There are so many options these days for dealing with your period beyond disposable pads and tampons. I haven't used either for over a decade, but there are still plenty of ladies who haven't changed their routines. What first got me out of mainstream period products? I reported in my 20s on the questionable and possibly dangerous ingredients in tampons (see more on the dangers and lack of regulation here) and I didn't want to add to the landfill on a monthly basis. I find the plastic-y feel of disposable panty liners and pads (and the fact that they often bunch or slide around when you're active) to be highly problematic. Once I tried the alternatives, I never went back. They just work better, they're cheaper, and they produce much less waste.
So, what are your waste-less options?
You've probably heard of the various kinds of reusable cups on the market, and they're growing in popularity; most women find they prefer them once they've tried them. But period undies are another option that can either compliment a cup or be worn solo.
My personal system is a combo of a reusable cup (here's why I love 'em) and Lunapads hipster undies for heavy days and just cloth Lunapads (which attach to any pair of existing undies) on lighter days. Some Lunapads undies have removable pads, so you can double up if you want. I love Lunapads because they've been out there demystifying women's cycles and campaigning for healthier periods since I started reporting on the subject. The products stand the test of time — I've had some of mine for seven or eight years, and I appreciate that they're made from 100-percent organic cotton. They also come in a variety of styles and colors (including cute/funny prints) and sizes XS to 3XL, and the company also makes special postpartum kits and smaller versions for teens.
When you buy the company's products, Lunapads donates period supplies to girls who might otherwise miss school because they don't have them through the One4Her project. (To avoid the stigma associated with menstruating, girls in countries where they don't have reliable access to menstrual protection products will skip school on those days, making them more likely to drop out.)
A new entry in the category of reusable underwear for period care is Thinx, which also donates period supplies to needy girls through AFRIpads, the same nonprofit that Lunapads supports. In the great video above, company's CEO and cofounder Miki Agrawal details the sexist background of why menstruating women are considered unclean and why we should all be less ashamed to talk about our periods. Agreed!
According to Agrawal, Thinx underwear has gone viral four times since the company soft-launched in late 2014. She thought there was "... a clear opportunity to disrupt the underwear and hygiene category," and she went for it, going through many trials and tests to get the fabric and fit just right. She also cofounded Icon, which sells undies for women who have minor bladder leakage.
I saw a bunch of ads for Thinx on Facebook and eventually ordered a pair to try out; I chose the hiphugger and they're as comfortable and effective as the website advertises. I've used them for two period cycles now and found them to be moisture-wicking and good at keeping smells at bay, though it's worth noting that I've never noticed any odor from my period using other options. They fit well and I didn't have any accidents or issues with them. At the end of the day, I personally prefer the all-cotton Lunapads since they feel better against my skin and they're also eventually biodegradable, which fabrics containing nylon and polyester aren't.
But having a variety of products in the marketplace is a good thing, because it gives women more options, and both companies help women who need period care in Africa, which is a huge bonus.
But what if you just love tampons? (I don't get that, but I have heard some women wax poetic about them.)
"The next thing we are tackling is taking on the tampon category," says Agrawal. "Right now 70 percent of Western women use tampons with applicator," which, she points out, is both wasteful and potentially toxic.
I'm just happy that writing and talking about this stuff is a bit less "under wraps" than it was when I was a kid. I at least had a parent who took me through the whole process with plenty of information and a solid biology lesson. (Parents, if your daughter is 10 or older, you should have already had an open and honest conversation with her about periods.) Although I didn't get my period until I was almost 14, we had a kit ready to go with supplies just for me and I felt fully prepared because of several conversations. And that's more important than any underwear or pad.