Even as I detox more and more items in my house—including my cleaning products and the contents of my kitchen cupboards—it’s still been really hard to make peace with changing how I deal with my period. It seems like there’s always just been two options when that time of the month arrives: pads or tampons.
The more I read about how synthetic fibers (like rayon, which is often present in tampons), non-organic cotton, and plastics affect our bodies and can make us more susceptible to Toxic Shock Syndrome (did anyone else’s middle school health teacher scare them to death over this?) and chemical reproductive/endocrine disruptors, I’m realizing that I should probably switch over to more natural products at least some of the time. There’s also the environmental impact of using disposable products, which honestly makes me feel incredibly guilty every time I put a box of tampons in my cart at the drugstore.
In the past few years new products have arrived, many based on how women dealt with their periods in the olden days (after all, tampons haven’t been around forever!). Overall they’re cheaper over the long term, better for the environment, and safer. Anecdotally, some women say their periods become more regular, or that their symptoms lessen, once they switch to more natural feminine hygiene products—which is enough to convince me to at least try one of these.
There’s also something to be said for, well, getting in touch with your body’s natural functions. We live in a society where women are still treated as second class citizens, where periods are icky and gross and we don’t want to talk about them. Products like the ones below are revolutionary—for the environment, for our bodies, and for the cultural stigma that exists about menstruation. You are a woman! You menstruate! It’s not something to be embarrassed about.
Here’s what to expect from each product, along with some pros and cons.
1. Reusable Pads
Disposable pads are actually a pretty new invention in the grand scheme of things. While there’s not a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome like there is with tampons (because the pad sits outside your body), and less risk for operator error resulting in leaks, many pads do contain perfumes or other chemicals that can alter your delicate pH balance. Plus, they can just be a pain to deal with, and it seems so wasteful (and expensive!) to use them all the time. But if you’re a regular pad user, reusable cloth pads might be the way to go—simply stock up on a few, and wash them as you use them, rotating through your stash during your cycle.
I’ve heard women who use reusable pads say that they’re more comfortable (you won’t feel like you’re wearing a diaper, promise) and more breathable. Many brands have material sewn in to combat leaks and/or snaps to keep the pad fastened correctly—none of those annoying adhesive strips that never really work anyway. But, wearing them does take some planning: It’s not like you’re going to carry around a used pad home with you if you need to change it when you’re out and about! So it may be best to use them in tandem with another option, or to use disposables when you’re out.
2. Lunette Menstrual Cups
Menstrual cups are available in reusable and disposable versions, and some of the reusable ones, like Lunette, can be used for years. Lunette Cups are made in Finland from medical-grade rubber silicone, and are folded and then inserted inside you, where they collect the blood. They come in 2 different sizes, one for light flow and one for heavy, and a variety of colors.
You can leave menstrual cups in for about 12 hours (versus 4 to 8 for a tampon) and swim, run or do other activities you’d do with a tampon in. Since they’re simply collecting the blood, cups won’t change your vaginal pH or affect beneficial bacteria like a tampon can (which can cause dryness and itchiness); because of this, you can wear them before your period even starts so you’re ready. When you remove the cup, you pour the blood out and rinse it before re-inserting. Between cycles, it’s important to sanitize the cup—Lunette has a liquid cleanser and on-the-go wipes.
While there’s a bit of a learning curve involved, especially for younger women, once you get the hang of it, it’s no big deal. And switching is worth it when you consider how much money you’ll save. A Lunette Menstrual Cup is $40 and it’ll last you for years. Compare that to the hundreds of dollars you probably spend on tampons and pads each year!
3. Natural Disposable Pads + Tampons
If you go the disposable route for feminine hygiene products, there are still lots of options—many with organic cotton, which is very important given the amount of chemicals used on conventional cotton crops—that are made without chlorine bleach (um, I do not want bleach in my body, thank you), harmful chemicals or unnecessary dyes or packaging. (Seriously, why do tampon wrappers need to be neon colors and trendy prints?!) Organic and natural products definitely cost a bit more, but not much. And I’d argue that if there are certain times to spring for organic, an item you put inside your vagina for hours is one of those times!
4. Sea Sponges
If you have trouble inserting or removing a menstrual cup, a sea sponge (don’t just use any old sponge—make sure it’s a sea sponge made for this purpose) can be an easier option. Sanitize the sponge before using, then get it damp enough to be malleable, and insert and remove like you would a tampon or cup. Sponges can remain in use for about 3 hours. They need to be rinsed very well between uses, and cleaned with gentle products, rinsed, dried and stored in an open container in a dry place between cycles.
5. Leakproof Underwear
If you want to eliminate pads and tampons altogether, and don’t mind keeping a separate stash of underwear on hand, leakproof underwear can be a discrete (and actually kind of stylish!) route. Many different fabrics and absorbency levels are available, and they’re crafted to be leakproof and stain-proof.
We partnered with Lunette to bring you this post, but all opinions are our own.153