Menstrual: An Interview With The President of GladRags, Tracy Puhl

As you may know, I’m a huge fan of GladRags- they make reusable pads and pantiliners and also sell re-usable menstrual cups, re-usable natural sea sponge tampons, travel bags, and cleaning supplies that are all in-line with my number one priority: body safety. As you’ll learn below, disposable pads and tampons can be very harmful for the body not unlike how a jelly rubber sex toy can be- and there isn’t much research on the possible long term negative effects of either. Tracy is doing amazing work both for body safety and the environment with their products… read on!

Caitlin: To start off, I was wondering if you could tell me about the beginnings of GladRags: what sparked the idea? How did you go about starting? Any relevant info is useful here.

Tracy: Sure! I’m not actually the founder of the company — GladRags was started in 1993, when I was about 7. I was an entrepreneurial kid, but I wasn’t *that* precocious! 

Brenda Mallory, the founder and my now dear friend, was inspired by her daughter’s cloth diapers. The comfort, simplicity, and eco-friendliness inspired her to create something similar for herself. GladRags began as a home-based business but has long since grown out of its humble beginnings in the spare bedroom!

In 2011, after working for GladRags for a few years, I purchased the company from Brenda, and we continue to grow and spread the word about reusable menstrual products.

Caitlin: It’s awesome that you took this on! I know the main focus of GladRags is environmental sustainability, but how important would you say using non-toxic, body safe materials is to the GladRags agenda? One of my biggest concerns with sex toys, my forte, is products that are not body safe- and that’s a big part of why re-usable menstrual products resonate with me, since they’re made of benign materials like silicone, or washable cloth- rather than bleached, chemical filled, scented disposable tampons and pads which can be irritating at best. As you can tell, this is something I really care about!

Tracy: We’re definitely strongly motivated by environmental sustainability, especially during our founding, but we’re now in a time when companies and their products are expected to be “green.” For us, this is great because it allows us to talk about some of the other reasons to choose reusables. Like you mentioned, disposable menstrual products include lots of stuff that’s not very body-safe: adhesives, fragrance, chemical gels, plastics, rayon, etc. GladRags is definitely an eco company, but we’re even more committed to the health of women — fortunately, these two things go hand in hand!

Caitlin: Definitely! Disposable pads were a nightmare for someone with sensitivities like me (dry skin and irritation were a few of the more minor symptoms I suffered through) but I think reusables can make anyone’s menstrual time better. Can you share any information on the negatives that can result from the stuff in disposables, or show us the way to any resources about this?

Tracy: Unfortunately, the health effects of disposable menstrual products haven’t been studied as thoroughly as I think they ought to be! So we really don’t know the full effects of disposable pads and tampons.

We do know, however, that disposable pads and tampons contain trace amounts of dioxin* — a known carcinogen. Dioxin is a byproduct of the chemical bleaching process, and can last up to 20 years in the body following exposure. While the leading source of dioxin exposure in humans is food, it makes sense to avoid it as much as possible!

Additionally, the plastic and chemical materials in disposable pads can lead to irritation around the vulva, just as the overly absorbent effects of tampons can cause itching or irritation inside the vagina. We recently had a woman call our office who was referred by her doctor after experiencing thinning of the vulvar skin due to daily use of disposable pantyliners.

It should go without saying, too, to avoid scented products that can lead to irritation or infection. A shower is enough to keep your body smelling the way it needs to smell!

Here are some helpful links:

Overall, the products you use on your body — particularly in a very sensitive area! — matter. Pay attention to what you use; your body will thank you for it.

*Some countries, like Canada, have stricter labeling and manufacturing regulations that may prevent dioxin exposure via disposable menstrual products. The USA does not.

Caitlin: Thanks for that info! I definitely agree on limiting exposure as much as possible- I take this stance with parabens, a potentially carcinogenic and irritating shelf stabilizer that mimics estrogen, which can be found in most cosmetics, soaps, shampoo… If its a liquid, it probably has parabens, and this includes lubricants.

I think everyone should be as careful as they can with anything they put on, in, or near their body and especially when it comes to mucous membranes which will soak up all those chemicals like a sponge.

Since I run a sex blog, I have to get into your bedside table drawer: do you have or like any sex toys? Have any favorite safer sex barriers, lubricants, or accessories like furniture or the like? No need to get too personal, but I have a one-track mind!

Tracy: I don’t have any sex toys personally, but as far as safer sex products I always recommend Sir Richard’s condom company and Good Clean Love [for a natural, water based lubricant]. I also love the helpful folks over at She Bop — they carry GladRags products, and are totally sex- and body-positive. Also, my friend Erika has a comic about sex toys (among other things) that is a great resource, and she’s even featured me in a comic about the Moon Cup!

 Thanks again to Tracy for agreeing to talk to me about all of this- give GladRags some love for me! If you use my affiliate code, you get 5% off any of your purchases through the GladRags store. How cool is that?