As “The Vagina Dialogues” by LUÜNA naturals entered its final week, the focus turned to toxins in personal care products and the stigma around menstruation.
Toxins in our toiletries
The topic of “Toxin-Free Bodies: Product Transparency in Personal Care” is close to the heart of LUÜNA naturals founder and CEO Olivia Cotes-James. After discovering that the synthetic materials used to make period care products were the likely cause of her gynaecological issues, she began researching and producing 100% organic cotton pads and tampons.
Sonalie Figueiras, founder and Editor-in-Chief of sustainability and plant-based media Green Queen, reasoned that toxic period care products are the norm because of disconnection.
“We are disconnected from our bodies. We are disconnected from the products that we use and consume. We have no idea how they are made… The average consumer is unaware of how their food is grown, unaware of how their personal care products are made, unaware of what’s in the tampon that they are inserting inside their body,” she asserted.
Some big brand, mainstream period care products consist of up to 99% plastic, which is not just bad for the environment, but also bad for the vagina. Other factors that affect vaginal health include products like vaginal washes, wipes and douches.
Gynaecologist Dr Zara Chan explained, “It’s not supposed to be a sterile place, so you’re not supGposed to wash it with cleansers and soaps until it’s all clean, because that’s not how it was designed to be. So the concept of vaginal health is not a sterile vagina, it’s actually having a well balanced vagina.”
Olivia pointed out that the feminine washes on the market produced by big name brands are often filled with toxic ingredients. But despite that, these brands and products are still trusted by the general public.
Coyran Cheung, a registered nurse and founder of natural skincare brand OSCO, explained that this is partly due to the presence of synthetic ingredients like fillers and silicones that can deliver quick results. These ingredients can trigger skin conditions like sensitivity and eczema.
Coyran stressed that brands like hers will need a combination of education and xx to build trust among consumers and change mindsets. She shared, “We would like to educate more about harmful ingredients and the reaction to our skin… which ingredients that are harmful you have to avoid, what high quality natural ingredients that benefit your skin, so that they can make their own choices when they select their personal care products.”
For all the challenges we as consumers face with transparency, natural personal care product brands like OSCO and Yours also experience them when sourcing materials for their products.
“Even when you work with suppliers, it’s hard to really go back to say ‘Where was this ingredient sourced from? What processes has it gone through? Is it still vegan when it’s been going through that process? Has it been adulterated or not?’ And to my surprise, when I went even further on to say ‘Where this was coming from?’, the other shock I got was how unsustainable farming practices were being adopted,” lamented Yours founder and CEO Navneet Kaur.
She described how ethical brands like Yours need to strike a balance between “natural” and “sustainable”. For instance, products such as Vitamin B are naturally found in animals, so in such cases she would favour synthetic Vitamin B to keep her products sustainable and cruelty-free.
If you’re ready to wean yourself off toxic personal care products in favour of more natural options, experts and brand owners offer myriad suggestions on how to make the change on the TVD blog.
Stigma and shame
Half the world’s population are women, and many women menstruate — yet it remains a difficult topic to discuss. The panelists for “Powerful Periods: Gender Equality and Menstrual Stigma” address the shame attached to periods that stifles important conversations.
“From a very young age we’re socialised into actually believing that a period is not something that you talk about. It’s almost like being welcomed into a sorority that you didn’t sign up for, that is like ‘Welcome to womanhood’ and what is given to you is a burden… We also tend to use a lot of euphemisms, which also obscures the whole thing… It’s never going to change until we’re open, as women, to discuss menstruation amongst each other,” opined Lizzie Moyo, a Shanghai-based PhD student researching the commercialisation of periods.
Jacqueline Kressner, co-founder and CEO of period tracking app FemCy, believes that major changes need to be made in the medical sector and in education.
“The current medical system is built on research predominantly done on male biologies rather than female. Because of this, there’s limited research done on the menstrual cycle, on the reproductive cycle… Fundamentally, women’s bodies are extremely different and therefore, it’s an educational thing, as well as medical,” she said.
Pad2Go founder Jesselina Rana agreed, referring to period huts in her native Nepal as an example. Some of the efforts by the government and aid groups to eradicate the practice have included simply tearing down the huts.
“[They did this] without realising how socialised and how conditioned people are with regard to the taboo and the exclusion. And you know, the hut is just a symbol of the stigma, and bringing just the symbol down doesn’t take away the stigma. It’s also got to do a lot with the education system, how girls and boys are socialised, and what they’re taught from a younger age,” she elaborated.
Fellow founder Shubhangi Rana pointed out that although period huts are mainly practiced in rural parts of Nepal, the stigma of menstruation also exists in the urban capital, Kathmandu.
”Before starting Pad2Go, we refer to ourselves as [untouchable] or [impure] during our periods… So for four to five days every month, you’re calling yourselves ‘impure’, you’re calling other menstruating individuals ‘impure’ in Nepal, in the urban areas. So it is very ironical to sit in the urban areas and talk about these menstrual huts when you yourself aren’t practicing what you preach,” she rejoined.
Even if you think you’re empowered about your periods and come from a less conservative society, you may need to check if you’ve still internalised some stigma. The Period Co co-founder Ann Gee realised that her upbringing and education around periods in Singapore normalised sanitary pads, but not other forms of period care.
“I really felt like I couldn’t talk about menstrual cups, even though it was so convenient for me… It wasn’t a thing that I felt comfortable sharing until a few years ago, in my early 20s, I saw people share about this product online in an article. So I thought, I’ve been using it for 10 years and I haven’t told anyone about it. Why am I so ashamed of sharing it when it could help so many people?” she mused.
The panelists also divined that the future generation — girls today who have not reached the age of menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation) — will be better equipped to talk about menstruation thanks to the efforts of activists and social entrepreneurs to normalise periods.
That wraps up “The Vagina Dialogues” by LUÜNA naturals! We hope you’ve learnt something.
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