Despite being an integral part of daily life for half the world’s population, there has been surprisingly little innovation around the topic of menstruation in the last 80 years. Ever since Dr. Earle Haas patented and invented the modern-day tampon in 1929, the main emphasis has been one of product evolution, rather than revolution.
However, over recent years, there has been a new crop of venture-funded startups that are attempting to offer women more eco-friendly and transparent choices in the fem care market. As consumers become increasingly concerned about the ingredients used in everyday products, startups are appealing to women who are want to understand how products are actually made, and their subsequent impact on the environment.
Considering the feminine hygiene market is estimated to be worth $42.7 billion by the year 2022, innovation it would seem is long overdue. However, in response to a relatively static range of products, startups targeting women’s healthcare have multiplied in recent years.
From menstrual discs to underwear that acts as a tampon replacement, here are some of the latest products changing the way women, and indeed all of us think about periods.
Created on July 2015 by Alex Friedman and Jordana Kier, Lola was one of the first organic tampon brands that vowed to be completely transparent with customers about the ingredients in their products.
After initially discovering that the FDA didn’t require the full disclosure of all the ingredients used in the creation tampons (which seemed at odds with their use and intimate location), Lola set about the process of providing a policy of openness, and promised that all their products would be free of toxins, fragrances or synthetic fibres.
Lola has, in part, been responsible for leading the charge among a growing number of individuals and health advocates who have been calling for greater transparency within the fem care industry.
They started by questioning what exactly is in conventional tampons and using campaign slogans on train ads that included, “Our tampons have one ingredient. Others . . . you’ll need a longer train ride”.
Their brand positioning has helped to foster and encourage an honest and open conversation about menstruation and reproductive health. With much of the topic still shrouded in secrecy and shame, the hope is that by normalizing the conversation they can help to reduce the stigmatization that still surrounds periods and tampons.
And intriguingly it appears to be working. In a relatively short period of time, Lola has surpassed the social media following of Tampax, part of the Proctor and Gamble group who currently occupy 50% of the feminine hygiene market.
Design by the company’s co-founder Alex Hooi, Callalay has been described as a ‘leak-free’ tampon that promises to revolutionize women’s periods. By combining a traditional tampon with a panty-liner, their Tampliner essentially eliminates the need for women to use two completely separate products.
Inspired by his work as a gynecologist for over 30 years, Alex Hooi became increasingly frustrated with the choice of fem care products available to women, viewing them as uncomfortable, inconvenient or prone to leaks.
He also noticed that in an attempt to increase margins and keep costs low, traditional brands were often using lots of pesticides, dyes, and bleaches in their products. Alex decided to take action, and set about designing a better, cleaner and more convenient option that didn’t require women to put sheddable, unsterilized materials inside their bodies.
Their piece de resistance is their “virtual applicator”. Made from a medical-grade breathable membrane, the applicator is designed to keep your finger clean during insertion, before neatly wrapping the used tampon in its own liner after removal.
With the ease of use, protection against staining and hygiene at the core of their offering, Callalay have created a product that’s ideally suited to the inconvenience of public bathrooms.
With Tampliners made from 95% biodegradable materials, Callaly also invests one percent of its sales in projects that support people with periods.
According to the Women’s Environmental Network, the average woman will use around 11,000 tampons in her lifetime, and over a quarter of women claim to be unsatisfied with them.
Part of the issue has been one of choice, for decades the various options were limited to disposable pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. With large brands dominating the market, and with very few alternatives available, women have at times simply opted for “the best choice available”.
In 2016 Flex launched an alternative, consisting of a small, plastic disposable disc that sits at the base of the cervix, just past the vaginal canal. Because the disc rests higher than both tampons and menstrual cups, it is less likely to cause cramps (by up to 70 percent) and prevents odors by not exposing the blood to oxygen.
The disc can be worn safely for up to 12 hours, and because it’s less prone to leaking, it’s the only product that apparently allows you to have “mess-free sex”. Additional benefits are the materials. Made from hypoallergenic, BPA-free plastic, the Flex product is less likely to cause yeast infections or toxic shock syndrome.
However removing the menstrual disc may prove slightly complicated as the disc has the ability to hold up to six teaspoons of blood, or the equivalent of five tampons. As a result, Flex does recommend doing this particular activity in the shower.
Also, the disc isn’t reusable or biodegradable, meaning it isn’t as environmentally friendly as a cup, however by producing 60 percent less waste than traditional tampons, it does make it one of the more environmentally friendly disposable menstruation products available.
In the present social climate, people are undoubtedly concerned with the environment and their own personal impact on the plant. Tampons often contain a number of synthetic materials (including up to 90% plastic) that not only take a very long time to break down, but can also make their way into the various rivers, lakes, and seas of the world.
Through their reusable underwear, Wuka aims to reduce 200,000 tonnes of waste per year from tampons, pads and panty liners.While there are a number of underwear products on the market that double as a self-absorbing undergarment, Wuka (short for Wake Up and Kick-Ass) is the first of its kind to launch in the UK.
At first glance, the underwear looks much like any other, but beneath the top layer are several additional layers of material that offer protection against the effects of menstruation. Specifically, at the crotch, an anti-bacterial layer absorbs and traps any fluids, holding up to 4 tampons (or 20 milliliters) worth of blood.
The idea was formed after co-founder Ruby Raut grew up in Nepal and witnessed a number of women using sari rags during their monthly cycle. With traditional tampons and sanitary products often too expensive for many to afford, women were often forced to adopt cheaper alternatives.
After training as an environmental scientist, Ruby Raut set out to create a more comfortable, efficient, hygienic and eco-friendly product that could be reused after every period. The end result is the Wuka underwear range, where all items can be tossed into the washing machine (or washed in cold water) with regular detergent after every use.
On average a woman will have their period every month for around 30 years of their lives, and the end result is a lot of waste in our landfills, toxins in our body and money out of our pockets. These startups are just a few that are not only providing innovative and welcomed solutions towards women’s hygiene but are doing so in a way that ensures we’re more healthy, eco-friendly and cost-effective in the process.