Did you know that the first menstrual cup was invented as long back as 1937, just 8 years after tampon was patented?
Natural, even essential, though menstruation is to a woman’s health and fertility, taboos and stigma surrounding it are rampant. Which is why a lot of women end up not knowing enough about menstrual hygiene products. This keeps them from finding something that works best for them. So here’s a list of menstrual hygiene products you could choose based on their pros and cons.
1. Menstrual Cups
Menstrual cups are small, soft cups that can be inserted into the vagina, a few inches below the cervix, to collect menstrual blood. Broadly, there are two types of menstrual cups:
- Diaphragm-shaped: These cups are soft, flexible, and disposable.
- Bell-shaped: These cups are made of rubber (latex) or silicone that can be reused after thorough cleaning.
Depending on whether you have given birth vaginally or not, you could choose your menstrual cup size. Depending on your flow, you could empty your menstrual cup every 8–12 hours and wash it before reinserting it.
To dispose of your menstrual cup, either cut it up into several parts or burn it before throwing into a dustbin. Do look at any instructions on the package or the company website for more clarity on this.1
If you have a latex allergy, look out for products made from natural gum rubber.2
- Menstrual cups don’t contain any chemicals, bleaches, or fibers that could cause sensitivity, allergic reactions, or toxic shock syndrome – a rare but fatal bacterial infection.
- Since the cup holds the menstrual blood at the cervix, it prevents the blood from flowing through the vaginal canal, allowing for hassle-free sexual intercourse. Additionally, since the cup is inserted so deeply into the vagina, it is not felt by you or your partner during penile-vaginal sex.3
- They are travel-friendly.
- They don’t need to be changed often.
- Since they can last for up to 10 years, they only have a high one-time cost and are relatively inexpensive in the long run compared to other menstrual hygiene products.
- These cups might not be suitable for women if they are not sexually active or have a heavy flow.
- Some women might experience difficulty while defecating with the cup on. This could be attributed to using the wrong cup size.
- Some women might find it difficult to use menstrual cups in the beginning.
- Menstrual cups are not as easily accessible as other menstrual hygiene products.4
2. Sanitary Pads And Panty Liners
Sanitary pads, also known as menstrual pads, are believed to be the earliest form of feminine hygiene products. Each pad has a thin piece of absorbent material which is placed in the underwear to absorb the menstrual blood after it exits the body.
Sanitary pads come in various sizes, thickness, and absorbency limits. Most experts advise women to choose at least two types of pads, one for the heavy-flow days and other for the days when the flow is less.
A small, thin sanitary pad meant for light flow or spotting days is known as a panty liner. You could also use it to soak up vaginal or cervical discharge during ovulation and post-intercourse. Needless to say, panty liners shouldn’t be used during heavy-flow days.
It is important to change your pad and panty liner every 3–4 hours irrespective of the flow. Exceeding that time might lead to bacterial growth due to dampness and cause your vagina to emit a foul smell. It could also lead to skin rashes, urinary tract infections, and vaginitis.
To dispose of the pad, wrap it in toilet paper or newspaper before throwing into a dustbin. Do check the recycling instructions of your community for any details regarding menstrual pads.5
- Since pads aren’t inserted into the vagina, they have a lower chance of causing toxic shock syndrome. That said, do not forget to change your pad every 3–4 hours.
- Menstrual pads are very easy to use.
- They are disposable, inexpensive, and easy to find.
- Sanitary pads might lead to rashes and infections if not changed frequently.
- Sanitary pads are damaging to the environment since they contain toxic chemicals that are released into the environment when they’re disposed of and collect in landfills without breaking down for several years.6
3. Cloth Pads
Washable cloth pads work exactly like conventional pads, and the only difference between the two is that the former can be reused. Cloth pads come in different sizes and absorbencies to suit the different stages of a woman’s menstruation and last for upto 5 years. They also need to be changed as often as conventional pads. You could either wash them by hand or in a washing machine.
If you’re suffering from a skin allergy or are prone to having them, you might want to opt for pads made with organic cotton.7
- Women with sensitive skin might benefit from cloth pads because, unlike regular pads, they’re made of cotton and not plastic and don’t irritate the skin.
- While they do have a high one-time cost, they are inexpensive in the long run since they can be washed and reused.
- Since they are reusable, cloth pads are also eco-friendly.8
- Since the absorbancy of these pads is less than regular sanitary pads, you might need to change them more frequently.
- Having to regularly wash and reuse pads can be inconvenient for some women.
4. Reusable Period Panties
Period panties work exactly like cloth pads, except for the fact that the absorbent material is built into the underwear and doesn’t need to be attached. The material they’re made of varies depending on the brand. Some period panties have triple layers of absorbent cotton material, while others have a layer of waterproof material such as PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabric to avoid any leakage.9
You might have to wash period panties as often as you would a cloth pad. However, most of them are not built for handling a heavy flow, so be sure to have a back up at hand.
- Period panties are comfortable and less irritating to the skin than conventional pads.
- Women who have sensitive skin or are suffering from certain allergies might benefit from period panties.
- They can be washed and reused, making them inexpensive in the long run and eco-friendly.
- They are not the best option during heavy-flow days.
- Period panties need to be changed regularly.10
Tampons are small, cylinder-shaped pieces of absorbent material, such as cotton or rayon, that are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual flow. Most of them come with a small cotton string which hangs outside the body. This string can be pulled on when you’d like to change your tampon and makes for an easy removal. Certain tampons also come with a plastic or cardboard applicator that makes for easy insertion.
Toxic shock syndrome is caused by an infection by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes. Use of super-absorbency tampons has been linked to toxic shock syndrome.
Like pads, tampons come in different sizes and levels of absorbency. It is advised that you opt for the lowest absorbency tampon when your flow is lighter so as to reduce the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome.11 And you must change tampons every 4 to 6 hours. While tampons do not usually need to be removed during defecation, if you feel there’s a chance of the string coming in contact with fecal matter, please change it immediately.
To dispose of your tampon, wrap it in toilet paper before throwing it into the dustbin.
- Since tampons absorb menstrual flow before it exits the body, they don’t become odorous either
- Tampons are portable, making them ideal for travel.
- They’re also inexpensive, easily available, comfortable, and can’t be seen through clothing.
- If left inside the vagina for more than 8 hours, tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome.
- Tampons can’t be worn overnight.
- Engaging in sexual intercourse while wearing a tampon might be dangerous because the tampon might get pushed far into the vaginal canal during penetration and cause irritation. Not to mention, there is the risk of the tampon being pushed so far into the vagina that you’d need the help of a medical professional to retrieve it.
- Inserting the tampon can be difficult in the beginning.12
Sea Sponge Tampons May Not Be As Safe
Sea sponges are known as the “first tampons ever used,” and are extracted from the seabed and treated with hydrogen peroxide before being sold as a menstrual hygiene product.
In order to use a sea sponge tampon, you’d need to wet it and squeeze out any excess water before inserting it into your vagina. It is reusable and has to be rinsed every 3–4 hours irrespective of the flow. It can last anywhere between 3 and 6 months.
But while sea sponge tampons contain no synthetic fibers, pesticides, or chlorine, they may contain particles of sand, grit, bacteria, yeast, and mold, making them unsuitable for insertion as found by a test conducted by the University of Iowa.13 14
While some menstrual products have more benefits than the other, it’s important to find one that works best for you. It’s essential that you feel comfortable with anything you use. Do consult a gynecologist if you’ve got any concerns or queries about any of the products mentioned above before using them.
|↑1||Menstrual Products. University of California, Santa Barbara.|
|↑2, ↑7||Period Products: Information about tampons, pads, and more. Center For Young Women’s Health.|
|↑3||Can I have sex on my period? The University Of California, Santa Barbara.|
|↑4||Tampons, Pads or Menstrual Cups? What’s Right for You? National Women’s Health Resource Center.|
|↑5, ↑12||Menstrual Products. University of California, Santa Barbara.|
|↑6||100% Bio-degradable Sanitary Napkins from Banana Fibers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.|
|↑8||Are American women turning to reusable and greener menstrual products due to health and environmental pollution concerns? Rochester Institute Of Technology.|
|↑9||Leva Brand Hygiene Pads. Rhode Island School Of Design.|
|↑10||Student’s Corner. Rochester University.|
|↑11||Toxic Shock Syndrome. NHS.|
|↑13||CPG Sec. 345.300 Menstrual Sponges. Food And Drug Administration.|
|↑14||Faich, Gerald, Kay Pearson, David Fleming, Solomon Sobel, and Charles Anello. “Toxic shock syndrome and the vaginal contraceptive sponge.” Jama 255, no. 2 (1986): 216-218.|