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Things just got real, folks. I’ve been planning this post for a couple of months, and its relevance has become even more pronounced now that I know I will be having a daughter of my own.
Leafing through a women’s magazine a few months ago, I stumbled upon this ad showing Moms of preteens and teens how to teach their daughters about personal hygiene during puberty:
The first thing that struck me was: “Wow. I don’t use any of these products… but I sure spent a lot of money on them when I was a teenager.” Then it was the packaging and the marketing: hello sparkles! (I recall being a HUGE sucker for new, improved packaging on my favourite products…)
There are basically three reasons why I want to propose an alternative to these mainstream care products to my future adolescent and to mothers and daughters everywhere:
1- Economy. In the long term, the replacement products I’m suggesting will work out costing less money. Additionally, I want young girls to learn not to fall for marketing gimmicks!
2- Ecology. Without a doubt, the replacement products I’m suggesting create less waste.
3- Health. Many of the products contained in the advertisement are known to be toxic, especially the feminine hygiene products. I am proposing healthier alternatives.
Hair removal has been the bane to my female existence since other girls starting teasing me in gym class about my hairy arms and legs. I believe I was in Grade 6 when it started to really bother me that I was hairy. My Mom was very empathetic to my suffering, and agreed to let me start shaving, but only if she did it for me in the bath. By Grade 7 I think I was shaving on my own. Sometimes the bath tub would look like a scene from Dexter by the time I was done. I even shaved my arms.
I can still remember buying my first canister of Gillette shaving cream. I chose it because I thought it was beautiful: purple and turquoise. I thought it smelled grown up. My Mom had just been letting me shave with soap. This was the big leagues.
My Mom introduced me to waxing to remove my mustache. Definitely by Grade 7 I was fully aware of having hair on my upper lip, and my Mom helped me keep it in check. I also dabbled throughout high school with hair removal creams, with which I would often burn myself. I turned to waxing my arms until I finally grew to accept that they would always be fuzzy.
So what’s my beef with shaving foam in a can and disposable razors?
1- There is no way to dispose of a shaving foam can in an environmentally responsible way. The components of plastic and metal cannot be easily separated so they wind up in the landfill. Disposable razors are a huge source of plastic waste.
2- Razors are expensive! The fancy (read: bright purple and pink) razors marketed to teen girls cost around $5 a pop. A can of shaving cream, which if your teen shaves like I did, will be used up in less than a month, sets you back another $5.
3- Fragrance. The most nefarious, untested and unregulated ingredient in most body care products is “fragrance.” The word can refer to literally hundreds of chemicals that blend together to smell like “Passionista Fruit,” “Sugarberry” or “Alluring Avocado.” The particular can featured in the ad receives a “5” from the EWG.
First of all we all need to be a bit less stressed about body hair. I hate how embarrassed I was about my arm hair, and I hate that the only solution my mother and I could come up with was to shave it off. I don’t know quite how to achieve greater comfort with body hair, and I’m not about to suggest we all sport mustaches and unibrows, either. I think the most important thing is to accept body hair as natural, not gross. That said, I am not prepared, myself, to give up tending to my eyebrows, upper lip, underarms, legs and bikini area, so I don’t expect my daughter to be either.
The most ecological way to remove unwanted body hair, in my opinion, is with wax and reusable strips. I’ve been using wax at home for 20 years now, and some of the cotton strips I still use are probably just as old. There are great brands of wax that can be used cold, and are water soluble, so no stress about burns or sticky messes. The cotton strips can be washed in the washing machine (it helps to put them in a mesh lingerie bag) and reused almost infinitely. Waxing also lasts longer than shaving.
If waxing is not up you our your daughter’s alley, then let’s green that shave! You know what my favourite “shaving cream” is? Straight coconut oil! It lubricates the skin, leaves it soft, smells lovely and can be purchased by the tub-full at Costco. Otherwise, opt for a brand that comes in a more readily-recyclable container, and definitely get a razor which can be sharpened or with replaceable heads. The brand Preserve makes a razor that is made out of recyclable plastic and fully recyclable after use.
Brushing and flossing are non-negotiables! But they can be done with a lot less waste. No, I am not suggesting reusable dental floss, just dental floss manufactured in an environmentally respectful way. And as for toothbrushes, if we follow recommendations, we throw out four toothbrushes a year for all of our tooth-brushing lives! That’s just so much plastic that will be sitting around for centuries in our landfills…
Radius toothbrushes have a REPLACEABLE HEAD!!! That’s right: you just buy one handle, then for the rest of your life all you are replacing is the brush part. That’s a huge amount of waste reduction and the cost is the same. I reviewed the system already, here.
Radius also makes floss with a lower environmental impact. The floss picks shown in the advertisement are yet another form of non-biodegradable plastic waste that can wind up in the stomachs of marine animals. Radius’s floss sachets are just as portable, 100% vegan and come in 100% biodegradable packaging. The floss in Radius’s regular floss packages is silk floss that is completely compostable.
The ad that served for inspiration for this post doesn’t propose shampoo or conditioner or other hair-styling products. However, I’m a huge fan of going the homemade route, and you can read all about that here.
The ad does feature a comb and hairbrush that are heavy on the plastic. It got me wondering what non-plastic alternatives were on the market and to what benefit.
Non-plastic combs and brushes are tricky to find at the drugstore, but I found them at Life Without Plastic. The brush “is plastic-free and durable, with seven rows of maple wood bristles on a beeswax-finished beechwood body, all sourced from sustainably harvested wood. It will gently brush your hair and remove tangles.” I’ve been through many, many cheap plastic hairbrushes in my life that have broken and torn my hair and wound up in the trash.
The comb is also made of “sustainably harvested German beechwood.” It is anti-static thanks to its beeswax coating.
The brush works beautifully on my hair and if I treat it right, I’ll be using it for many, many years to come. (Hopefully I still have hair enough to benefit from it!)
You know what? I totally get that reusable menstrual products are a tough sell for women of any age. However, the more I’ve thought about the immense quantity of waste each woman will generate over her lifetime, and the more I’ve learned about the unregulated toxins found in tampons and pads, the more committed I am to using reusable products and encouraging my daughter to do the same. The scary thing about the pads and tampons on the market is that companies are not required to list the ingredients contained in their products, products we place in and around the most sensitive parts of our bodies.
I was absolutely opposed to the concept until I had a baby in cloth diapers. Heck, now I don’t even use toilet paper! I wrote extensively and descriptively about my first period using washable pads, and I discovered that many of the annoying things about using pads in high school were eliminated by using resuables:
- They don’t make a swoosh-swoosh noise when you walk (even though only you can hear it, you know you thought the whole class could);
- There’s no cacophonous ripping noise as you open a package and take off the backing in an otherwise awkwardly silent bathroom;
- There’s no fear of having to dispose of a pad in, say, your boyfriend’s bathroom (I remember the horror at discovering the only option was an unlined trash can with NO OTHER GARBAGE IN IT);
- There’s no sticky feeling or itch that seems to come from having plastic pressed against your most sensitive area all day.
However, to accept cloth pads, you do have to be willing to see more blood than you would using disposables. You have to wash them. Washing them isn’t complicated but I can imagine that, particularly for girls newly on their periods, this might seem utterly embarrassing. I actually think it’s an awesome opportunity to take all of the embarrassment out of menstruation. A full 50% of the world’s population experience it: it’s natural and by no means shameful or disgusting. By the time I got my period (age 13), I was already doing my own laundry. Either way, pads can be rinsed in the sink and stored in a discreet wet bag. Come laundry time, no one has to touch anything: just dump the bag and its contents into the wash. (I personally wash my menstrual cloth with my regular laundry, some prefer to do it with just towels or with cloth diapers.)
There’s something extremely powerful about the marketing behind disposable menstrual products for girls. I’ve noticed they’re coming in flashier boxes and even the pads themselves come with designs. Sorry, but nothing tops the amazing designs you can get on reusable pads!
Jenna at Cotton Candy Eco Cloth makes pads to accommodate light to heavy (even overnight or post partum) flows that can be adjusted to fit comfortably thanks to the set of two closure snaps that go around your underwear. Something else I love about Jenna and her homemade brand is her commitment to promoting women’s health and women’s bodies as utterly un-embarrassing subjects. Her exclusive Cuterus design by Scrawny Girl is a must have for EVERY woman: our bodies are amazing, beautiful and sometimes they can cause us a lot of grief, but we have to embrace them.
The three pad designs shown above are:
7″ LIGHT liner *narrower closure* in ‘cuterus’ – closures at 2.25 & 2.5″ rather than the usual 2.5 & 2.75″ closure (perfect for more petite young ladies), backed in microfleece and absorbency indicated by WHITE coloured snap stud (1 layer heavy organic bamboo fleece);
10.5″ HEAVY cloth pad in ‘foxy forest’ – closures at 2.5 &2.75″ – backed in Windpro, absorbency indicated by BLACK coloured snap stud (3 layers heavy organic bamboo fleece);
13″ POSTPARTUM/OVERNIGHT cloth pad in ‘anchors away’ – closures at 2.5 &2.75″ – backed in Windpro, absorbency indicated by GOLD coloured snap stud (4 layers heavy organic bamboo fleece)
Also available are “grey” studded pads in moderate absorbency.
You can check my own full review of a CCEC pad here.
If cloth pads are just a complete non-starter for you or for your daughter, let me recommend selecting a more environmentally-friendly and safer option. Have a look at Naty and Natracare for examples of non-toxic brands.
Embracing the Cup:
I’d say that the majority of girls are not super keen on tampons when they first start their periods. It’s a pretty intimidating concept and it takes practice and getting used to. Therefore, I realize full well that a menstrual cup is probably just as if not more intimidating. Grown women aren’t always eager to try menstrual cups. I documented my own experience with my first cup here. I think it’s important to let girls know that the option exists, and to suggest a cup that’s as user-friendly as possible. I selected the Lily Cup by Intimina for a “first cup” because it is the only one on the market that rolls as small as a tampon for insertion.
Using a cup really forces women and girls to get to know their bodies and understand their anatomy. It’s something that I didn’t really do until pregnancy, and that’s just sad. The more a young girl knows and understands her body, the more likely she is to value it, respect it and take care of it.
I can still remember when I started sweating. It was in Grade 7, and it was like the Hoover Dam broke. Suddenly I was coming home from school with giant pit stains, planning my outfits around the best way to camouflage the wetness and desperately searching for a solution. I tried a lot of heavy-duty antiperspirants and often had very irritated underarms. I didn’t have a huge problem with odour because I showered and changed often (in a perfect world I would’ve loved to own two of every shirt so I could change halfway through the day). The main issue was wetness, and it still is. I have found that extra-strength antiperspirants are fairly effective. Understand that there is not really a natural alternative to antiperspirant, because perspiring is, well natural. There have been media scares linking antiperspirants to breast cancer, but it does seem like those claims are unfounded. Many women and teens may not be able forego antiperspirant if they’re heavy sweaters like me. However I have found that since I completely went antiperspirant-free in favour of natural deodorant, my body seems to have adjusted and I am sweating less than in the past. Primal Pit Paste’s article about a Pit Detox is fascinating!
Primal Pit Paste deodorant is the best! I’ve tried making my own deodorant using a similar formulation, but the folks at Primal seem to have gotten to mix JUST RIGHT so that it goes on smooth, not greasy. In terms of odour fighting, it works. My husband is a stinky guy, and he doesn’t stink after a stressful day of work wearing Primal Pit Paste!
Primal Pit Paste sticks come in a huge variety of teen and Mom-pleasing scents that are completely natural (ie: not just “fragrance”). I’d recommend the stick format for easy application, and because it’s most similar to what most women are used to!
Swabs & Makeup Removal Pads
Don’t worry: those aren’t reusable cotton swabs. I’m a big proponent of minimizing our use of single use disposable items, but I’m not suggesting you start re-using your Q-Tips either. Sometimes, you just need a cotton swab to get a job done. But when you get by with a wash cloth, go for the wash cloth! The cotton swabs I’m proposing are by Swisspers, and are made with 100% organic cotton.
Öko Creation‘s reusable makeup removal pads are divine. They don’t rip when wet, they have a gentle exfoliating effect and they are perfect for 99% of what you’d use their disposable equivalents for. Super dark nail polish might be better tackled with disposable ones, but other than that, a set of reusable Öko pads has you covered for removing eye makeup, applying facial creams or scrubs and cleaning wounds. To wash them easily, place in a lingerie bag.
If you’re interested in greening your teen’s routine, or in starting her off on the greenest foot possible, the most important thing is YOUR EXAMPLE. Model a healthy, open attitude towards menstruation, body hair and body odour, and talk about why you choose the products you’ve chosen. Maybe you’ve never tried any of the products mentioned above: you can make the switch together!
Even if you’re not ready to go for menstrual cups and all-natural deodorant, part of what I’m hoping to accomplish with this post is to encourage women and girls to be critical of the marketing of our body care products: what’s behind that flashy label and those sparkles? Many of the “non-green” options presented in the ad that led to this post are sold as ways to camouflage things we’re uncomfortable with and to distance ourselves from our bodies, which is kind of an alluring concept for a teenage girl whose changing body is a bit intimidating or for adult women who grew up being ashamed to talk about their bodies with their own mothers.
Gotta pay the bills...