The trend of going "green" has worked its way into food, packaging, beauty and clothing, but now the concept is poised to take hold in a place you’d likely least expect it: the feminine care aisle.
While other organic cotton hygiene lines like NatraCare and Seventh Generation have come before Azalea, the sheer scope of Whole Foods distribution could mean that the concept will finally become mainstream, much like organic strawberries, milk and even chocolate have now permeated the marketplace.
So why care if your feminine items are organic? The answer lies in how cotton—which is the foundational material of pads and tampons—is grown and produced.
According to the Organic Trade Association, cotton weighs in as the second most pesticide-soaked crop in the world. The Environmental Protection Agency ranks seven of the 15 most common pesticides used on U.S.-grown cotton as either possible or known human carcinogens.
Not only can pesticides have potentially harmful effects when absorbed by the body, but they can also have a significant impact on the world, says Sandra Marquardt, Organic Trade Association Fiber Spokesperson.
“Conventional cotton relies on the use of millions of pounds of toxic and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that make their way into the environment, posing health risks to workers, water supplies, wildlife and our bodies,” says Marquardt.
Regular pads and tampons also go through a process called chlorine bleaching to kill bacteria that may be alive in the cotton or pulp, as well as to whiten the product for cosmetic appeal. The chemical reactions produce a by-product known as dioxin, which organic advocates argue is a known carcinogen that leaves behind a residue in items that undergo chlorine bleaching.
Organic brands like Azalea, NatraCare and Seventh Generation instead use hydrogen peroxide to kill any bacteria that may be present—a process also known as oxygen bleaching, which is categorized as TCF, or Totally Chlorine-Free. There are no harmful by-products with oxygen bleaching, since it naturally breaks down into oxygen and water.
The risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)—that rare yet potentially fatal bacterial disease that continually strikes fear in the heart of many a woman—may also be reduced with the use of organic cotton tampons. In a study of 20 different tampon varieties published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 100-percent cotton tampons were not found to create the TSS toxin, while other tampons with common synthetic blends containing materials like rayon and polyester did produce the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria toxin.
Previously, do-good "green" feminine care options included items like Gladrags reusable and washable menstrual cups and pads, which while financially tempting to the budget-savvy, is not always a palatable option for a public accustomed to disposing of sanitary waste.
The newer organic cotton alternatives look and function much like their chemical counterparts at typically just a buck or two more, making an experimental test-drive by those who perhaps don’t otherwise completely embrace an organic lifestyle much more probable. The most significant difference appears to be that instead of not-so-eco-friendly plastic applicators, all three natural brands mentioned above opt for recyclable cardboard tampon applicators.
They say that true beauty starts from the inside out, and the next time you go shopping for monthly needs, you can very literally put that axiom to the test.
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