Everything You Need to Know About Menstrual Hygiene

Menstruation is the monthly process of discarding blood and tissue from the uterus that typically begins in pre-adolescence and ends with menopause. Menstruation is not just a biological process, but a social one as well. In many instances, menstruation can have major social and economic implications. Nearly 83% of women feel their periods stop them from participating fully in activities, and 70% say they have missed work or school because of their periods.

What is Menstrual Health and Hygiene?

UNICEF defines Menstrual Health and Hygiene as encompassing both Menstrual Health Management and the broader systemic factors that link menstruation with health, gender equality, education, empowerment, and rights. These factors have been summarized by UNESCO as access to menstrual education, access to health services, hand washing facilities and period products, the social norms surrounding periods, access to safe and hygienic disposal, and period advocacy and policy. Menstruation is a biological process, whereas, menstrual health and hygiene are the social, political and economic factors that allow them to safely manage this biological process so that is has as little impact on their life as possible.

Why Take Menstrual Hygiene Seriously?

Menstrual Hygiene is No Joke

The lack of access to menstrual hygiene management can significantly impact our everyday life, yet it’s rarely talked about. The stigma surrounding periods and period products make open and honest discussions about how to improve access to menstrual hygiene difficult. Feelings of embarrassment are often linked to menstruation, with some parts of the world viewing menstruation as dirty and shameful. While menstruation isn’t experienced the same way by all, knowing how to properly manage your period is universally important. image of menstrual hygiene products for managing periods

Menstrual Hygiene in Business

Understanding menstrual hygiene is more important than you may think when running a business or managing a property. Providing a hygienic sanitary disposal unit can:

  • Reduce plumbing costs
  • Create a more inclusive environment for all people who menstruate
  • Limit the spread of bacteria by preventing cross-contamination

While taking menstrual hygiene seriously in your business may not seem like something important, menstrual products are just as necessary as soap, water, and toilet paper. Periods are an inevitable part of many of our lives, just as having to use the washroom is. So why aren’t period products provided to people in the same way toilet paper and paper towels are?  

Understanding Menstrual Health and Hygiene

From Buffalo Skin to Disposable Pads: The History of Period Products

The history of menstrual hygiene is a crazy one! Menstrual products, the tampons and pads we use today, only became mainstream in the 1950’s and 60’s. Before that, women had been using a number of do-it-yourself alternatives including cottons rags, wrapping linen around wood to use as an early tampon, and even using buffalo skin to absorb their periods!

history of sanitary towels in infographic form
Source: https://www.bloodandmilk.com/brief-history-of-period-products/

1896: Johnson & Johnson Reveal Listers Towels: Sanitary Towels for Women 

In 1896, Johnson and Johnson introduced the Lister’s towels and Lister’s belt for those towels. These breakthrough sanitary napkins were the first of their kind because they were disposable. Women no longer has to walk around with a blood-soaked cloth all day- they could simply toss their sanitary napkins out now!

1920’s- Lister’s Towels get a New Name

In order to promote the sale of these products and make women feel more comfortable ordering them, the name was changed to Nupak in the 1920’s. That way women could buy them without having to describe or allude to menstruation in any way. In fact, women were given the option to leave their money in a box to avoid asking the store clerk for help. While the thought of having to hide the fact that you’re buying period products might seem extreme today, at the time, the taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation made it so women felt it was indecent to even discuss menstruation, nonetheless openly buy menstrual products.

 

 

 

image of advertisement for beltless feminine napkin
Source: http://www.mum.org/stayfre3.htm

1936- Gertrude Tenderich Brings the Tampon to the Market with her New Company Tampax

In 1929, Dr. Earle Haas created the tampon. The patent was acquired by businesswomen Gertrude Tendrich who founded Tampax and was the first to bring the tampon to market- an opportunity Kotex passed up on! However, they were not mainstream, mostly due to questions surrounding if it was okay for unmarried women to use them. Due to cultural beliefs at the time regarding a tampons impact on a women’s virginity, sanitary belts remained popular will into the 1950’s.

1960’s and 1970’s- Periods go Beltless with Self-Adhesive Pads

In 1969, Stayfree created the first self-adhesive maxi pad, eliminating the need for belts completely. In addition, throughout the 60’s and 70’s, attitudes surrounding women maintaining their purity before marriage had changed, and by the 1980’s nearly 70% of women were using tampons.

 

2000’s and Beyond: Safety and Comfort Like never Before

ad for tampax tampons
Source: https://tampax.com/en-us/about/our-story/history-of-tampax/

Nearly 80% of women are now using tampons; so it’s hard to believe just 50 years earlier sanitary belts were the popular option! However, that does not mean that the tampon has not changed or improved since the 80’s. In fact, in 1997, Tampax conducted extensive  research and found that the cylindrical shape of tampons didn’t match the female anatomy. They realized that a women’s vaginal cavity is actually shaped more like a sleeping bag that a cylinder, and in 2002 released the new Tampax Pearl. This tampon has wings that open and expand from it’s original cylindrical shape for better fit and protection. The wing-shaped tampon has now become the standard amongst most brand name period product manufacturers. Since then, menstrual products have remained mostly the same in terms of its basic shape and size, with companies constantly finding new ways to increase comfort and protection, and as of recent, find more sustainable ways to produce menstrual products.

 

Menstrual Hygiene Management

What is Menstrual Hygiene Management?

Menstrual Hygiene Management is defined by the World Health Organization and the UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme as people who menstruate using “a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. They understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear.”

Menstrual Hygiene Management is Comprised of 4 Main Components: 

  • Access to Menstrual Products
  • Access to Soap and Water
  • Access to Safe Menstrual Disposal
  • Access to Period Education

1. Access to Menstrual Products

The average Canadian who menstruates will spend about $6000 throughout their lifetime on menstrual products alone. That number only includes menstrual products and does not take into account the pain medication and other period management products that many people who menstruate use. While $6000 over a lifetime may not seem like a lot at first glance, you may be surprised to learn that nearly 25% of Canadian women under 25 struggles to afford menstrual products. 

2. Access to Soap and Water

Globally, over 4 billion people do not have access to sanitation services that are safely managed. Having access to soap and water to properly wash your hands after using the washroom or handling menstrual products is extremely important. Handwashing helped reduce acute respiratory infections by 20%, diarrheal disease by up to 48% and can reduce the likelihood of getting COVID-19 by up to 36%!

3. Access to Safe Menstrual Disposal

Menstrual disposal in public and work washrooms has looked the same way for many years. A stainless-steel metal box mounted to the wall with a lid you manually open to place your menstrual products inside. In some cases, a regular uncovered garbage is available, and sometimes, there’s nothing at all, leaving people to come up with last-minute disposal alternatives like flushing products down the toilet.

While menstruating hasn’t changed, what we consider safe and hygienic has. Did you know infectious diseases and foodborne illnesses like COVID-19, Hepatitis, and Salmonella can last on stainless steel wall boxes for up to 3 days? Why are businesses still using manual menstrual disposal solutions that promote the spread of infectious bacteria? In order to achieve good menstrual hygiene management, it’s vitally important that businesses provide effective and hygienic sanitary waste  units for the disposal of products.

feminine hygiene disposal infographic

4. Access to Period Education 

Understanding how your period works, why it happens, when to expect it and how to manage it are all essential parts of the period education needed to properly manage your menstrual cycle. Many people who menstruate are unaware of why their periods are happening and what they mean for their bodies. A recent study conducted by Menstrual Hygiene Day and U-Report  found that 51% of young people can only talk about their periods with very close people, with 12% not being able to talk to anyone at all. Many of those young people live in places where menstruation is a taboo topic, limiting their access to the information and support they need. Period education helps people who understand how to safely manage their period, so it has as little impact on their lives as possible.

The Physical and Mental Effects of Poor Menstrual Hygiene

Poor menstrual hygiene management can have a serious impact on one’s physical and mental health. Poverty is one of the main reasons women use unhygienic means to manage their periods. In some rural parts of developing countries, people who menstruate are forced to use alternatives like wood husks, mud, and old rags to collect their period blood.  Contaminated period products are breeding grounds for harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. Coli., can lead to yeast and urinary tract infections, and increase the risk of cervical cancer.

woman experiencing cramps when on period

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Symptoms can also cause physical symptoms like cramps, bloating, and headaches. In fact, Women’s Health found that nearly 90% of people who menstruate experience at least one PMS symptoms before their period begins. Yet, for many, pain management is beyond reach for a number of economic or social reasons. Access to medication to manage your PMS and any other pain and discomfort you feel throughout your cycle is not guaranteed and can be very expensive, and many people don’t have the money to afford both the products and the pain medication.

Menstrual Hygiene Around the World

Periods are experienced very differently depending on what part of the world you are in. In rural parts of Nepal for example, women and girls are forced into a practice called Chhaupadi. Chhaupadi is a form of menstrual exile, where women are placed into huts and must remain there in isolation until their period is over. Menstrual hygiene is nearly non-existent in these menstrual huts- which are often made of mud, with little to no ventilation and have even led to numerous deaths. In Venezuela, people who menstruate are forced to turn to the black market for period products because extreme hyperinflation has increased the price of tampons by 1800%!

While those examples may seem extreme, it shed an important light on how menstruation is experienced differently depending on what part of the world you experience it in. In the US and Canada, while access to overall menstrual hygiene is some of the best in the world, there is still LOTS of room for improvement. 70% of people who menstruate miss school or work during their periods, and 1/3 of people under 25 cannot afford period products.

It’s not all bad news! There are some strong global leaders emerging in the fight against period poverty. In November of 2020, Scotland became the first country to make period products universally free! The Scottish Government is doing this in an effort to fight period poverty and inspire other countries in the UK and around the world to follow suit.

You can find out more about what menstrual hygiene looks like around the world by reading our in-depth article. 

Period Stigma and Taboos

Period stigma and taboos are still prevalent in nearly all parts of the world. It may differ in severity depending on where you live and what the culture is like, but in general, people who menstruate still face widespread stigmatization. Stigmatization leads to discrimination and the exclusion of women from social and religious events, and even their homes. Period stigma also leads to period shaming: a consequence of a culture that views periods as an embarrassing an undesirable event that is only spoken about in a negative light. Discover more about period shaming and how you can raise awareness to prevent the taboos. 

Importance of Menstrual Hygiene in Schools

The fear of period stigmatization along with limited access to period products can negatively impact a girl’s school attendance. A study conducted by Thinx and Period  found that 2 in 3 of teens have felt stressed because of a lack of period products, 1 in 4 have missed school because they didn’t have access to period products, and 84% of them have either missed class or know someone who missed class because they did not have access to period products.

Menstrual Care Products

What’s the Difference Between Period Products?

period product tampons

Tampons

Pros

  • good option for athletes or anyone doing physical activity
  • minimal interference or feelings of wetness that other period products can cause
  • provide protection with no external bulk

Cons

Disposable and Re-usable Pads and Liners period product sanitary pad

Pros

  • good for people who are just beginning their period
  • can safely be worn while sleeping overnight
  • let you better monitor your period

Cons

  • you are much more aware that they are there
  • you feel the blood when you sit and move around
  • they can be uncomfortable to use when performing any physical activity

Wipes and Washes 

Pros period product - wipes and napkins

  • helps you stay fresh and hygienic while out in public
  • can help women maintain their PH balance at a suitable level
  • help promote overall good hygiene

Cons

  • overusing wipes and washes can cause skin irritation
  • there is the possibility of allergic reaction
  • can cause infection if not used properly

Cupsperiod poverty eco-friendly cups

Pros

  • re-usable
  • lower long-term costs
  • can be used for up to12h at a time
  • eco-friendly

Cons:

  • can be unpleasant to clean
  • difficult to empty in public spaces
  • can be difficult to use

Period Underwear period underwear

One of the most recent period products on the market, period underwear like Thinx are absorbent and washable alternatives to pads and tampons.

Pros:

  • hold up to 4X as much blood as tampons
  • re-usable and a more sustainable alternative to pads and tampons
  • good for those who are just starting their period

Cons:

  • limited styles available
  • washing can be tricky, especially if you are handwashing
  • the cost per unit can be up to $50

Why Did People Stop Using the Word “Feminine Hygiene” when Referring to Periods?

Not all menstruators are women, and transgender men who menstruate face unique barriers when accessing menstrual hygiene. According to model and activist Kenny Ethan Jones, he faces both physical and mental pain when he gets his period because it doesn’t make him feel like himself. “Having a period already causes me a lot of gender dysphoria” says Jones, and having menstrual products constantly marketing towards women does not make things easier for transgender men. Gender Dysphoria is the psychological distress that occurs when someone’s gender identity does not match their biological sex.

The move from feminine hygiene to menstrual/personal hygiene was made to make periods inclusive not only of women but of transgender men. Words matter, and inclusive language helps promote period education and break taboos.

Accessing Menstrual Care Products When in Public Spaces

Aside from the occasional missing toilet paper, people almost never run into issues accessing hygiene products like soap, water, and toilet paper when out in public. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for menstrual products. Both fill an unavoidable, biological need, yet menstrual products are treated, and taxed, as luxuries rather than necessities.

image of woman using feminine hygiene vending machine

Not having access to menstrual products in work, school, and other public washrooms means people who get their period unexpectedly, or those who cannot afford them, are forced to miss work, school and other important events because of their periods. While some washrooms have sanitary product vending machines installed, they are rarely used because the person either isn’t carrying cash or cannot afford them.

Coinless vending is a vending machine that does not require any money, rather users push a button and a period product is dispensed automatically. This eliminated the need to carry cash or find a way to gather the money, just to manage your period.

Disposing of Menstrual Care Products

Most businesses provide some sort of disposal bin for menstrual products. What many don’t know is that their menstrual disposal could be costing them more money than they know?

Metal wall boxes and garbage cans are not hygienic disposal options for sanitary or personal hygiene products for a number of reasons:

  • they quickly fill up and begin to overflow onto the floor
  • metal wall boxes require you to manually lift the lid to dispose of you products, leaving users exposed to a number of bacteria and viruses present on its surface
  • COVID-19, Hepetitis, Salmonella and other infectious bacteria and viruses can last on stainless steel wall boxes for up to 3 days

Garbage cans and metal boxes are not the best we can do. Businesses now have the option to upgrade to touch-free personal hygiene disposal and give their employees and customers a safe and hygienic way to dispose of all their personal hygiene and sanitary products.

infographic on cross contamination and reducing infection/germs inside sanitary waste units

The Benefits of Menstrual Hygiene Disposal

Citron Hygiene is dedicated to creating healthier, more inclusive washrooms through our innovative line of Personal Hygiene Disposal services with a range of units to suit every facility. Flushing sanitary waste down the toilet or touching a dirty “metal wall box” aren’t your only options!

Upgrading to touch-free personal hygiene disposal:

  • helps businesses provide a better customer experience- don’t be known for dirty washrooms!
  • helps limit the spread of infectious bacteria by preventing cross-contamination
  • offers transgender men and other who may face social stigma for experiencing their period, a safe and discreet way to dispose of their menstrual products- it’s about time for more inclusive washrooms!

 

Did you know Citron’s Personal Hygiene Disposal Service also diverts waste from your facility? Our Citron Certified Technicians collect the waste and it’s then diverted to energy production through our partnership with Covanta. Upgrading your facility could save you thousands in plumbing costs, keep you and your staff healthier, and limit the spread of infectious bacteria. Keep your facility protected and contact us today for an upgrade or call us on 800.643.6922

Hygiene Solutions that Support Good Menstrual Hygiene Management

Uncontaminated Soap to Support Proper Hand Hygiene

Did you know that bulk soap dispensers can leave your hands dirtier than they were before washing them? Bulk soap dispensers are manually refilled using bulk soap that easily becomes contaminated. In fact, Dr. Charles Gerba found that 1 in 4 public washroom soap dispensers were found to be contaminated, sometimes leaving hands SO dirty it’s comparable to dunking your hand in the toilet! Using factory-sealed automatic soap cartridges ensures your soap is actually cleaning your hands instead of doing the opposite. Having access to hand washing facilities that use uncontaminated soap is vital to good menstrual hygiene management.

Automated Washroom Fixtures that Prevent Cross Contamination

Touch-free personal hygiene disposal prevents you from coming into contact with infectious bacteria and bloodborne pathogens often found on more traditional firms of menstrual disposal. But it doesn’t stop you from transferring the bacteria on your own hands onto other washroom fixtures like the flush handle and faucet tap. Switching to touchless washrooms fixtures like AutoFlush,  AutoFaucet and automatic soap dispensers lets you wash your hands without contaminating other surfaces.

Professional Washroom Disinfection to Eliminate Disease-Causes Bacteria

Washrooms cleaning can be a lot of work, especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic means most people are cleaning and disinfecting daily. Citron Hygiene’s SaniGuard Professional Washroom Disinfection Service does the work for you by giving you 360-degree disinfection coverage and leaves behind an invisible antimicrobial film for added protection between disinfections. Limiting the amount of infectious bacteria present in the washroom supports menstrual hygiene management by ensuring people who menstruate have hygienic facilities to manage their periods in a safe way.

Hand Sanitizer for an Extra Layer of Protection as You Leave the Washroom

As a customer, it can be difficult to feel your hands are truly clean because, a lot of times, they still have to touch contaminated surfaces after washing their hands. Having hand sanitizer available in washrooms gives users peace of mind by giving them that extra layer of protection against germs. In fact, a recent study conducted by Citron Hygiene asked Canadians what would make them feel more comfortable using a public washroom, and 58% of them said having hand sanitizer available as they exit. Citron Hygiene supply a range of Purell hand sanitizer solutions and Citron own brand hand sanitizer to ensure all who come and go are protected. To support the use, you may want to display helpful guidance posters such as our Please Use Hand Sanitizer Poster and How to Use Hand Sanitizer Sign alongside stations.

References & Further Reading

  1. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation
  2. https://globalnews.ca/news/4239800/canada-cost-of-menstrual-products/
  3. https://www.unicef.org/wash/files/UNICEF-Guidance-menstrual-health-hygiene-2019.pdf
  4. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000226792.locale=en
  5. https://stories.plancanada.ca/a-bloody-shame-6-reasons-why-menstruation-is-keeping-girls-out-of-school/
  6. https://www.bloodandmilk.com/brief-history-of-period-products/
  7. https://femmeinternational.org/the-history-of-the-sanitary-pad/#:~:text=Before%20the%20disposable%20pad%20was,women%20to%20handle%20their%20periods
  8. https://tampax.com/en-us/about/our-story/history-of-tampax/ 
  9. https://www.cpha.ca/period-poverty-canada-and-around-globe#:~:text=It%20is%20estimated%20that%20Canadian,products%20(Craggs%2C%202018)
  10. https://globalhandwashing.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/GHD-2020-Fact-Sheet-English.pdf 
  11. https://medium.com/world-of-opportunity/its-time-for-action-period-298d8a353afc
  12. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-sanitation-and-hygiene/
  13. https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/19/coronavirus-survives-on-surfaces-how-to-protect-yourself/
  14. https://menstrualhygieneday.org/
  15. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/periods-pmdd-mental-health 
  16. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome 
  17. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-51629880
  18. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_32#:~:text=Menstruation%20is%20an%20experience%20that,bodily%20event%20(Bobel%202008)
  19. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0795/1599/files/State-of-the-Period-white-paper_Thinx_PERIOD.pdf?455788
  20. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/toxic-shock-syndrome-tss#:~:text=Tampons%20can%20increase%20the%20risk,abrasions%20when%20they%20are%20removed
  21. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/period-tampons-pads-cups-underwear-review
  22. https://www.shethinx.com/collections/thinx-classic
  23. http://www.waxie.com/WAXIE.GOJO_Purell_LEED_FAQ.pdf
  24. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria
  25. https://www.cleveland.com/business/2013/09/dirty_hands_think_twice_about_using_that_public_restroom_soap.html
  26. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/not-enough-people-wash-their-hands-regularly-says-microbiologist-1.5492517

 

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