — two years later — settled on two brands of tampons along with one set of reusable cloth pads as the best suited to her period needs. Phew! It’s definitely a project in itself!
Indeed, menstrual hygiene has evolved – not only in terms of production of menstrual products, but also in the way they are projected and marketed. From discreet ads of women murmuring into the TV screens, to the use of full-blown blood-stained art and viral Instagram posts showing menstrual blood on bedsheets, we’ve come a long way.
There are talks of menstrual leave in the Parliament. Heck, there’s also been a Bollywood movie about it (Padman, 2018). The Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short for the same year also happened to be about how girls in small town India handle menstruation (Period: End of Sentence).
The marketing game has changed tremendously, says Gauri Singhal, founder and CEO of Floh Tampons. “While the big players are still communicating in “whispers”, new-age brands like ours are going bold. We’re using red ink and ditching the blue. It’s all about real and honest communication,” she adds.
Deep Bajaj, founder of PeeBuddy and Sirona Menstrual Hygiene products, says that people earlier would shy away from taking about menstrual cups as they had to be inserted into the vagina. However, now the thought process is gradually evolving, with a very strong dialogue around menstrual hygiene.
On this World Menstrual Hygiene Day, we list four smart options you have:
Option 1: Washable, Reusable Cloth Pads
No, we’re not going back to the dark ages. We’re just filling up the landfills a little less with these soft, fabric-based, reusable and washable pads. Lunapads, Eco Femme and Soch are some of the brands you can try. Most of these pads come with snap buttons so that you don’t miss the adhesive securing to the panty and can be used as many as 120 times. That’s a lot of cycles you’ll have covered. You can also try washable period-panties. Of course, you will have to wash it and wait for it to dry but that’s a small price to pay for saving the planet.
Option 2: Organic and Chemical-free Pads
Did you know that used regular sanitary napkins contribute 9,000 tonnes of waste to landfills in India every year and take around 500 to 800 years to decompose? Indian brands like Laiqa and Carmesi reduce the plastic content of the sanitary pad by 70-80 per cent. Made from natural products, these decompose within months and are kinder to your body too.
“Should we treat our most sensitive body part mindlessly, simply because we’ve been conditioned to accept their easy availability as our fate? There is an intense need to not only do and provide better for women but also to educate them and let them know how plastic-laden products affect their bodies in various ways,” says Monica Bindra, one of the co-founders of Laiqa.
Eco-friendly pads offered by brands like Carmesi, Laiqa and Nua are also dioxin-free (a toxic byproduct of chlorine and the bleaching process of pads, and can cause ovarian cancer) and come with individual bio-degradable disposal bags.
Option 3: Tampons
While the current percentage of women using tampons in India is negligible, Gauri hopes that bold, honest and attention-grabbing campaigns along with sampling events in schools, colleges and corporate houses will change the tide. “With a tampon you have a feeling of being unstoppable. There are no rashes, no wetness, no leakage and you can easily swim, gym or indulge in water sports. You can use them for up to eight hours and they are excellent for heavy flow,” she adds.
Tampons may take a little getting used to, but they are sleek and do away with the bulky, diaper-like feeling of pads. They are made largely of biodegradable cotton with a very small percentage of rayon, a synthetic fibre. Oh, and you can pee while using it, too!
Option 4: Menstrual Cups
The most sustainable (and perhaps least used) menstrual hygiene product at present, menstrual cups have a lifespan of up to 10 years. They don’t need to be taken out on every visit to the washroom and don’t need to be changed as frequently as pads. With a small initial investment, they are also a much healthier option as they don’t disrupt vaginal pH, or result in rashes unlike chemically-bleached pads.
But the fear of inserting a foreign body is the primary inhibition women express about using menstrual cups. “It’s more of a psychological block than anything else,” says Deep. “Silicone cups use medically graded material which is absolutely safe for the body. Some find it unhygienic, which is a myth that needs busting. These reusable cups avoid issues like odour and itching. There are no chances of infection or breeding bacteria,” he adds.
Have you tried any of these eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products? Share your experience in the comments!