Do you remember the last time that you went into a supermarket and didn’t tooth-comb your way through a single ingredients list? I didn’t think so...

Our favourite food stuffs’ nutritional value (or lack thereof) has long been the subject of fastidious scrutiny. As of 2014, European Union law has ruled that manufacturers displaying front-facing ingredients are required to provide a traffic-lit scale to illustrate the quantities of certain food groups – and it’s fair to say that, ever since then, the products that I've beelined towards, and equally avoided, on a regular basis have irrevocably changed. Red days = hangover days.

What we put into our mouths and onto our bodies is now so under the microscope (Just Eat tracked a 94% increase in “healthy food ordered” during 2017) that it’s also given rise to a plethora of sustainable and organically produced beauty products, touting conscientious production alongside thoughtful ingredients that are ‘good enough to eat’. And yet, somehow, somewhere along the way, the majority of us (myself included) have neglected to consider the materials that we introduce into our systems elsewhere.

I’ve used tampons for as long as I’ve had a period, which has always been a case of personal preference. By no means do I disparage alternative methods of feminine hygiene; for me, tampons have just always proven to be the most efficient and least ‘cumbersome’ way of managing my own menstruation. Given my obsession with ingredients elsewhere, it’s rather alarming therefore that I never thought twice about what exactly I’ve been gung-ho welcoming into my body – and in what quantity.

Over the past year or so, organic menstruation products have been steadily rising in widespread popularity, spurred on by ambitions to do things better by the environment and by women.

Image via Freda

"I started Freda on the foundation of its giveback pledge," explains Affi Parvizi-Wayne, Founder of Freda – the UK’s first customised, organic and natural period care subscription service. "I first learned about the widespread lack of access to period products, and then I realised its primary cause – that stigma has caused the menstrual needs of women to be overlooked, in UN hygiene kits and everywhere else." In fact, it was while looking into the lack of provision for refugee women that Affi realised the wider scale of the problem, and its deeper implications. "This extends not just to access, but to transparency – many of us don't know what's in our period products, or the impact they're having on the environment."

Affi’s point is a valid one; it’s painfully evident in my own blind ignorance to the origins of my most intimate care. And she’s not alone in thinking it. Lauren Harvey of Albany Mae, a London delivery service of biodegradable and natural sanitary options, created her brand out of frustration at the lack of visibility that women are allowed over their own menstrual products.

"Buying organic food has become second nature for a huge number of people, however we’ve never stopped and thought about our sanitary products... Discovering that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the ingredients they've used was appalling," she explains. "This was the changing point. I looked into the components of conventional tampons, which included synthetic fibres, chlorine, bleach, Dixon residues and traces of pesticides and insecticides... If we wouldn’t put it in our mouth, why were we allowing it to be put into one of our most absorbent organs for long periods at a time?"

I can’t deny that Lauren’s words unnerved me... Surely, in this day and age, it can’t be the case that producers of tampons aren’t required to disclose a full and thorough ingredients list?

According to the Code of Conduct 2017 for the Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association (or AHPMA for anyone who doesn’t have a spare hour on their hands) – the trade body that represents the UK’s manufacturers of feminine hygiene products, disposable nappies and continence care products – manufacturers are required "to include brief details of the absorbent materials used in the manufacture of the product."

Organic Options

Excuse me while I linger on that word "brief" for a moment... Would a brief detailing of the allergens, fat content, and additives in a food-based product fly with you? What about a light smattering of vague information about your favourite face cleanser? Personally, my mind boggles as to why it’s been allowed to continue for so long, particularly in a product that’s used intimately and on a fairly regular basis.

One conclusion, is that it just doesn’t matter that much. Not in the sense that those of us who use and/or have used ‘traditional’ tampons aren’t important, or that our wellbeing is irrelevant; rather, that perhaps there’s actually no harm in the body absorbing such things.

"I am not sure about absorption of tampon particulate matter into our bodies. There is no current evidence of harm," says Meg Wilson, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at London Gynaecology. However, there do remain some practical concerns associated with the product, that Meg explains: "Tampons are single use, easier to carry and insert, but may be forgotten and some fibres left inside."

It’s this latter point that Albany Mae is also aiming to tackle – creating products that are dermatologically tested to leave no loose fibres or debris behind after removal. Plus, on the off-chance that they do, there’s likely not going to be anything too alarming that’s left loitering... "Organic tampons are transparent," says Lauren. "They are made from 100% organic cotton without any hidden ingredients; they are biodegradable, hypoallergenic and eco-friendly."

Image via Albany Mae.

As someone who has navigated this territory in near-complete ignorance for my entire menstrual life, I’m definitely not the best person to dispense advice on your own period-care decisions; nor will I ever claim to be. Whether or not you choose, now or later, to shift towards an organic option is entirely your prerogative. However, what I do wholeheartedly believe, is that we absolutely have to be given clear and thorough information about what we and our bodies are coming into contact with.

"Brands don't legally have to disclose what's in their products, as they are considered medical devices,” explains Affi. "But, we're becoming more and more aware of what's in our food, beauty products, and even groceries – so why not the most intimate product we use?"

Call this the latest in a whole host of questions that surround the injustices of feminine hygiene – such as "Why the f*** did my tampon get taxed and not your Jaffa cakes?" (True story.) From my perspective, it's one that we should continue to ask, until something changes – irrespective of one’s opinion on the health implications of organic. Period.

Are you considering going organic with your period care? Here are some options:

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