Ever get that not-so-scrubbed-and-disinfected feeling? A box of new RepHresh brand "Brilliant" tampons ("RepHresh"—as in your pH is too bloody high) easily passes for dishwasher detergent: gleaming yellow with suds and sunshine and an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Clean ...and S.O.S....and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda.
"During your period, the high pH of blood causes vaginal pH to increase beyond the normal range," says company materials. Thankfully, "for the first time, tampons just got smarter." Brilliant™, in fact. RepHresh says it's clinically shown to tarten up that alkaline Aunt Flo, which "can cause odor, irritation and even infection." Active ingredients are lactic and citric acids, known pH-reducers which are also, fittingly, anti-bacterial agents found in enviro-friendly household cleaning products. Strong enough for your toilet bowl, pHbalanced for a woman!
Savvy cyclers might be wondering: is such a product necessary? Safe? Effective? I surveyed my stable of docs, midwives, and women's wellness coaches and learned the following:
Menstruation does not cause infection. "Yes, pH does rise at menstruation," says Megan Lalonde of Justisse, a holistic fertility and wellness group in Canada. "This is not pathological. It does not cause infection. However, women may find that symptoms of an underlying infection are exacerbated" by bleeding. Then again, some women find their periods have a cleansing effect. Bottom line: altering vaginal pH is neither prevention nor cure.
Getting rid of a chronic "infection" isn't like scrubbing mildew. Chronic candidiasis (yeast) and bacterial vaginosis (BV) — common complaints that aren't true infections but rather an imbalance of bacteria — are caused by things like diets high in sugar and synthetic hormones and not enough sleep and too much stress. "In my experience, women get infections not because there is blood in their yonis — I mean, this is supposed to happen — but because they are otherwise not robustly healthy," says Missouri-based family physician Elizabeth Allemann. "And I am realizing more and more that the pill may be a big problem."
We don't know if RepHresh will help chronic yeast and BV sufferers because the clinical trials showing a reduction in pH excluded them. Thanks to Laura Manns-James, a Certified Nurse Midwife with the Frontier Nursing School, for pointing this out!
Tampons may make things worse. Alisa Vitti, founder of Laughing Sage Wellness in Manhattan and the new FloLiving.com web resource, said she sees the rationale behind the new tampons, because holding the blood in place rather than letting it flow out may actually cause pH to rise. "Say you are just bleeding out, into a pad. Your pH would only be temporarily increased, but because you're putting a tampon in and leaving it in for 8 hours a day, you are having a prolonged elevation of pH." She advises the chronically imbalanced to forego tampons altogether, but says the pH reducing tampons might be worth a try if one is pad-averse (or has cause to wear a leotard.) "This is not going to fix it, but could be part of their support as their trying to heal." (Nobody could say what effect menstrual cups have).
So... the product appears safe and may turn out to be helpful to some, but what a tired marketing angle: Your period makes you filthy and itchy and smelly AND sick, and you need our product to stay not only fresh but healthy! Not that trusted brands are any less pathologizing: Tampax's current tag line is, "Outsmart mother nature," and Kotex wants you to, "Break the cycle." Meanwhile, O.B. discontinued its ultra absorbency tampons and for a time was redirecting abundant-flow consumers to a surgical procedure — conveniently developed by parent company Johnson & Johnson — that permanently destroys the uterine lining.