The world of periods (or menstruation, if we’re getting technical) can be a difficult thing to navigate. Taboos and cultural norms mean that talking about your period isn’t as common as it should be, given that roughly half of the population menstruate at some point. So, let’s talk about it. Here’s what you need to know about the period products that are used most often, their benefits, and their drawbacks. It might take some time to figure out the best way to deal with your period, and the right products to use. Trial and error is key.
Pads / Sanitary Towels
Sanitary towels, or pads, are strips of cotton that stick to your underwear and absorb period blood. After use (or up to 6-8 hours), they’re thrown away. Pads come in different sizes and thicknesses depending on flow, and cost roughly between 2p and 26p per pad in the UK.
- Ease of use; pads can be easily attached to underwear, and thrown away just as quickly.
- Availability; pads can be found at most shops and convenience stores.
- Environmental impact; pads are single-use, and need to be changed regularly, so aren’t great for the planet.
- Comfort; some people find pads to be bulky and uncomfortable.
- Range of activity; it isn’t recommended to wear a pad to go swimming. The sticky side of the pad can be made ineffective by water and fall off, and the cotton will absorb the water you’re swimming in.
Tampons are compact pieces of cotton with a string at the end. A tampon is inserted either with an applicator or by hand, and absorbs the blood before it exits the body. Tampons should be changed roughly every 4-6 hours, and are thrown away after use. They cost roughly between 4p and 18p per tampon in the UK and come in a range of different sizes depending on flow.
- Comfort; if inserted correctly, tampons can barely be felt, therefore making them more comfortable than most other products.
- Discretion; tampons are small and can easily fit into a bag or pocket. Also, they are quiet to apply and remove.
- Range of activity; you can go swimming while wearing a tampon, as well as do any other form of exercise.
- Availability; tampons can be found at most shops and convenience stores.
- Initial ease of use; it can take a while to get used to the proper way to insert and remove a tampon.
- Environmental impact; tampons are single-use, and need to be changed regularly, so aren’t great for the planet.
- Potential for TSS; if you leave a tampon in for longer than recommended, there is a very small chance of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome, a potentially lethal condition.
- Environmental impact; reusable pads are not single-use, and can be reused for years.
- Ease of use; like disposable pads, reusable pads can be easily attached to and removed from underwear using press-studs or buttons.
- Comfort; like disposable pads, some people find pads to be bulky and uncomfortable.
- Range of activity; it also isn’t recommended to wear a reusable pad to go swimming, as it will absorb the water you’re swimming in.
- Maintenance; reusable pads have to be rinsed, soaked, washed and dried between uses, so can take up more time than disposable ones.
- Environmental impact; menstrual cups can be reused, and can last up to a decade before replacement is needed.
- Comfort; once you get used to using a menstrual cup, they can often barely be felt.
- Range of activity; you can go swimming whilst using a menstrual cup, as well as do any other form of exercise.
- Ease of use; menstrual cups usually take a few cycles to be able to be used comfortably and easily. There may be a learning curve in figuring out how to insert or remove a menstrual cup.
- Discretion; menstrual cups have to be emptied and rinsed before they’re reinserted, so cleaning a menstrual cup in a public bathroom can be inconvenient.
- Maintenance; menstrual cups have to be disinfected with boiling water between every cycle, so can take up more time than disposable methods.
- Environmental impact; period underwear is not single-use, and can be reused for years.
- Ease of use; no insertion is needed, so wearing period underwear is very similar to just wearing regular underwear.
- Discretion; as period underwear can be worn throughout the day, you will not need to change or adjust anything in public.
- Comfort; some people find the thought of wearing period underwear to be uncomfortable or messy.
- Range of activity; period underwear cannot be worn whilst swimming, as the blood may not be absorbed into the underwear properly.
- Effectiveness; if you do not choose the correct absorbency of period underwear, or if your period is heavier than usual, there may be leakage.
- Maintenance; period underwear needs to be washed and dried after every wear, so can take up more time than disposable methods.
And there you have it – five different period products to try out! As with most things, what works for some people may not work for others, so don’t stress if it takes you a while to figure out your preferred method of period maintenance. Go forth and take care, fellow period-havers!