Medically Approved

Your guide to period products

5 minute read
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If you’re like most women, you use tampons or disposable pads when you menstruate. But they aren’t the only options for controlling your period.

Amy Levato

By Amy Levato

It’s that time of the month again. For the next 3 to 7 days, you’ll be on your period.

The pain that comes with your menstrual cycle can be bad enough. So you don’t want to spend a ton of money on period products. Plus, you want to use a method that feels comfortable and fits your lifestyle.

Pads and tampons are the most used period products, according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). But you have other choices. Maybe you’d like to reduce your costs. Or you want to use an eco-friendly method. Whatever your priorities, you’ve got lots of menstrual-care options.

Here’s a handy guide to what’s out there, plus the pros and cons of each.

The Optum Store carries a variety of period products to fit your needs.

Period product: Tampons

Tampons work internally. You insert them into your vagina and they absorb menstrual blood. They’re especially convenient if you have an active lifestyle. Once you put in a tampon, you can generally forget about it for the next 4 hours or so. Then it’s time to change it.

“You may want to skip the tampon if you only have light bleeding,” says Kathryn Boling, MD. She’s a primary care doctor at Mercy Personal Physicians in Lutherville, Maryland. “This can cause discomfort when you’re taking it out.”

That’s because the tampon isn’t full of blood, so it can be dry, Dr. Boling explains. Some tampon users switch to another method — such as a panty liner — at the end of their period, when their flow is lighter.

You should also never wear tampons for more than 8 hours, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This increases the chance of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS can cause organ damage and other problems. You should never reuse tampons either. Tampons are meant to be used once and then thrown away.

Use tampons safely by:

  • Following the instructions on the box
  • Changing your tampon every 4 to 8 hours
  • Using the lowest absorbency needed for your flow
  • Removing slowly by gently pulling on the string

Period product: Menstrual cup

A menstrual cup is a popular tampon alternative. You insert the small, flexible cup into your vagina by folding it and gently pushing it inside. It rests against the vaginal wall, where it collects blood. To change it, you take it out and pour the blood into the toilet. Then you clean the cup with hot water and reinsert it.

“Menstrual cups are good if you have heavier periods,” says Dr. Boling. “They can hold a fair amount of blood and can be a good idea, especially if you need to go 6 to 7 hours with it in.” They can also save you money in the long run.

Menstrual cups range in price. Some are disposable, while others can be reused from 6 months to 10 years. Some women choose this product because menstrual cups are often reusable and eco-friendly.

Although rare, menstrual cups can raise your risk of TSS. Follow instructions carefully to keep yourself safe when wearing the cup.

Period product: Disposable pads

Sanitary pads are another common period product. These are designed to stick to the inside of your underwear and absorb blood externally. You can buy different sizes and levels of thickness, depending on how light or heavy your flow is.

You should change your pad every 4 hours to keep yourself fresh and help prevent bacteria growth. Simply throw out your pad after each use. For lighter days or spotting, panty liners are a great option.

Period product: Menstrual disc

Another option that collects blood internally is a menstrual disc. It works in a similar way to a menstrual cup. You insert the flexible plastic or silicone device into your vagina so that it sits at the base of the cervix. The disc can be left in for up to 12 hours, says the IPPF.

Most menstrual discs aren’t reusable. Once you take it out, you dispose of the blood and throw away the disc.

This is an ideal product if you have intercourse during your period. Menstrual discs can stay put during sex and continue to absorb blood.

Period product: Reusable pads

You’re familiar with disposable pads. But did you know that reusable pads are an option, too? They work the same way and offer the same benefits.

The average woman spends between $50 and $150 per year on disposable pads and tampons, according to the Mayo Clinic. A perk of reusable pads is that they can save you money. Simply wash the pad and wear it again. (You’ll want to buy at least 3 pads so that you have a fresh one to use while the one you just washed is drying.)

This option is also more environmentally friendly because these pads reduce waste.

Period product: Period underwear

Period underwear is designed to collect your blood externally. It looks like regular underwear, but each pair has an extra layer of absorbency that keeps the blood away from your clothing.

Period underwear can cost more than other products. But it’ll save you money in the long term because it can be washed and re-worn for years. Reusable underwear also offers other benefits, such as:

  • Comfort
  • Ease of use for sports and intense workouts
  • Sustainability

On heavy flow days, period underwear can sometimes leak. So you might want to use another product along with your underwear on those days, just in case.

Along with pads, period underwear is a good choice for women with vaginismus. This condition causes spasms in the vaginal area, explains Dr. Boling. That means internal products can be hard to use.

No matter your age or comfort level, there’s a period product for you. Still not sure which option is best? Talk to your OB-GYN.

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Need to stock up on period supplies? Shop our list:

Additional sources
Overview of period products: International Planned Parenthood Federation (2020). “Period products: what are the options?”
Tampon facts: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (n.d.). “The Facts on Tampons—and How to Use Them Safely”
Menstrual cups: Mayo Clinic (2017). “Women’s Wellness: Menstrual Cups vs. Tampons”