Managing your period is time-consuming and expensive, and we’ve all heard stories about wearing white pants on the wrong day. Many women carry the necessities around with them all the time—in case a friend, co-worker, or even a stranger in a public bathroom, might find herself in a messy predicament.
From tampons to menstrual cups, there are a number of feminine hygiene products to choose from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Finding what works best for you might take some trial and error, and even then, there are matters of quality, sustainability, and cost to consider.
Caring for your intimate area is especially important during that “time of the month”. Here are a few tips for managing your period:
Also known as sanitary napkins and sanitary towels, pads are inserts worn between the body and the undergarments. One side absorbs period blood, while the other sticks to your underwear. Additionally, some have “wings” to hold the pad more securely in place. Panty liners can be considered the “lite” version of pads, and are useful in cases of very mild bleeding, spotting, and as back-up in combination with a tampon or menstrual cup.
One of the positive aspects of pads is that they come in many different shapes and sizes: for light and heavy bleeders, daytime and nighttime use. There are heavy-duty maternity pads and pads designed to be worn with a G-string. Pads and panty liners are the go-to product for women who don’t like the idea of sticking something up there, and for some—such as those suffering from vaginismus—pads are one of the few options they can comfortably use.
On the downside—pads, especially bigger ones, can be indiscreet with certain types of clothing, and can slip out of place during physical activity. Smells may also be more noticeable as fluids are collected outside the body. The absorbency of the pad may cause a feeling of dryness or irritation, and some perfumes manufacturers add to mask the odor can cause a reaction. Unlike tampons, pads and liners should not be used while swimming.
Disposable pads and liners are not recyclable, but there are cloth alternatives that can be washed and reused, usually made from cotton flannel or hemp. As these lack adhesive, most are secured with a button on the tip of each “wing”. The women who choose this option do so because it is cheaper, better for the environment, as well as allergen and perfume free.
Tampons are compact plugs made from rayon, cotton, or a rayon/cotton blend. Inserted into the vagina, tampons expand as they absorb period blood. Most tampons have a string attached to the bottom for easy removal, and some come with a plastic or cardboard applicator to aid insertion.
There are different size and absorbency options to choose from. Smaller sizes may be more comfortable and easier to insert. A higher absorbency means the tampon can hold more blood, which might be more convenient for heavy bleeders, but if possible, use the lowest absorbency that meets your needs.
Your tampon should be changed every 4–6 hours. Leaving it in for longer (or using a very high-absorbency tampon) comes with the risk of toxic shock syndrome, or TSS.
Toxic shock syndrome is a serious condition caused by bacterial toxins. Symptoms include fever, rash, peeling skin, and low blood pressure. If left untreated or treated improperly, it can be fatal.
The menstrual cup is a flexible silicone container that is inserted into the vagina to collect period blood. Generally, they are bell-shaped, with a stem at the bottom for ease of insertion and removal. The cup is removed, emptied and rinsed every 4–12 hours (depending on the size of the cup and heaviness of the blood flow) before being inserted again. At the end of the period, the cup is boiled 5–10 minutes for sanitization, and then stored away until next month.
The silicone cup is folded for insertion. Once inside the vagina, it “pops open” to form a vacuum seal, which prevents it from leaking. There are different folds one can use, such as the C-fold (folding the cup in half to form a C-shape) and the punch-down (folding one side of the rim down and squeezing the sides together to hold it in place). When removing the cup, pinch the bottom to release the seal. Each cup comes with instructions, and there are many educational videos online.
Most brands offer two cup sizes, ranging from around 15 ml to 50 ml in capacity. Cups also differ in rigidity—firmer cups will open more easily and seal more reliably, but softer cups are more comfortable and may be easier to get used to. Your age, physical fitness, period intensity, and whether you have given birth should all be taken into consideration when choosing a menstrual cup.
Modern cups are considered the safest of all existing feminine hygiene products. Most brands use medical grade silicone (other options include latex and thermoplastic elastomer) for their cups, which has no measurable impact on the vaginal flora. Additionally, menstrual cups can last up to 10 years, making them cheaper and more environmentally friendly than most other options.
The first menstrual cup was patented and marketed in 1937 by Leona W. Chalmers, an American actress, author and inventor.
The invention didn’t fare well in the past as topics related to female fertility and sexuality were considered scandalous, and most women weren’t comfortable with the idea of cleaning and reinserting the cup.
The world of feminine hygiene products has seen a lot of innovation over the past few decades. If none of the popular hygiene products work for you, consider these alternatives:
Please note that this is a recommendation for the artificially made menstrual sponges, not the natural sea sponges, which aren’t confirmed to be safe for this use.
Women still spend thousands on period products over their lifetimes. It’s about time these necessities become cheaper, more comfortable, and more sustainable.
You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now: