Periods have been around for as long as, well, people. Yet, it’s taken until recently for there to be any innovations in menstrual product technology. Each year, women in U.S. spend over $2 billion on period products. That’s a ton of cash money, and if you’re going to spend it, it might as well be on the right menstrual products for you.
For generations, women have depended upon either menstrual pads (which started out as simply rags stuffed into underwear, thus the expression ‘on the rag’), or tampons. Now, in a flurry of entrepreneurial spirit and new tech, there’s a bunch of options for dealing with your flow.
Diva Cups & Flex Discs
The Diva Cup is probably the most well-known of the period cups. This reusable device is made from medical grade silicone and is like a little bell with a stem on one end. When properly inserted, the cup can remain in place for up to 12 hours. You use the stem for insertion and removal, although there have been reports that the stem can be a bit too long for some vaginas.
One Diva cup can last a whole year, which, at a $30 price point, is pretty economical, as well as the most environmentally correct of all the products.
While not a cup, the Flex menstrual disc is created to perform along the same lines. Designed like a diaphragm, this collapsible, flexible pouch is inserted up and over the cervix. The Flex can hold as much blood as three super tampons, and be remain in for 12 hours. The Flex is disposable, and costs $15 for a one-month supply (8 discs).
There are a lot of pluses to these cups and discs, like a reduction is dryness and irritation that can occur with pads or tampons.
You shouldn’t overshoot the 12 hour wear time, because toxic shock syndrome can happen (it’s very, very rare).
You should be sure you are very comfortable inserting and removing them. And you might want to plan your day around a home removal, because it’s not ideal to be stuck in a public restroom stall holding a little cup of blood.
A Blast From the Past: Reusable Pads
Sure, Ma Ingalls probably had to use a bunch of rags rather than a sanitary pad when stuck on the prairie (she would have died for a Kotex), but the reality of reusable menstrual pads has greatly improved since the pioneer days.
New disruptor companies like LunaPad and GladRags have added wings and technology to the underwear mattress. Gone are the crinkly sound of paper and the fake scents. These pads are soft cotton, come in appealing colors, and can absorb a day’s worth of flow. Toss them into the machine and dryer and they come out as good as new. A starter kit from LunaPad runs about $76, but since these can last for years, that’s the most economical menstruation solution yet.
Literally, It’s Period Underwear
Remember when you used to call your oldest, rattiest, most grandma undies “period underwear?” Thanks to companies like Dear Kate and Thinx, there’s now actually period underwear specifically designed to be worn during your period.
Solidly, yet comfortably constructed of super absorbent and leak resistant materials, these magic underwear work hard to contain up to two tampons worth of flow. You can use them as an adjunct to your normal pad or tampon, or try them out solo on a lighter day (or at night). Some include extra things like non-migratory silver, which controls bacteria growth (odor) while not irritating your skin and vaginal microbiome.
Again, these are totally washable and can be used for years, thus cutting down on your need for typical tampons and pads.
D: A Reusable Applicator for Non-Applicator Tampons
Many of us have become accustomed to the mini size and convenience of some tampons (looking at you, OB). But some, especially teens, aren’t so crazy about the lack of an applicator. Enter D, by the British company Dame. D is a reusable tampon applicator made from medical grade, BPA free materials. It has built in cleaning technology so it’ll stay fairly ungross for 24 hours; just wipe, rinse it, and put it back into its included storage tin.
Since 50% of all plastics are used once and thrown away, a reusable applicator makes sense from an environmental standpoint. Why keep throwing them away? A perk: the tiny applicator plus tampons easily fit into a purse. Each D comes with six of Dame’s organic tampons, so your kit is all ready for service.
…And Organic Tampons
There’s been plenty of buzz about organic tampons, and there are several smaller companies offering them. You might, however, want to save your money.
Contrary to some online claims, organic tampons won’t protect you against toxic shock syndrome, dioxins or pesticides.
“[TSS] has more to do with the absorbability and the length of use of one singular tampon,” Dr. Alyssa Dweck said in The Insider. “So that doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to organic versus not.”
Dioxins? Probably not, as tampons today aren’t bleached using elemental chlorine, thus removing dioxins from the equation. And pesticides are more of a worry in food than menstrual products.
The big difference: organic tampons are more expensive. And since women already pay the Pink Tax, why spend even more money on menstrual products?
Your choice really depends on a combination of convenience, cost, and comfort. And all these new options give you even more opportunities to find your period product sweet spot.