Chances are that you menstruate, or someone you know and love does. The period hygiene product aisle at the grocery store is inevitably the gauntlet of overwhelming options and awkward eye contact. But periods don’t have to be something to hide or joke about. Welcoming the awesome power in our bodies to cycle – to inhale and then exhale – is an integral part of menstrual awareness and self-appreciation. Period products are certainly having a moment in today’s world, and using the right product for you, can certainly impact how you feel about and approach your period. There are sooo many products to choose from, but let’s chat through the main options out there.
Oh pads, you loud, winged, sticky friends. Pads are made from a combination of natural and synthetic absorbent material, sometimes with an added synthetic scent (if you tend to reach for the scented product, try a non-scented product next time – your skin will thank you). Benefit include being able to choose the absorbency (light v. heavy) of pad on any given day, and the reassurance provided by having an extra protection on the heavier days (ie, using a pad while also having a tampon or menstrual cup in place). Additionally, as pads are worn on the outside of the body, they may be easier and more comfortable for some people to use. The downsides of pads include the hassle of having to change and replace them frequently, the cost of using a single-use product, and the environmental waste produced. However, there are some cloth reusable pad options out there for brave and interested souls.
Tampons – Period Products
Most U.S. women currently use tampons during their cycles. Tampons are intended to absorb menstrual bleeding when inserted into the vagina during menstruation. Like pads, one can select the absorbency needed. As tampons are worn inside the body, when first leaning to place them a certain finesse is needed to get the product to the right spot. Tampons are made from a combination of cotton and rayon, and may have residual chemicals and/or pesticides from the growing process of cotton and treatment of the materials. The vagina is a highly permeable area, and our bodies will readily absorb whatever is placed here. Think of it like this – if you are mindful of eating foods without chemicals, pesticides or additives, then the pesticides, fragrances, and dyes in tampons should also be on our watch list. Organic tampons can be a better option, as they typically have less potential for chemical exposure and are better for sensitive skin. As a single-use product, tampons also create a world of environment waste. And did you know that you’re not supposed to flush tampons down the toilet? Nope, don’t do it. Tampons do not break down, they clog up our water treatment plants, and can cause super expensive plumbing mishaps. You’ve gotta stop flushing those suckers… instead, one should wrap their used tampon in toilet paper and place in the trash.
Menstrual Cups – Period Products
Menstrual cups have been around for years, but companies like Diva Cup have brought them back into mainstream menstrual hygiene. A menstrual cup is a soft and flexible device made of medical-grade silicone. Available products generally consist of a “cup” shape with a tapered / ribbed end to make removal easier. To use, one would fold the cup in half like a taco, place high in the vagina, then rotate 360 degrees to create a seal. The ribbed end sits just in inside the vagina. To remove, break the seal by pressing in a side of the menstrual cup, and then pull out and dispose of your flow in the toilet. Menstrual cups have many benefits – they are highly cost effective, can last for up to 10 years if well cared for, and do not contribute to unnecessary waste. Menstrual cups can stay in place for up to 12 hours, do not dry out the vagina like tampons tend to, and there is not concern for chemical exposure. The biggest downside to menstrual cups is the public restroom situation – from personal experience I can vouch that it is somewhat awkward to exit a bathroom stall with a suspiciously bloody hand and nonchalantly wait in line for the sink.
Menstrual Underwear Period Products
Ok, give me a chance here. Period-proof underwear (the most popular brand out there is Thinx) is not menstrual witchcraft like some might believe, but instead are composed of layers of fabric which is moisture-wicking, odor-controlling, leak-resistant, and absorbent. Depending on the design, menstrual underwear can hold up to 4 regular tampon’s worth of flow. During use, menstrual underwear are surprisingly leak-proof, but can start to feel like wet bikini bottoms towards the end of a heavy day. After use, you rinse the underwear, and then wash in cold with the rest of your clothes. Recent news articles have mentioned the potential for menstrual underwear to have harmful chemical in them, which Thinx has denied and third party lab studies have not corroborated. However, I would encourage consumers to stay well-informed of future studies and news reports.
Happy cycling <3