For those of us who have periods, we know all about the mess and surprises that menstruation sometimes causes. But it doesn’t have to be that way -- innovative products are shaking up this once-monotonous market. Some of these companies have been offering these great products for many years, and these products are finally getting their time in the spotlight.
Part of the motivation is that over 11,000 tampons are used for a person’s menstrual cycle during their lifetime (Shreya 2016), which generates a lot of waste in our environment, and many are choosing more sustainable menstrual choices over the traditional disposables. From reusable solutions to organic subscription services, we now have more options than ever before to manage “that time of the month” -- now maybe we can experience our periods with significantly less worry of leaks.
Thinx is underwear that does the work of a pad without all the bulk. This period underwear is designed with built-in special layers to absorb blood. They are available in different colors, designs, and absorption, and discounts are provided when buying multiples. This is an Earth-friendly solution to the single-use products.
Thinx is committed to the mission of empowering people and providing more access to education and menstrual products to those who may not otherwise have it. This company makes donations of period products to grassroots organizations and local initiatives to distribute and provides funding for programs and services that support underserved people with periods, including survivors of domestic violence, refugees, and the homeless.
Thinx is my primary method of managing menstruation. It is easy to use, stays dry, and the underwear designed for heavier days are usually effective for up to 12 hours, even on my heaviest days (YMMV), including overnight. This is definitely the solution that I would recommend, and I really appreciate the diversity of the models Thinx chooses -- stretch marks and all! This option is expensive for a full cycle set, with the least expensive also being the least absorbent at $24. They are also high-maintenance in terms of care since they must be rinsed immediately after use or they will be ruined; I learned that the hard way. They also cannot go in the dryer. I found that my older pairs (over a year old) started to retain some odor, so I had to replace them, but that could have been due to user error, like not rinsing right away or not enough circulation when air drying.
Brands: Diva Cup, Lunette, Intimina
Menstrual cups sit in the vaginal canal and collect the menstruation blood. They usually last up to 12 hours and can even be worn for sports and during sleep. These are available in different sizes depending on the brand. The size you need can depend on your age, whether or not you’ve given vaginal birth (which changes the vaginal muscles), and capacity you need.
Menstrual cups should be sterilized in boiling water between cycles or per the manufacturer’s directions. As with any intravaginal product, menstrual cups do present a risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) due to the accumulation of blood (Mitchell 2015), so always use as directed, remove immediately if any kind of discomfort occurs, and consult your doctor. Most of them are made of medical-grade silicone and reusable up to one year (unless it is damaged, etc.), making them less wasteful than disposable tampons and pads. Since they need to be replaced each year, they do generate waste, and silicone is not biodegradable; it can be recycled in certain facilities.
I used the Diva Cup for about a year of cycles while I was on the pill with light menstruation. I am only 5’1” so I had a bit of trouble with the stem and ended up having to cut off most of it. Insertion can also take a bit of practice to get right. Once I had a little practice with insertion under my belt (ha ha), I was able to insert without issue and found that it was a neat solution for a sometimes messy situation. Leaks were minimal and the capacity was large enough for my flow, so I usually only had to empty twice per day. Emptying in a communal bathroom is not ideal because it can sometimes spill, so this might not be the best choice for camping or travel. Ultimately, I discontinued use because I found that bowel movements were difficult with the Diva Cup inserted.
Brands: Lunapads, Charlie Banana, GladRags, Sckoon
Cloth pads are a sustainable alternative to disposable menstrual pads. These cut down on the waste generated by disposable pads and tampons, and they are available in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different flows and underwear styles. As an added bonus, they are also available in some fun prints!
Cloth pads are a widely available method of dealing with menstrual bleeding, with a lot of brands and stores selling them. Try a few different types and sizes from different companies to find the one that works well for you. This is the longest-lasting option, with an expected lifetime of 3-5 years, depending on the brand. After the initial rinse, these can also be washed and dried by machine (always follow manufacturer’s instructions for care), which gives them an advantage over period panties that can’t be machine dried.
None yet. Have you? We would be interested to hear the pros and cons. I certainly love how much better for the environment they are.
Cotton, brands: Lola, Organyc, The Honest Co., Natracare
Cotton pads and tampons are a convenient option for those who want to know exactly what is in their products. Though they are disposable, many brands use organic cotton and offer entirely plant-based products so they are biodegradable or even compostable in some cases. Users report that cotton pads are soft and breathable.
Natural material tampons seem to do the job just as well as mainstream tampsons, however, brand does matter. Some of the natural tampons didn’t absorb as well as mainstream ones and some did. I found the pads to work well.
Jade & Pearl, one company that sells these sea sponges, says that sea sponges can be used for 3-6 months. The sea sponge was originally marketed as a natural tampon, but Jade & Pearl recently released a disclaimer stating that they are no longer associating their product with the word “tampon” and are not allowed to instruct customers on how to use the sponges. This is due to the FDA regulations on menstrual products that require testing and approval (Food and Drug Administration), which these sea sponges have not undergone. According to the FDA, a small number of sea sponges were tested and were found to contain grit, sand, bacteria, yeast, and mold; one sample was confirmed to contain Staphylococcus aureus (Food and Drug Administration) .
In addition to the debris found inside the sea sponges, you have to wonder about using an animal product when plenty of other non-animal products will do the same thing.
I have none, so if you do, please let others know about it!
Brands: Flex, Softdisc, Intimina Ziggy Cup
Menstrual discs are similar to menstrual cups, except that they are flatter and sit up against the cervix in the cervical fornix rather than blocking the vaginal canal. The benefit of this design is that it can be used for mess-free period sex. As with any intravaginal product, menstrual discs do present a risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) due to the accumulation of blood (Mitchell 2015), so always use as directed, remove immediately if any kind of discomfort occurs, and consult your doctor.
Flex and Softdisc brands are disposable discs and are convenient for those who do not want to deal with washing and sterilizing the reusable option. For those who are concerned about waste, Intimina Ziggy Cup is the only reusable menstrual disc available currently. It is shaped more like an egg rather than a circle like the disposable versions. Ziggy is made of magenta medical-grade silicone, which lasts up to 2 years. Flex has a rigid plastic ring, whereas Ziggy is a much softer silicone.
Again, I was worried about fit with discs because one-size-fits-all products tend not to work for me, but I was able to insert Flex without any trouble on the first try. I used Flex for one day during my period last cycle, which isn’t long enough to reach a real verdict, but I will say that I could sort of feel it due to the rigidity of the plastic ring. The feeling wasn’t uncomfortable enough to discontinue use -- until I peed and the flow felt pinched off. Flex also leaked after about 10 hours, so if your flow is heavy, you’ll want to change it more often. I will probably not use this method regularly due to the waste and the pee problem, though. Another team member loves Flex and says it has significantly reduced cramps for her. She does warn that the learning curve took awhile to get it right to avoid leaks, but worth it.
I have not been able to use the Ziggy Cup for a period yet, but I did a dry run to test the insertion process and fit. At first, I wasn’t able to get Ziggy to stay in place behind my pubic bone. Though I was able to easily pee while it was inserted (without that feeling of flow constriction like with Flex), it slid out of place during urination. The Inimina instructions just say to “locate the back of the rim” without describing which end is the back, so I assumed the narrower end was the back. But upon further research, I discovered reviews that mentioned inserting the wider end first or even inserting sideways, pinching short ends together instead of the long sides. I tried both of these and found that sideways was a little more difficult to insert, but it stayed in place during urination. I’m really excited to test this during my next period, and I’ll update this when I have a chance to test it for real.
Gone are the days of feeling like a station wagon is parked in your panties. So many options are available to manage this messy, beautiful part of our bodies and our lives. We all have things that make us squeamish, though, and many of these products require a certain amount of comfort with things that some people might consider gross. If you’re not comfortable pushing a silicone cup up your vagina then giving it a twist, a menstrual cup isn’t for you. If you’re not comfortable rinsing blood out of clothing, then period underwear or cloth pads probably won’t work for you. But if you’re comfortable with your bits and fluids, then hurrah! You have a lot of options. Just keep in mind that everybody is different, and every body is different. Some exploring might be necessary, but a solution that’s just right for you is out there, Goldilocks.