Center for Young Women's Health

Period Products:

Information about tampons, pads, and more

 

Remember

  • There are two types of menstrual products: external protection (pads and panty liners) and internal protection (tampons).
  • Tampons don't change your hymen.
  • The best period product is the one you feel most comfortable using.

There are two basic types of period products: external protection and internal protection. External protection such as pads and pantyliners are attached to the crotch of your underpants to absorb your menstrual flow after it leaves your body, while internal protection such as tampons are inserted into the vagina to catch or absorb your menstrual flow before it leaves your body. Some people prefer internal protection because you can't feel it and it is easier to use when playing sports. Tampons are the most common type of internal protection, but there are other choices available, too.

 

Using a tampon or other form of internal protection can be scary the first time, but after that it gets much easier! Some people worry that internal protection will change your hymen (a thin piece of tissue that partially blocks the entrance to your vagina), but this is not true. Talk to your mom, older sister, or another adult that you trust about how to use a tampon, and you can also watch our video about using your first tampon.

 

Both internal and external forms of protection are safe. There is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome with tampons, but the risk is very low when they are used correctly. You should read the directions on the package and change them frequently (every 4-8 hours). Make your decision about which type of period product to use based on whatever you feel most comfortable using! Talk about the different types of period products with an adult you trust. This will help you make your decision about which kind you will want to use.

 

Can I swim and do normal activities when I have my period?

Yes. People used to think that you shouldn't swim, play sports, or do other normal activities when you had your period. Now people know that this is not true. If you have the right type of menstrual protection, you can do anything! In fact, swimming and playing sports may make you feel better. Other girls prefer to be less active when they have a heavy flow or cramps. You will probably be most comfortable if you use a tampon when you swim or play sports.

 

Alternative and Environmentally Friendly Menstrual Products

 

If you're concerned about the chemicals and synthetic materials used to make regular pads and tampons, or you're looking for a more cost effective way to deal with your periods, you may want to consider using alternative products that are available to consumers.

 

What are some "natural" menstrual products that are also environmentally friendly?

Non-chlorine bleached all-cotton pads and tampons are available at many natural foods stores, some of the larger supermarket chains, and online. They're a bit more expensive than regular pads and tampons. They are disposable, so they aren't as environmentally friendly as reusable products, but they're not made using chemicals. However, even 100% natural cotton can contain pesticides, so if you want to be sure that the product you're buying has no chemicals, it's best to choose a brand made with organic cotton.

 

Alternative Menstrual Products

Reusable, washable, cloth pads work just like regular disposable pads, but instead of throwing them away after use, you rinse them out, wash them, and use them again. Reusable pads usually come in two parts: a liner and a liner holder. The liner goes inside the holder, which has wings that snap around the crotch of your underwear to keep it in place. They come in different sizes and absorbencies and are usually less irritating because they are made of cotton, not plastic. Cloth pads are more expensive than disposables (when you first buy them) but they will save you money over time because they last for years. You change reusable pads as often as you would change disposable pads, except with reusable pads you hand or machine-wash them instead of throwing them away. Girls with sensitive skin or allergies may prefer cloth pads made with organic cotton.

 

Sea sponge tampons are a natural alternative to synthetic tampons that come in different sizes to absorb varying amounts of menstrual flow. On average they cost between $12-20 dollars (for a package of 2). These are not the same sponges that you might buy in a grocery store to wash dishes with. Sea sponges are actually harvested from the ocean floor and contain no synthetic materials. After harvesting them, they're naturally bleached with hydrogen peroxide however, they're not sterile. One sea sponge will last about 6 months, but some may not last as long. A menstrual sea sponge should be thrown away and replaced if you notice that it rips apart while you're inserting or removing it from your vagina. You should follow the instructions that come with the product. Before using a sea sponge tampon, you'll have to dampen it, squeeze it tightly in your hand, and then gently insert it into your vagina. When the sponge is dry it's surprisingly hard, but once dampened it softens up immediately. Once in place, it works like a tampon to absorb menstrual flow.

 

A sea sponge needs to be rinsed out about every 3 hours and thoroughly cleaned, dried, and properly stored at the end of each menstrual cycle. Care must be taken to remove the sea sponge to avoid tearing it. According to the manufacturer, Jade & Pearl Inc. the Sea pearl sponge can be left in place during intercourse, but it must be removed and rinsed/cleaned thoroughly afterwards. Check the manufacturer's website for instructions on how to disinfect your sponge. As with tampons, it is possible to get toxic shock syndrome from sea sponges.

 

Reusable Menstrual Cups: Menstrual cups are another alternative to tampons. The Keeper®, The Keeper Mooncup®, The DivaCup, and one disposable cup (Instead Softcup) are examples of different kinds of menstrual cups. Most menstrual cups are made of rubber or medical grade silicone which makes the cup easy to fold so that it can be inserted into the vagina to "catch" menstrual blood rather than absorb it. The design is simple; a cup to collect menstrual blood and a "pull-tab" to remove it to make emptying it easy. A menstrual cup is placed inside the vagina a few inches below the cervix. When it is time to empty the cup, simply remove and empty the cup into the sink, or toilet then rinse with clean water then reinsert. Although it looks like a funnel, the blood does not drain out through the pull-tab (the tube is solid not hollow). Menstrual cups are not linked to TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) because they simply collect the blood rather than absorb it. They can be worn about 6-12 hours (depending on the amount of your flow? There are about ten different kinds of reusable menstrual cups available on the market today. The most popular menstrual cups come in two sizes. The bigger cup is recommended for women over 30 who have delivered a baby vaginally. The cup may not be the right choice if you are not sexually active or you have a heavy flow.

 

The Keeper®: The Keeper® menstrual cup is made of natural gum rubber from trees. It should NOT be usedby women who are allergic to latex.

 

The Keeper Mooncup®: The Keeper Mooncup® is made of non-latex, medical-grade silicone.

 

Lunette Cup: Lunette cups are the only colored menstrual cups that the Federal Drug Administration has approved. They are made of the same medical-grade silicone as other cups and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

 

The DivaCup: The DivaCup is made of a medical-grade silicone, which makes it an alternative for women with latex allergies or who are sensitive to The Keeper®.

 

Both the DivaCup, The Keeper®, and The Keeper Mooncup® sell for about $35 (a piece) which costs a lot more than a box of pads or tampons. However, with proper care they can last for years, making the cost reasonable over time. Some girls and women like to wear a panty shield when using the menstrual cup for extra protection.

 

Disposable Menstrual Cup:

 

The Instead Softcup is worn at the very back of the vagina and covers the cervix. It collects, rather than absorbs menstrual flow, and can be used for up to 12 hours at a time, depending on your flow. The manufacturer claims that it can be kept in place during any activity, including sexual intercourse (Note: Wearing the Instead Softcup during sex does NOT protect against pregnancy or STIs). The cup must be thrown away after a single use. Instead Softcups are sold in drug stores and supermarkets, but they can be hard to find and are more expensive than tampons.

 

Are reusable menstrual products safe and healthy to use?

Although it may be unacceptable for some girls and young women to handle their menstrual blood or place a menstrual cup in their vagina, it is important to know that they are safe easy to use. There's nothing "dirty" about menstrual blood. It's important for reusable products to be properly cleaned and stored according to the manufacturer's instructions.

 

Of course, you should never share reusable menstrual products with anyone else, and you must follow the manufacturer's instructions about when and how to replace the product.

 

Where can I learn more about alternative menstrual products?

Because most women are not familiar with these products, their manufacturers are often willing to provide education and support to anyone interested in switching from the more popular menstrual products. Most manufacturers even offer a money-back guarantee to encourage uncertain consumers to give eco-friendly menstrual products a try.

 

When you think about all the tampons or pads that you would use over the course of your menstruating years, choosing a reusable product (instead of a throwaway one) would definitely have a positive impact on the environment. However, keep in mind that on average it takes 2-3 menstrual cycles of using these products to get used to them and to see if you like them, especially if you've been using tampons and regular pads for a while. You might decide that you're happier using an alternative product, or you might find that you'd rather stick with regular tampons and pads - and that's okay. There's no right or wrong choice! The best menstrual product is the product that you're most comfortable using.

 

Below you'll find some commercial web sites with FAQ's about alternative and environmentally friendly menstrual products. The CYWH does not necessarily endorse any of the following manufacturers of alternative menstrual products or their websites. Our goal is to provide our readers with links to the companies that make these reusable products, to learn more about them, and understand how to properly store and clean them (to lessen the risk of infection).

Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital

 

Updated: 3/14/2014

 

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