Ladies, do you remember when you were in 5th grade and you learned that you were growing up and had two options for the next 40 years of your life: pads or tampons? I’ve come to realize what a lie that is. Today, there are so many alternative menstruation products available to women: “all natural” pads or tampons, period underwear, and menstrual cups. (If you want the abridged version of this post, my favorite is the menstrual cup which you can scroll down to for my opinion.)
There are thousands of individual women in the world, and that means that there are all different patterns – very light for only a couple of days to extremely heavy for a longer period. Because of that, we need to stop with the one (or two) type fits all thinking for products. I’ve known women who can’t manage to use a tampon, as well as women who can’t stand pads. Personally, I don’t care for either. I’ve gathered some information about different products that are available.
Pads and Tampons 101
I thought it fitting to start with a quick summary of those two types we all know, just to get everyone on the same page.
Pads come in everything from panty liners to super max, with or without wings. Honestly, there are so many options out there, and women can discuss the variations all day. The problem I have with pads is that they have to be changed every 3-4 hours during the day, or more frequently during heavy days. Otherwise, the blood will start growing bacteria that lets off an unpleasant odor. That means that during work (or school), you have to change them at least a few times. And when you get home, you don’t get to just relax and do whatever you want, which is what every woman on her period wants to do. Your peace will be disrupted even then. If your body is one of those (like mine) that just doesn’t care if it’s night or day and keeps bleeding, you might even have to get up at night to change it again. It’s just a pain.
I’ve never come across a tampon that has truly satisfactory performance. None of them make me feel comfortable enough to walk around without wearing a liner. I also have an unreasonable fear of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS, which is caused by bacteria; read more about it here) ever since a friend had a case of it in high school. In order to decrease risk of toxic shock syndrome, you must change these every 4-6 hours. The sooner you change your tampon, the less likely you are to get TSS, so optimally, you should wear a lighter tampon and change more frequently. That’s not exactly my favorite idea…at all. It’s enough of a pain to bleed 1/4 of every month without having to constantly worry about leaking or getting TSS. You also aren’t supposed to wear tampons on really light days because of risk of TSS. While it’s relatively uncommon to come across in the U.S. (and the risk seems to be higher for younger girls), it can be fatal.
Non-Traditional Pads and Tampons
Pads and tampons come in what we would consider a non-traditional form, although they’re made of materials that are probably much more traditional: 100% cotton yarn/fabric and absorbent materials like bamboo. They function the same as store-bought disposable pads/tampons, but they’re much less expensive because they are reusable. If you’re worried about the mess, well, leaks are messy, too. Most sources say to rinse them in cold water after using them, then either hand wash or throw them through the wash – you can even boil them to help keep them sterile.
These options aren’t alternatives to pads and tampons obviously, but they are the eco-friendly version of them. You can make them yourself or buy them somewhere like Etsy. For directions to make your own pads, check out this website. Or you can check out how to make your own reusable tampons here. Remember that these are going against or in a very sensitive part of your body and that you should do your best to keep the materials natural and as sterile as possible. My tip is just to be aware of what you’re putting in your body.
“Period Panties” AKA Free Bleed Underwear
Some companies have made underwear that functions as a pad for you. While not technically free bleeding (going without any menstrual protection product), they’re is the closest most women get to it. Most of these companies have spent a lot of money researching how to keep the underwear dry and contain odor. These sound particularly great for overnight if you don’t bleed as much while you sleep or just as an extra protection on top of whatever you regularly use during the day. After all, nothing is worse than a leak.
The consensus around the internet world is that the Anigan and Thinx brands have the best products. Several of them look good enough to have caught my attention, so I’ll be getting a few pairs and leave you a review here on the blog in the future. Thinx provides a lot of variety in underwear type – from thong to boyshorts. Obviously different styles provide different protection (they do give you pad/tampon equivalents!), but even the lightest type claims the same amount of protection as half a tampon which is great for light days. Their panties are all black, while Anigan provides different styles and colors to fit your mood with reportedly good protection. Other brands do exist, and apparently some of them even have a little pouch to be able to put a heat pack in for those bad cramp days. The genius who came up with that should be given an award!
As far as price goes, Thinx runs each pair between $30 and $40, so if you want to use them for a full cycle you’ll need at least 3 pairs to be able to wash them and rotate through. Anigan’s pricing looked easier to swallow, between $10 and $15 per pair. It seems like a great alternative, though, especially on light days or just as a backup. Thinx and Anigan underwear are definitely on my list of period items to check out!
My personal favorite of the alternative menstruation products is the menstrual cup. If you haven’t heard of a menstrual cup, it’s a small reusable silicone cup that is used internally. I find it less noticeable than tampons; there are days I actually forget that I’m on my period when I use this.
For women who bleed a lot, this seems to be the number one suggestion menstrual supply suggestion. For a typical period, menstrual cups should only have to be changed once every 12 hours. While researching, I found a single case of TSS attached to menstrual cup usage, which is even sketchy because TSS, while most commonly attached to tampons (and therefore periods) can be attained in other ways where bacteria enter the blood stream. If you’re really concerned with TSS, you can just change more frequently. On heavy days, some users (including myself) find that it’s necessary to empty the cup at 6 hours rather than 12, but that’s better than the numbers on pads and tampons still!
When you insert a cup, you also “seal” it to protect against leaks, which is better than a lot of other products. The few times I’ve been heavy and started to leak before I got to empty my cup, I’ve always caught it within minutes just because you can tell when something changes.
These products are reused time and again. Some websites/companies say that you need a new one every year, while others claim that if you keep it properly cleaned (boil it after a period, sanitize it with natural based soaps when you empty it), it can last up to 10 years! Prices for cups range between $7 and $50, plus a little more for soap that won’t cause irritation to sensitive parts, but for a year (possibly up to 10), that’s a pretty low cost. I’ve tried two brands of cups, Diva and Anigan. I used Diva for almost two years and was completely satisfied. As I thought about topics for the blog, I became curious about other brands, though, so I tried out the Anigan cup and just one cycle in, I do like it, although I’d like to give it another cycle before deciding which I like more. Watch for a full review between a few brands.
It’s not which item draws first blood, but the most blood, really, that wins. Plus the items that will give you the most blood for your buck. It seems like our traditional pads and tampons are convenient because they’re disposable, but because of odor, TSS, and just cost, they aren’t sustainable to a lot of ladies out there. The reusable pads/tampons are able to bring the cost down, although you still have the other possible problems like TSS, odors, and discomfort.
I’m really intrigued by the options for protected underwear and will definitely be trying some out in the near future, at least on lighter days. The menstrual cup still seems to win for me after all of this research because it’s simple and doesn’t take much time, lasts longer, has a relatively low cost, and is comfortable and stress free.
What’s your favorite product for that “time of the month”?