Being a woman is the best. It’s a privilege really; Our bodies can do beyond amazing things, we have this sacred wisdom and a greater connection with mother earth, and so much innate power that only becomes stronger when women group together and support one another. Sadly, the business of vaginal health doesn’t reflect this beauty, at least not yet, and it makes us pretty pissed. During our periods we are pushed inorganic, bleached and sales-taxed tampons and tales of caution about TSS, in intimate moments we place risk on upsetting the delicate microbiomes of our vaginas with toxic lubricant ingredients like propylene glycol, and when the washes and douches we’re told to use disrupt our body’s pH, and hormonal acne forms around of jaw-lines, we are told to swallow antibiotics, oral contraceptives and Accutane to solve the issue. It’s not fair, it’s not healthy, and it’s not right.
In honor of International Women’s Day tomorrow, we wanted to talk body politics, and a clean, safe vaginal health regime that’s as beautiful as the women who put it into practice. No BS, just safe product, and a lot of knowledge to spread from some women founders with incredible stories of their own. Acne breakouts, period cramps, and infections are bad enough- and part of every ovulating woman’s month. Let’s not poison our bodies along with it. Here are our favorite brands that advocate to fix a broken system of woman’s healthcare, and just generally celebrate women and all of their awesomeness.
First, we look to Cora to provide safe, organic period products to women in the US and abroad that allow us to open up the conversation about woman’s health on a grand scale.
Cora Co-Founder Molly: Cora exists to give women healthy, modern solutions for managing their periods. Many women grow up being told to hide their periods and not talk about them. We want to make conversations about our bodies completely normal and for women to feel proud of the awesome power of their female bodies.
At our core, we’re a company that deeply believes in the power of impact and transforming the period experience not just for women here in the U.S., but also for those around the world. For every month’s supply of Cora that you purchase, we help provide a month’s supply of pads and health education to a girl in need. In order to do this, we’ve partnered with incredible organizations like Aakar Innovations and ZanaAfrica to purchase and distribute safe, clean and quality products for women and girls in India and Kenya.
The Moment: How does Cora work to debunk global stigmas surrounding menstruation? How can we all work to debunk these?
Molly: Period shaming for women around the world is a huge problem and can often have long term debilitating effects. In some developing countries, women are exiled from their families and communities during menstruation because it’s considered unclean. Many girls will just stay home from school during their periods because they can’t afford or don’t have access to products like pads.
In India, one in four girls drops out of school at puberty. Many resort to using rags, sand, ash and newspaper to manage their periods. Women have reported that they engage in prostitution in order to make enough money to buy menstrual pads. It’s incredibly unsafe for women to go to these lengths to manage their periods and detrimental to their futures to not be able to attend school for 3-5 days each month.
It’s crazy to me that there’s so much shame around something all women experience at some point in their lives. I think the more open we are, and the harder we collectively work to dismantle the taboo, the closer we will be to changing the narrative and taking away some of this unwarranted shame. Our blog has become a hub for women because we talk about real topics that real women care about and want to know more about. We talk about everything from intimacy to embracing your stretch marks. Our products have also been developed with real women in mind, and we’re constantly evolving and shifting to ensure that our company reflects our top value of celebrating womanhood.
In my own life, I started to look into the ingredients in the products that I was using and learned that the FDA doesn’t require tampon companies to disclose their ingredients, and many companies actually use chemicals in their products. And now, we’re also starting to really engage on the larger discussion around body and politics and women’s health here and around the world both online through Cora’s platforms, but also in meeting with women on the ground. What’s always been, and always will be, important to me though is that we aren’t just part of the larger conversation, we’re actually creating tangible change for women. As a form of our own personal protest of the period tax in California, we actually pay the tax for our California customers.
But it’s not just this stigmatization or shame placed on periods that we have an issue with (although, let’s be honest- that’s bad enough), it’s also the products themselves, the ingredients in them, the bleached cotton, and the nonsensical treatment plans offered to women who more often than not, suffer from infection as a result of using faulty products. Bea Feliu-Espada, founder of Honey Pot Co, a line of natural feminine care products, and Wendy Strgar of Good Clean Love, an intimacy line that’s both certified safe and organic, have created lines that love and support the natural system we already have in place.
Honey Pot Co
Bea: I started The Honey Pot Co because I suffered with an almost year long infection that I could not rid myself of. I finally got tired of it and created a mixture of beautiful ingredients like coconut oil, rose hydrosol, lavender hydrosol, garlic and grapefruit seed extract amongst a few others and it worked like magic. The Honey Pot came shortly after, as I felt the need to bring something to market that I felt was missing. Being prescribed antibiotic after antibiotic during my infection, without lasting results made me feel hopeless, sick, nasty, and like I would not be able to figure out how to move forward.
The vagina is a very stable but also unstable part of the body. It relies on a woman’s balance of good and bad bacteria. If the woman is making too much bad and not enough good she can be more susceptible to infection, sensitivity and odor. If she is making too much good and not enough bad a similar thing can happen so the environment needs to be just right. And the way to make this happen is to have the pH right around 3.8-4.8 pH. Then the vagina is producing the necessary hydrogen peroxide to create the lactobacillus to create the proper balance of bacterias.
The Moment: How can we make sure we don’t disrupt the pH?
Bea: Everything can mess with the pH; wiping the wrong way, not washing correctly, using washcloths, not having a clean bathroom, using artificial fragrances, using the wrong products, not washing after sex, not going pee after sex and ejaculation, the list could literally go on and on. It changes during your period. The body’s blood is alkaline so as we approach our menses the pH of the vagina goes more to a neutral/alkaline state. And this is natural. But what happens especially with people who have re-occurring infections is their pH never gets back to its original state because it was off to begin with.
We make products for everyone, we do not tell women to simply put our product on a wash cloth and use it. We encourage them to use their hands so they can physically be in touch with their body. We also make a product for every woman in every aspect of their life. Young girls can use our Sensitive products starting at 3 years old, women can use the Normal products post 9 or when they start their cycle in life, we make Mommy To Be products for pregnant women and post-partum pads for after baby to support their healing process.
And what happens when that delicate balance is thrown off? Wendy Strgar of Good Clean Love dives deeper.
Good Clean Love
Good Clean Love Founder Wendy: Good Clean Love is revolutionizing the feminine hygiene and sexual health market niches with product formulations that are the most scientifically advanced and made with organic and natural ingredients.
Disrupting the natural balance in the vagina has significant consequences for women’s health. There is a lot of research that has shown that disrupting the vaginal ecology is associated with over a 3x risk of contracting the most common vaginal infection- Bacterial Vaginosis. Because BV is often a silent condition, it goes untreated over 80% of the time. And women who have long term BV are 60% more susceptible to other STDs and HIV and 3x as likely to transmit these illnesses.
Intimacy and feminine hygiene is the last great frontier on product shelves- our goal is make the entire category safer and more respectful of the delicate yet brilliant natural vaginal balance.
The Moment: How did Good Clean Love get started?
Strgar: Necessity was the mother of invention when I started Good Clean Love as a veritable cottage industry in my kitchen. I was literally trying to come up with solutions for my own vaginal pain during sex after having and nursing 4 children. Everything (conventional lubes) my doctor gave me to make it better, made it worse.
For years I thought that it was just me- until I started learning about the ingredient base of the majority of feminine hygiene and sexual health products on the market. I thought I was allergic to those ingredients but after a study came out in 2012 I learned that it was not allergies but rather a bio-chemical reaction that impacted all women by disrupting the natural protective ecology of a healthy vagina. That made me a warrior- because women deserve to have products that make them feel better. They deserve products that are formulated to protect their health and that is not largely what most multinationals are selling.
Because our mission is based around love, this product issue feels like a justice issue to me. And I am very motivated to educate about these health and safety issues.
Strgar: We promote the belief that our true beauty comes from within and never so radiantly as when we love- both ourselves and others. And I think that our focus on love differentiates our work because it makes intimacy relational- promoting sexual health in the context of relating enhances your sense of self worth, dignity and compassion. Intimacy that occurs within loving contexts heals us, teaches us, transforms us. This is the kind of intimacy that Good Clean Love products elongate, enhance, embolden. I always tell people not to waste the product on people they don’t love. Even if it is the first and only time you are with someone, if it isn’t loving – why do it?
All of our products are body centric which means they work and actually mimic the body’s healthiest conditions- we patented the term bio-matched to describe the science behind all our feminine hygiene and organic intimacy products. We are also devoted to both health and relationship education and communicate through our award winning blog called Making Love Sustainable where we provide insights and skill building tips to help women feel and love better.
The Moment: How do you work to debunk global stigmas surrounding women’s and vaginal health?
Strgar: Education is everything when it comes to how we learn and think about what it means to be female and have a vagina. We support global women’s reproductive rights organizations with our 10% for women campaign and offer both vaginal and sexual health content in all of our platforms. And we actively work to educate our customers about how to maintain a healthy vaginal ecology. The more we learn about our own physiology and become confident in our capacity for pleasure, the more we become both teachers and activists for other women. At least that’s how I think it happens.
The last piece of our puzzle, doesn’t have to do with vaginal health directly, but instead the outcome or hormonal fluctuation – hormonal acne. Amareta Skincare offers a natural alternative to understanding hormonal acne flareups, rather than force it to slink away with oral medication.
Amareta Co-Founder Claire: Hormonal acne is acne tied to fluctuations in hormones and hormonal imbalance. Depending on physical, emotional and environmental factors, some people get it while others don’t. Although it’s typically associated with hormone fluctuations during puberty, hormonal acne can affect adults of any age. For adults, hormonal acne tends to form on cheeks and around jawline.
Skin is a good indicator of what’s going on inside of your body. Sometimes hormonal acne forms due not to poor health, but the changes in hormonal levels that are natural- just as we are part of the natural cycle of life.
The Moment: Can you give us some more insight into this cycle?
Claire: Though length of each cycle varies from one individual to another, everyone goes through Luteal Phase, Follicular Phase, and Menstrual Phase. Our skin undergoes a series of changes over the 28-day cycle. Generally speaking, during Luteal Phase (generally 10 days before the period), estrogen level starts to decrease while progesterone level increases, skin’s sebum production increases causing higher likelihood of pore clogging – skin is prone to form acne. During the Menstrual Phase, estrogen and progesterone levels fall; body temperature and blood circulation will be lower than usual. Skin will appear dullish; sebum production may decrease, leading to low moisture-retention. Follicular Phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation. During post-menstruation to start of ovulation, skin is generally at its best condition. We encourage using products that contain active ingredients during this time period.
Hormones fluctuate on a monthly basis and throughout life as a whole. Scientific researches have shown that even the development of stretch-mark is hormonal related.
THE LUTHEAL PHASE (10 days before period)
What To Do: look for ingredients that have antiseptic power to calm inflammation, while preventing against excess build-up. We have developed a hormonal acne collection perfect for this.
THE MENSTRUAL PHASE (during period)
What To Do: To help brighten skin and lessen the appearance of dullness, we recommends products that are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants. We have developed hormonal dry/dullness collection for this phase.
THE FOLLICULAR PHASE (day of menstruation through ovulation)
What To Do: During post-menstruation to the start of ovulation, skin is generally in its best condition. We encourage using products that contain active ingredients during this time period.
In terms of food intake, limiting salt, caffeine, and cutting out sugar will help, drink water and exercise! In terms of beauty, we believe that hormones play a big role in skin health, but we realize that there has been no skincare that address the natural rhythm of a woman’s hormonal make up, whether it’s the usual 28 day monthlies or pregnancy. Therefore, we create our products and beauty rituals that complement the cyclical hormonal changes and for specific skin needs associated with hormonal swings; to support these changes, instead of trying to cover them up.
The Moment: What are your thoughts on using oral contraceptives, Accutane, benzoyl peroxide, proactive, or salicylic acid to treat acne/ hormonal acne?
Claire: We believe in the power of nature, and that we are all parts of the powerful cycle of life. We believe that all women, mothers, and moms-to-be deserve powerful skincare made only with the safest ingredients. We don’t encourage interventions that are synthetic. In terms of acne treatment, harsh chemicals cause dry skin, more importantly, they are questionable to the safety of your body especially during pregnancy.
We are in an era that calls for radical self-care. Radical in a sense that it requires boldness to speak about realness – topics such as periods, hormonal cycles, menstruation are only small fraction of the realness. Radical self-care calls for radical transparency, when we talk about these things in public, not only that it is freeing, real changes can then happen.
Feature image via Goop.
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