Period products are necessary for much of a woman’s life, especially since she may require menstrual hygiene products for as long as 40 years. The type of product chosen for monthly flow may vary based on individual preference, cost, menstrual flow, or environmental impact. Knowing the raw materials of each, and which are more eco-friendly, may help determine which period product to use.
Sustainable and reusable period products are available, but they are usually more expensive.
Pads are the most popular period product, followed closely by tampons.
Choosing a menstrual hygiene product is a personal choice based on various factors such as cost, reliability, and environmental impact.
Women often consider comfort, cost, and reliability in choosing period products. These products are exposed to vaginal tissue, a sensitive area of the female body, and the product materials may irritate due to the chemicals utilized. Therefore, it may be beneficial to consider the raw materials in the product.
Menstrual products and their materials
The materials used vary based on the type of product.
A period pad is a disposable menstrual pad that rests on the inside of underwear by an adhesive strip. The pad absorbs the menstrual flow with natural and synthetic absorbent fibers such as cotton and rayon. It may be necessary to purchase several pairs for fluctuating menstrual flow since period pads have varying absorbency.
Tampons require internal insertion and may come with or without an applicator. The tampon, made from highly absorbent materials such as rayon and cotton or a blend of the two, rests inside the vaginal canal.
A menstrual cup is a flexible, suction cup-like device placed inside the vagina to collect rather than absorb menstrual fluid. It may be necessary to purchase several menstrual cups to find the correct fit, and getting used to it may take some time. Menstrual cups are made of silicone, latex, rubber, or thermoplastic. Proper care makes these environmentally friendly products reusable for 2 to 10 years.
Did you know that the FDA regulates menstrual pads, tampons, and menstrual cups since they're considered medical devices? The raw materials in these period products must go through a review to ensure they're safe and effective.
Although similar to a menstrual cup, a menstrual disc is meant for one-time disposable use and can remain during intercourse due to placement at the base of the cervix. Menstrual discs are made of a medical-grade polymer that heats inside the body to mold its shape.
Menstrual underwear is made of machine-washable materials such as cotton, bamboo fleece, and several layers of quick-drying microfiber polyester. Some women wear this absorbent underwear as an extra layer of protection along with other period products.
The FDA hasn't approved these natural sea sponges used as menstrual sponges to insert into the vagina. The menstrual sponge is similar to a tampon in insertion but can be cleaned and reused.
Most popular period products
Menstrual pads and tampons are close favorites for period products, although pads are the most commonly used. Since tampons are highly absorbent and rest inside the vaginal canal, they absorb natural lubricants and bacteria, which may cause irritation and discomfort or disrupt the natural pH balance of the vagina.
Although rare, tampons carry the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which can pose life-threatening complications. Reports of TSS with menstrual cup use is rarer. Reduce risk by limiting the use of high-absorbency tampons. Do not leave tampons in for more than 8 hours, and do not leave menstrual cups in for more than 12 hours.
How much plastic is in period products?
Tampons and disposable period pads contain various amounts of plastic, with a menstrual pad containing up to 90% plastic and tampons up to 6%, not including a plastic applicator. The specific amount of plastic can vary based on the type of pad or tampon used.
The substantial amount used over the lifetime of a woman’s menstrual cycle can contribute significantly to overall plastic waste. Although noted as recyclable, some of these products, such as a plastic tampon applicator, may be unacceptable at recycling facilities.
Toxins in period products
Period pads and tampons contain minimal toxic contaminants called dioxins. Dioxins are the byproducts of the bleaching process. The levels of dioxins in tampons are much lower than FDA limits.
Organic pads, tampons, and menstrual cups are non-toxic and more sustainable. You should check to make sure that your period product does not contain products known as PFAS. PFAS are often referred to as forever chemicals since they take a long time to break down and can build up in the body and cause potential health risks. Some brands of period underwear may contain PFAS since they repel liquids.
Determining what period product is best is a personal preference. If a woman prefers a sustainable or reusable period product, then period-proof underwear or menstrual cups may be preferable. However, these items tend to come with a higher cost. They’re expensive to start with but offer a cost saving after a year or more of use. Pads are the cheapest period product, followed by tampons. Organic pads and tampons can be a more eco-friendly choice.
Menstrual flow, reliability, ease of use, physical activity level, reusable or disposable products, cost, sustainability, and accessibility may play a part in choosing a period product. It is a personal choice for every person who menstruates.
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The Facts on Tampons—and How to Use Them Safely.
- International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Menstruation: Environmental impact and need for global health equity.
- Environment International. Volatile organic compounds in feminine hygiene products sold in the US market: A survey of products and health risks.
- National Geographic. How Tampons and Pads Became so Unsustainable.
- Harvard Health Publishing. How to Choose Period Products.