Period Products: Information about tampons, pads, and more

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There are two basic types of period products: external protection and internal protection. External protection such as pads and panty liners attach to the crotch of underpants to absorb your menstrual flow after it leaves the body, while internal protection such as tampons are inserted into the vagina to catch or absorb menstrual flow before it leaves your body. Some people prefer internal protection because t 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.

Are  internal and external forms of period protection safe?

Both internal and external period products that are approved by the FDA federal food and drug administration are considered safe. There is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome with tampons, but the risk is very low . You should read the directions on the tampon package and change your tampon frequently (every few hours or more often if needed) and use intermittently, for example, tampons in the daytime and pads at night. 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.

Will tampons change my hymen or affect my virginity?

No. Some people worry that internal protection will change their hymen (a thin piece of tissue that partially blocks the entrance to the vagina), but this isn’t true. Tampons do not affect your virginity.

Using a tampon or other form of internal protection can be scary the first time, but after that it gets much easier! It’s a good idea to talk  to your mom, older sister, or another adult that you trust about how to use tampons. You can also watch our video about using your first tampon.

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 rather than a pad 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 in most pharmacies and grocery stores.

What are some “natural” menstrual products that are also environmentally friendly?

Reusable, absorbable period panties (Thinx) are the newest menstrual product on the market. The crotch is 4 layers thick and absorbs light to medium amounts of menstrual flow. Girls/young women can wear this type of underwear with or without a tampon. The cost of the underwear is pricey, starting at $24 for a thong style and up to $38 for high waste panties. However, they are washable and reusable and environmentally friendly. Users of this product say they are “thin but very absorbent and comfortable to wear, don’t stain, and absorb normal menstrual flow all day.”

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.

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. 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, Intimina Lily cup, the SckoonCup 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 a dozen 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 menstrual flow.

The Keeper®: The Keeper® menstrual cup is made of natural gum rubber from trees. It should NOT be used by 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.

The Lily Cup™ is recommended for women who have not given birth or for those who have given birth by Caesarean. Thsi cup folds easily so that it can be inserted into a woman’s vagina. It is soft and thin and users say that they cannot “feel” the Lily cup while it is in their vagina. IT collects rather than absorbs blood and it comes with a compact for easy storage.

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 and 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 use them to lessen the risk of infection.

Commercial Websites