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A guide to menstrual alternatives

By Tara Blair Ball 

menstrual alternatives

When it comes to managing Aunt Flo, our devilish monthly visitor, most of us turn to the two most traditional options available at any convenience store: pads or tampons. Unfortunately, many commercial products contain a whole boatload of nasty chemicals that no one wants to put in their body. Synthetic additives, which make tampons more absorbent, are linked to an increased risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome as well as a slew of other health issues.

Thankfully there are now so many innovative products on the market that you aren’t limited to just inserting a tube of chemical-laden cotton or padding your underwear with a bulky diaper-like liner.

These products are chemical-free and hypoallergenic, and many are also reusable. Not only will you be using products safe but your body, but you’ll also be lowering your impact on the environment. Your vagina—and the world—will thank you if you switch to one of these options.

Underwear

Period underwear

If you haven’t seen period underwear before, you may be picturing adult diapers, but period panties look and feel very much like normal underwear. They simply have an extra layer that helps prevent blood from seeping through.

Thinx, with their humorous New York subway ads and stylish designs, remains the most popular brand of period underwear. Anti-microbial and moisture-wicking, a single pair can hold around 2 to 4 tampons’ worth of blood. For many women, these are best to wear on light to medium flow days or with a back-up method of protection on hand.

A single “sport” for medium flow days currently sells for $32. Since they’re machine-washable (cold and then hang to dry) and reusable, they’re relatively cost-effective and low impact on the environment if you aren’t also using too many back-up methods.

Other brands, such as Dear Kate, Knix, and Modibodi, have a similar price point to the Thinx brand. Dear Kate’s $36 “Ada Hipster” offers two absorbency options (mini, equal to 1.5 tampons, and full, 2 tampons). Knix’s Leakproof collection offers some of the cheapest options at $23 a pair for an absorbent bikini that will hold up to 3 tampons’ worth.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual Cups

Cups are exactly what you’d think of: little cups of reusable silicone that remain inside of your vagina collecting your flow for up to twelve hours as long as you have a cup size that matches your flow (they sell them in small, medium, and large, for light, medium, and heavy flows dependent on the brand).

Instead of inserting these in with a tube as you would a tampon, you have to manually insert them, so you’ve got to be comfortable with your own body (and your own blood) to get them both in and out. It might take some getting used to, but the process of putting them in and taking them out is rather simple: just fold and insert and then rearrange if needed.

They’re odor-free, easy to clean (with hot water), and comfortable once they’re in. With proper care, cups can last for many years, reducing the environment impact of your period as well.

While there are several different brands of cups (Diva, LadyCup, Lena, Pixie, Body Bay, etc.), Lena Menstrual Cups have over 7000 4+ reviews on Amazon. A single cup currently sells for just $24.90. In a Jezebel analysis, they estimate that women spend around $60 a year on tampons, so the cash-savings is worth it on its own!

Flexfits

Flexfit Discs

FlexFit is a menstrual disc, instead of a cup. It’s spherical, which makes insertion easier, and due to its shape, it’s placed right up against your cervix, which makes mess-free period sex possible. You do have to manually insert them, just as you do with the cups, but they still promise to provide worry-free and odor-free protection for up to 12 hours. Plus, once they’re inside of you, you won’t even notice they’re there.

FlexFit also suggests that you might just have “the most comfortable period of your life” using their product. They report on their website that,”60% of customers report fewer period cramps.”

Unlike the cups though, Flexfit Discs are not reusable. A box of 12 is currently sold for $19, which would likely last you about one month. With their longer wear time than tampons (12 hours vs. 4-8), you are lowering your environmental impact, but since a year’s worth will cost you around $228, you’re not lowering the impact on your wallet.

Another complaint by users is that the disc isn’t as easy to remove as the cup since the disc is positioned higher up in your vagina. Some women found the removal process painful, and other women have ended up in a “Red Wedding” situation when they messed up trying to take it out.

tampons

Organic Tampons

If you like the familiar and want to stick with the familiar, Cora or Lola tampons might be for you.

Both Cora and Lola sell organic tampons. The cotton used in them is free from chemical additives, dyes, and synthetic fibers. Their tampons are also biodegradable and compostable, which means they won’t be filling up your nearby landfill forever. You can also purchase compostable cardboard applicators or non-applicator tampons, which means even less waste.

At between $8 and $10 for a box of 18, they aren’t any more cost-effective than normal tampons, but you are making sure you are putting only chemical-free products inside of you and decreasing your waste as well.

sea pearl sponge tampons

Sea Sponges

Sea sponges are exactly what they sound like. Sponges you put…inside of you. It sounds weird, yes, but they’re free of chemical additives, dyes, and other toxins, biodegradable, reusable for up to 3-6 months, and sustainably harvested.

A 2 pack of Sea Pearls, the most reviewed option on Amazon, sells for $27.95, and comes in small, medium, and large options. You can also trim them easily with some scissors for a custom fit. They’re not much more cost-effective than purchasing tampons, but you’re still using a 100% natural product that has very little impact on the environment or your own health.

The potential discomfort of your moon time doesn’t have to be compounded by worrying what you’re putting in your body and what, if any, impact it may have on the world you’ve living in. It also doesn’t have to cramp your wallet either. Choose an option that makes sense for you and your life, and don’t feel afraid to try a new product. You may end up loving it!

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