No two women are the same, nor are their periods or their choices of feminine hygiene products. Some women may not think about what most feminine hygiene products are made of, but there is a lot to consider when choosing. You can choose the size, absorbency level, applicator type, and scented versus unscented. Then there are menstrual cups and period panties to consider. The options are endless, so let's talk about some of your choices.
Pads are among the earliest feminine hygiene products around, but things have changed over the last 100 years. Pads are offered in various lengths and absorbency levels. The advantage is that nothing is inserted into the vagina; however, some feel that pads are uncomfortable and aren't practical when doing physical activity. Some women even will use tampons with pads depending on their flow.
Tampons are the most popular choice of feminine care products used by women age 41 years old or younger. Like sanitary pads, tampons come in different sizes and levels of absorbency. The advantage of tampons is that they are easier to use during physical activity. Urinary tract infections and toxic shock syndrome are rare, but there are steps to avoid complications. It's recommended that you use the least absorbent tampon to manage your menstrual flow and change your tampons every 4-6 hours. There is concern about the chemicals in tampons linked to cancer, disruptions of hormones, and unnecessary allergic reactions. In fact, the FDA does not regulate or require companies to test or disclose potential harmful chemicals used in these products.
There is now a huge market of organic cotton tampons. The difference between organic and conventional tampons is that organic tampons use 100% organic cotton to claim that no pesticides are used. However, these companies may still bleach the cotton, increasing the potential risk of toxic byproducts such as dioxins. There is no scientific evidence to date to say that organic tampons are safer than conventional tampons. It's important to read the labels, do your research and use tampons as directed.
Menstrual cups collect your blood flow rather than absorbing it like pads and tampons. They are also becoming an increasingly popular choice among women. If you are not familiar with the menstrual cup, it's worth looking into the pros and cons. Menstrual cups are a reusable product made of rubber or silicone that can last up to 10 years if properly taken care of. It can hold more blood than tampons and pads. Depending on your flow, the cup needs to be changed every 6-12 hours. Another benefit is that it is an eco-friendly alternative to the product waste of tampons and pads and is cost-effective.
Period panties are underwear that have built-in period protection that you wash and re-use. Period underwear is discreet, and the thin absorbent layers stay in place when compared to pads. They can also be used with tampons for heavy overflow or at the end of your period when there is not enough flow for a tampon. The disadvantage is rinsing out your underwear at the end of the day, which means more laundry. On those heavy flow days, you may have to change your underwear in the middle of the day, which can be inconvenient. One last thing to consider is the cost. It can add up to get a full cycle set, but the underwear could last several years to be worth the investment.
With all the choices for feminine protection, women must be educated about their options to better manage their menstrual cycle—rather than being managed by it.
What questions do you have about tampons, menstrual cups, and other feminine hygiene products?
Dr. Jodie Horton