“Six years of your life. Or 2,190 days.” According to NPR, that’s about how long the average woman will spend having her periods. For people who menstruate, periods have a significant impact on daily life. Menstruation can be manageable, uncomfortable, or debilitating. There are a variety of products on the market for period care, but not all of them are easily accessible. Also, there is no product that works for every person’s body. Finding the right period product means knowing your needs, what you can afford, and what feels comfortable for you.
Period products are often branded as hygiene products, implying that menstruating makes a person unclean. However, periods are not a disease that needs to be treated away. Periods tell you that your reproductive system is working and that you’re not pregnant. The bottom line is that being knowledgeable about period care can help you make the best decisions to stay as healthy and comfortable as possible during menstruation.
Here are some products you can use to absorb menstrual fluid:
Pads stick to the inside of your underwear and soak up menstrual fluid. Some pads are thinner or thicker for different levels of absorbency. Pads are peeled from your underwear and disposed. Usually, the used pad is rolled up in the wrapper of the new pad and disposed together. The advantages of pads are that you can wear them at night, and among the period products, they may be the easiest to use. However, they are not suitable for swimming or other activities that involve being submerged in water.
There are organic pads such as Organ(y)c, which produces biodegradable products. Lola, another company that makes organic cotton pads, sells a box of 12 pads for $9. However, they are still disposable and create a lot of waste. You do not need to use deodorant or scented pads, which might irritate your skin.
Aunt Mochi’s advice: Get pads or liners with wings to save you from stains caused by bunching. Pantiliners are also handy to have around after sex…after all, what goes in must, uh, come out. You can also soak clean disposable pads with witch hazel and freeze for postpartum relief.
A tampon goes inside your vagina to soak up menstrual fluid. Some have an applicator inside that makes it easier to insert, and are removed with a string at the end. Tampons have different levels of absorbency and it’s important to use the lowest level needed for your flow because there is a risk of toxic shock syndrome if you use tampons that are too absorbent.
Tampons need to be changed at least every four to eight hours. It’s not a good idea to use a tampon overnight, and they do expire even if they have been sealed. It isn’t necessary to use scented or bleached tampons. However, you can wear tampons when you swim, and they could be a better option for exercising or sports. A box of 36 Tampax Pearl tampons costs around $7.
Aunt Mochi’s advice: The plastic applicators are much more comfortable to insert than cardboard! (Sorry, environment.)
Menstrual discs are similar to menstrual cups (see below) in that they collect menstrual fluid in your vagina. You pinch the disc in half and slide the disc toward your cervix. A menstrual disc can be worn for up to 12 hours, even during swimming or sex. To remove it, you empty the blood in the toilet and dispose the disc in the trash.
The advantage of menstrual discs is that they are disposable so you don’t have to wash it after you use it. However, they still create waste. A box of 14 Softdiscs costs about $12.
Aunt Mochi’s advice: Insert while sitting over the toilet (but don’t drop it!) and make sure the disc is sitting behind your pubic bone.
Period underwear allows you to just bleed. They are absorbent underwear that come in boy shorts, briefs, and other styles. Some have described the material as similar to bathing suits. As one of the newer products on the market, some period panties are only available online. Period panties are more gender-neutral and not marketed as feminine products.
Although the lining lets you bleed directly onto your underwear, they need to be changed during the day, as you would with pads and menstrual cups. You also need to wash absorbent underwear before reusing. A pair of Thinx shorts costs $39. They can be a great alternative to both pads and menstrual cups.
Aunt Mochi’s advice: These are also a great alternative to disposable pantiliners for light days or to catch leaks from tampons or cups. Many claim to hold multiple tampons worth of menstrual fluid but if your flow is very heavy, you could still bleed through your panties.
Menstrual cups collect rather than absorb blood. They are made of silicone and inserted into your vagina to collect blood. The advantage of menstrual cups is that they are reusable—a menstrual cup can last for up to 10 years with proper care. Therefore, it does not produce waste like pads and tampons do.
There are many menstrual cups on the market. For example, there’s the Diva Cup, Luna Cup, Moon Cup, and Lunette. The Lily Cup costs about $30 apiece, but since they are reusable, they end up being much more cost-efficient than pads or tampons.
The drawback of menstrual cups is that it takes some practice to insert and remove them. Unlike disposing a tampon or pad, you need to empty blood from the cup, clean it, then insert again. It’s also suggested that you clean the menstrual cup with boiling water every month. Overall, using menstrual cups takes a little more time.
Aunt Mochi’s advice: Pay attention to the size and shape of the cup and your cervical position when purchasing a cup. Put a Cup In It has reviews and buying guides for menstrual cups.
Cloth pads function like regular pads but are made of cotton and fabric. Therefore, they are reusable. There are so many varieties of handmade cloth pads available online through Etsy. Like regular pads, cloth pads have differing levels of absorbency. They can be more comfortable than regular pads and cause less skin irritation.
The drawback of cloth pads is having to wash them. You need to separate the insert, soak the pads in cold water, wash, then dry them. Cloth pads are not ideal when you are on the go and don’t have easy access to doing laundry. Cleaning cloth pads also consumes water. A single Lunapad costs $16. There are also options on Etsy for $6 per pad with sets of multiple pads available.
Aunt Mochi’s advice: Cloth pads are heavenly after childbirth if you have the means to wash them…much softer than disposable pads for your hardworking labia!
Alternative period supplies
What I Wish I Knew About My Period
A Global Glossary: The Menstrual Movement
7 Gender-Neutral Period Products You Should Know About
Nadya Okamoto is Shifting the Menstrual Conversation, One Period at a Time