Proud sponsors of thrush

// 11 June 2012

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A selection of washable sanitary towels, in many colours and designs such as skulls, flowers and polka dots Despite not having the fondest of feelings for Proctor & Gamble as a company, I have used their sanitary protection for around twelve years. Specifically, I use Tampax and Always. I always use the same ‘colour’ pads and tampons, because I know that they will suit me. For this reason, perhaps, I didn’t pay much attention to the bit of additional advertising on the packaging of my Always extra long towels. I went to the loo and did what I’m pretty used to doing by now. But on opening up the neat little purple package, I paused. Sniffed. Had my partner been spraying that manky air freshener again? I shrugged, and continued as normal.

The day went on, and something downstairs felt distinctly uncomfortable. But, as you tend to when hot and harassed and constantly late for the train, I put it down as nothing. Then, when I came home and changed my pad, there was that nasty car air freshener smell again. But it was coming from me! What I was experiencing was Always‘ new pads, with ‘odour neutralising’ technology. You have to hunt quite hard through the small print to see that, actually, it’s perfumed. No wonder my sensitive skin was unimpressed. Despite being ‘clinically tested’ (which could mean anything) there’s nothing to suggest these pads are hypo-allergenic, as you would expect from something that sits against such a sensitive area for up to eight hours.

This change to Always‘ product range has riled me for several reasons. Firstly, I take umbrage at the idea that my vagina should smell like anything other than a vagina. That delicate, synthetic new car smell just makes me imagine a nasty little voice in my head whispering, “You stink, and your nappy knows it.” If, as their advertising says, I feel less-than-fresh during my period, there are several courses of action open to me. Most of them involve hot water and a bar of (high quality, hypo-allergenic) soap. I do not want a highly capitalist organisation dictating how I should smell, particularly not when their choice is so nauseating.

Another reason to be unhappy about the product change is that scenting something as intimate as a panty pad can be damaging to women’s health. Scented and synthetic products cause thrush and bacterial vaginosis – now, that will make your lady-parts smell! So much for being the Proud Sponsor of Mums, a patronising and sexist enough concept in itself, P&G are now potentially contributing to a deterioration in women’s health.

The third reason this has made me so angry is that I actually really like P&G’s sanitary products. I can’t just change to another pad because other pads use really horrible synthetic materials, or don’t have wings, or don’t make their pads long enough. The next best mainstream product for my needs is Tena (Nothing wrong with that, but the size of them does roughly resemble a single memory foam mattress).

But fret not, there are alternatives! For those who are not interested in being made to feel smelly and dirty, or possibly get a yeast infection, there is:

Washable Sanpro

Sanitary towels that go in the washing machine and are reusable. They come in many, many pretty fabrics, some places that make and sell them are, Etsy and


An environmentally-conscious alternative to tampons

More environmentally-friendly disposable products

Earthwise Girls: Your regular feminine hygiene products, but without the bleaches, perfumes and synthetic nasties popularised by mainstream producers.

Natracare: Certified organic, 100% cotton and totally chlorine-free, plastic free biodegradable materials.

[The image is a photograph of a selection of washable sanitary towels in many colours and designs such as skulls, flowers and polka dots. It was taken by our Philippa and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

EdinburghEye // Posted 11 June 2012 at 2:01 pm

What I was experiencing was Always’ new pads, with ‘odour neutralising’ technology. You have to hunt quite hard through the small print to see that, actually, it’s perfumed.

That link is broken, but I can guess.

I don’t know how old this post is, so not sure when Always made the change, but I tend to use either Always (or Boots own-brand) and it has just occurred to me that this could be the reason why I’ve been getting some nasty itchy feelings down there.

If so, well, dammit. The washable sanitary towels are awkward to use, none of the other alternatives appeal. I’m old enough that I just feel, well, I’ve used sanitary towels since I was 14, not going to stop now. But unscented ones, please.

Debi // Posted 11 June 2012 at 3:18 pm

When I converted from tampons to my Mooncup, there was no going back for me – Mooncups are both safer and much more comfortable. To the extent that sometimes I really do forget it’s in during the last day of my period. Fortunately, there’s zero risk of TSS so forgetting to take it out immediately has no ill effects.

Meanderingmother // Posted 11 June 2012 at 3:48 pm

I’m a sexual health nurse and I’ve always had a huge problem with femfresh as I daily see the side effects, this is the same thing over again! It’s bonkers.

I recommend to everyone I can to get a mooncup, I think they’re fabulous!

Josephine Tsui // Posted 11 June 2012 at 4:32 pm

UGH! I know! I hate the stupid perfume! It makes me very very angry when I smell it!

I have a mooncup, been using it for 6 years now but have never seem to be able to adjust it to not leak. Thus I use the combo mooncup and sanitary pad combination.

Always, PLEASE PLEASE make non-scented ones!

Josephine Tsui // Posted 11 June 2012 at 4:43 pm

Nobody sells you scented socks for smelly feet.

Tamara // Posted 11 June 2012 at 8:42 pm

I thought the scented one existed for a while now, no? Anyway, I stopped using Always long time ago because I found the material very irritating, plus, P&G test on animals.

So, I switched to Bodyform/Libresse which were much better and had good variety of pads (and weren’t on ‘test’ list but weren’t on ‘doesn’t test’ either).

Few years back after going through bad yeast infection my gyno told me not to use disposable pantyliners as they are like an incubator, greenhouse, for vagina. I also stopped using any kind of feminine wash and I didn’t have any kind of itching, redness, swelling, infections etc. since then. Pure and simple. Water is all it takes. My lady bits never smelled better.

I also started switching to re-usable cotton pads but because they are inconvenient to use if you’re out and about I’m using Natracare pads during the day and cloth pads during the night. Also, I just bought some cloth pantyliners for ‘period is knocking on the door’ and ‘period is on its way out’ days. I bought mine on Etsy and they look great!

I wish I could use Mooncups/Divacup, but I have problems using tampons so I have a feeling they might be a hassle for me.

sohcahtoa // Posted 12 June 2012 at 12:30 am

As a long-established Always user (blame the marketing lady who came to my school in Year 5, I’m afraid) I also had the experience of opening a new pack and wondering what the odd smell was. I think what makes me most angry is that they’re the market leader – and so I wouldn’t be surprised if others follow – and that they now appear not to be selling any other kind (some of the options listed at are unscented but most I’ve never seen on sale). I resent being dictated to like this and I think this may be the catalyst for me to reject fifteen years of conditioning and look into some alternative options.

Alex_T // Posted 12 June 2012 at 9:49 pm

Stepping outside of my workplace today I was confronted with a life-size image of a skipping, laughing woman plastered on the side of a phone box, advertising something called ‘Femfresh’ – you know, those perfumed wipes (or spray? Or something? The advert was too coy to actually be clear on what product it was pushing.) for when your vagina’s own smell is just too darn wrong and must be sanitised at all costs. It made me itch just looking at it.

Now here’s the nice part. I work in a primary school, so guess who else is going to confront that same ad every day? That’s right, the 200 or so little girls I teach. Not to mention their mothers, childminders and sisters who pick them up. And of course, all the boys and men, who will all get the same impression of women’s natural bodies!

There’s hope, though, that the advert was so coy that the uninitiated will be so baffled by what it’s actually trying to sell that they won’t pick up on its message. ‘Woohoo for my froofroo’ indeed.

Justine Ossum // Posted 13 June 2012 at 11:18 am

Having an IUS means I don’t have to use much in the way of ‘SanPro’ (as the Tesco signage put it) which has been a relief. Scented products have been on the market for a while – I remember getting worked up in a supermarket aisle 3 or 4 years ago. How long would a menstruating person have to wear a used pad for it to actually smell? In all the time people have used pads before someone had the idea of making them stinky out the pack, how many people actually found they had issues with the smell of blood?

And while we’re near the subject; marketing panty liners as a back up if a tampon leaks (because reusable methods don’t exists in SanPro World, obvs) – if ones tampon habitually leaks, then one may wish to try the next highest absobancy? Or perhaps seek medical advice as you have very, very heavy periods and there’s a such a taboo about talking about what’s ‘normal’ gynaecalogically (by normal, I mean average across the population, every body is different!) that I dread to think about how many young folks are suffering in silence because they think that passing out on a monthly basis is normal and just something they have to put up with!


Amanda McIndoe // Posted 13 June 2012 at 9:42 pm

I had a particuarly nasty bout of thrush after using a scented bath oil once. I felt like my poor little vagina was on fire. I swore after that I wasn’t going to do anything that upset my vagina ever again. It was horrible, I actually fell ill during it. The vagina is self cleaning, ironically when you put all that scented crap on it, it will smell bad because it’s balance is upset.

It’s easy to avoid things like femfresh and bath oils etc, but it really pisses me off that they make sanitary towels smell like a bad car air freshner. The other thing I’ve noticed is that sanitary towels strip you of all moisture, which isn’t good come the end of my period. Just not good full stop, I’ll definatly be checking out the alternatives.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 14 June 2012 at 12:29 pm

@Justine – plenty of women need to use pantyliners as back up for tampons and yes, it might be because your periods are heavier than ‘typical’, but it’s not abnormal or requiring medical intervention in and of itself (if you’re anaemic as a result it’s a different issue). This is sometimes necessary because the largest size isn’t ‘big’ enough, but also because they sometimes start to fall out and if they touch your pants or other clothing will cause them to stain, and also because some people find the bigger sizes uncomfortable to wear so wear smaller so need to change them more regularly and like some backup for when they don’t get a chance.

Vicky Brewster // Posted 14 June 2012 at 1:22 pm

@Justine – There can be several reasons for using a panty pad in conjunction with a tampon. It’s recommended to use the lowest possible tampon absorbancy to reduce the chance of TSS and to stop one’s vag drying out completely. Also there are days, for me personally, where sometimes my tampon will last 5 hours, sometimes it will last 8 – and on unexpectedkly heavy days, a panty pad can be a knicker saver!!

To the guys saying Always have been doing this FOREVA — this is the first time I’ve come across it. Apparently there are benefits to living in sleepy South Wales! It takes them a while to replenish with fresh stock, obviously. I know there are a range of femmefresh-style products on the market, though I’ve been lucky enough to miss the advertising for them. All I can hope is that, if people don’t use them, they’ll stop making them.

kathleen greenwood // Posted 14 June 2012 at 2:25 pm

MOONCUP! MOONCUP! MOONCUP! I’m sure they’re not suitable for 100% of the women requiring sanitary protection, but equally, I’ve got no doubt that the reason they’re not more widely used and known about is because 1 mooncup lasting 20 years costs £20, while you could easily spend a grand on tampons or pads for a similar period. I’m not the sort of person who relishes the thought of writing personal testimonies about menstruation on the internet, but my recent purchase has filled me with such zeal that I may just have to write a blog post about it.

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