6 Life-Changing Period Products You Should Know
Disposable period products siphon dollars out of your wallet and add to landfill waste and ocean pollution (while we have your attention, please stop flushing tampons). We understand that the alternatives you've heard of spark nightmares of crime scenes in the bathroom, or worse, your outfit. But no period product is completely mess-free, so why not try something new?
From reusable menstrual products to less wasteful disposables, we found the best ways to reduce your spending and waste.
If you don't want to deal with the maintenance involved in reusable menstrual products, a disposable menstrual disc is a strong alternative. The woman behind the FLEX menstrual disc was actually trying to create a reusable product at first, but saw that her users weren't biting.
"We had to scrap that product idea because we would follow up with users three months later," starts FLEX Founder Lauren Schulte. "They loved the idea...but they weren't actually using it."
The current product, FLEX, is a pliable disc that is about the size of a tampon when inserted, but unlike tampons or menstrual cups, it sits higher in the vagina, much closer to the cervix. FLEX has the same capacity as five regular tampons (three super tampons) and molds to your shape so you can laugh, exercise, and even have sex without leaks.
The first couple of times you insert it will be time-consuming, but once it's in place, you can't even feel it. And, yes, it holds up to its promises regarding, ahem, activities.
You might feel like you're in "The Shining" when you take FLEX out since it holds so much fluid, but don't fret. You can keep it in for 12 hours and time removal around your shower schedule. We think removal is easier than insertion, but both processes get easier, faster, and less messy once you know what you're doing.
We recommend FLEX because it's disposable, has a surprisingly fast learning curve, it's more comfortable than other menstrual discs, and its design is great for minimizing cramps. We also prefer it over the Softcup because it can be used with IUDs.
FLEX offers a three month trial that includes 24 discs, so you can try it before you commit to a subscription. Subscriptions ship in packs of four, eight, or twelve discs monthly, depending on the needs of your cycle.
After your trial, a pack of eight (equivalent to 40 regular tampons) only costs $15/month with a subscription, but the same pack is $20 without a subscription. With the subscription you're paying a little more than you would with traditional tampons, but about the same or less than organic tampons while producing 60 percent less waste. You can also get a 24-pack, with or without a subscription, for $35–45.
Best Pantiliner Substitute for Anyone
Everyone Thinx they know the best period underwear brand, but we respectfully disagree. We prefer the Australian brand ModiBodi because they have a wider selection of styles (including swimwear!) and sizes (XS-6XL). Everyone likes different kinds of underwear, so power of choice is important. If you'd like to try out period underwear in a boxer brief style, we also recommend these from Lunapads.
We specifically recommend this and any period underwear as a disposable pantiliner substitute because even at the highest levels of absorbency (across all the brands we looked at) those with heavier flows will have to change their underwear at some point. We don't think it's realistic for you to do so when you're out and about, but this underwear is a great backup for an insertable product.
We also think they work well alone for light days, if you have a light flow overall, or if you have irregular periods. In any case, you won't feel like you're wearing a diaper and the moisture-wicking design will keep you dry.
ModiBodi underwear can be machine washed, ideally on a gentle cold cycle, but dryers can warp period underwear. Since they are highly absorbent, you'll need to get several if you don't want to wash a pair every day. Luckily, orders to the U.S. aren't subject to any additional fees or taxes and orders over $100 USD ship for free. It's a hefty, upfront price tag, but they also offer a 30-day, risk-free refund policy for one pair to help you see if period panties are right for you.
For something so small, menstrual cups can be intimidating, but they don't have to be. They are a great insertable alternative to tampons and can be used for years. We recommend the MeLuna Classic cup in Small for newbies because it's the right mix of soft and sturdy. This makes the cup easy to fold and open up, so you can get the hang of it faster.
The small size is a good baseline to help you start looking for your "Goldilocks Cup." (If you really know yourself, feel free to go up a size or two). Bryony Farmer, 20, an alternative menstrual products YouTuber and a cloth pad entrepreneur, has created dozens of menstrual cup comparison videos that can help you from there.
"I discovered the menstrual cup in about January 2013...they were only talking about the Mooncup," says Farmer about the popular British cup, most comparable to the massive Diva cup. "I tried it out and it hurt me quite a bit, so I never touched it again."
After doing some research, she found many more cups out there and tried out the *drumroll* MeLuna Classic in Small. It was a great success and her YouTube channel was born shortly afterwards.
A couple of years later, I followed her advice and comparison videos and only needed to buy a MeLuna Classic and a Lily Cup before finding my Goldilocks Cup: the Lena cup. I used the first two in tandem for two years and considered a Lunette for months. I was about to commit when Lena launched and Farmer posted a comparison of the very similar cups. After several views (I like to be sure, okay?), I bought a Lena cup and haven't looked back for over a year.
We also like that you can choose from three stem types: a traditional stem, a ball, and a ring. Which type you choose depends on how low/high your cervix is and which you think will be the most comfortable to remove. We're partial to the traditional stem because it's easy to grip, flexible, and can be cut down if it's too long.
If you want a wearable solution with more absorbency than period underwear, cloth pads are your best bet. We recommend Lunapads Performa Mini because it is easily accessible through Target (compared to the oceans of sites and Etsy stores), machine washable and dryable, comfortable, and equivalent to three tampons or pads. If you can't find the absorbency you need at Target, you can also order pads directly from Lunapads.
It's a bit of an adjustment to change cloth pads outside of the house compared to disposables since you need to take your soiled pad with you.
Okay, stay with us.
For this, you'll need a wet bag to hold used pads in a waterproof section and a separate section for clean ones. They won't be cross-contaminated and they won't smell. Some people still find this inconvenient, so they ease into using cloth pads as overnight pads or pantiliners.
No matter your comfort level, the pads are easy to take care of and use. Button snaps on the wings secure the pad to your underwear and you get to feel soft fabric against your skin. Some people swear by soaking their pads, but all you really need to do is rinse them until the water runs clear and throw them in the wash (in a laundry bag).
Best for the All-Natural Woman
If you want to go all-in on your natural lifestyle, we recommend these sea sponges. Yes, actual sponges from the sea. No two sponges are alike, so you'll have to cut them down to size. Beyond that they can function similarly to tampons, but they need to be rinsed and sanitized like menstrual cups.
The initial sanitization process can be overwhelming because you're removing ocean debris like sand. Cleaning the sponge afterwards is much simpler and only requires a 15 minute soak in a cup of warm water in a teaspoon of baking soda. You can also just wash it with a mild soap.
Jade and Pearl is one of the oldest companies who sell sea sponges for personal use and they are the most thorough in their pre-cleaning process. We like their variety of sizes and different softness levels. They also sustainably harvest sponges in ways that encourage regrowth and sponges are never taken from protected reefs.
Much like the sponges you're familiar with, sea sponges are much softer when wet which makes them gentle to insert. If it's uncomfortable, the sponge might need to be wetter or you might need to cut it down to a smaller size.
Note: Sea sponges are not FDA approved as tampon replacements and have been linked to rare cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
Best If You Want to Make a Small Change
Non-applicator tampons or digital tampons, as in your digits a.k.a fingers, can be fairly messy to use. Reenactment of Carrie's prom aside, they are generally cheaper than their counterparts, especially when it comes to biodegradable cotton tampons. If you are considering organic applicator tampons, but can't come to terms with the price, there's a way to offset the overall cost.
D is a reusable tampon applicator from Dame, a British company who successfully Kickstarted the product in March. You can currently pre-order D through Indiegogo to receive it in August. We haven't taken D for a test spin yet, but we like the design and are excited about its functionality. With a reusable applicator, non-applicator tampons with less or no chemicals become a more affordable option and you won't be throwing away so much plastic.
Dame will also sell their own organic tampons (with compostable packaging!), but D is made to fit any tampon, from light to super plus. If you're worried about maintenance, the antimicrobial materials and heat-resistance make it easy to clean on the go and sanitize in boiling water at home. Dame also offers two tins, one for storing your tampons and one for your D during the rest of the month, and a travel pouch that can hold a D and a few tampons.
You may have heard of the R.E.T.A., another reusable tampon applicator, from Thinx. You might have also heard some less inspiring things about the company. Thinx is working on mending their image, but in the kerfuffle, the R.E.T.A. seems to be getting left behind.
Note: Please don't flush tampons; toss 'em.