As someone who experiences monthly menstrual bleeding, you're already familiar with all the hassles that come with it. Bleeding, cramping, tenderness, mood swings... Did we miss anything? Living in the time we do now, we are privileged that we have a lot of information available and decent menstrual products that help us experience more carefree periods.
And although not all period products are built equal, you still have some great options if you're concerned about your health and the health of the beautiful planet we live on.
If you weren't aware of the environmental impact of menstrual products you're not alone. Many people with periods have no idea that the most used period products out there are the most harmful to the environment. How good they are for your body also varies.
So what can we do about all this? The first thing is to know your options. The more you know, the better and more informed decisions you can make regarding your health and what’s best for you.
Feel free on your period while making a sustainable choice for the planet. With every Ruby Cup purchase, you donate a menstrual cup to someone without safe access to period products. Get your Ruby Cup here.
The problem with traditional period products
When disposable period products were first introduced to the market, they were positioned as something that would help people experience a happier, freer period. However, little did we know that as plastic and other products became more accessible the amount of waste these convenient products would produce would become an environmental issue.
Did you know that menstrual pads can contain up to 90% plastic? Because menstrual pads and tampons are considered medical waste, the exact amount of waste produced isn’t tracked. So although there isn’t an exact amount known of how much menstrual health products make up for the waste in our landfills, if you think about it, it’s a lot! With over half the population menstruating and with so many disposable, plastic-filled products being used around the world, we’re more than worried.
The abundance of plastics, especially microplastics, in the environment is also cause for concern. This study found that the average person could already be ingesting about a credit card’s worth of plastic per week through microplastics.
It may sound astounding, but studies have found toxic compounds in menstrual health products, including phthalates. So many of those who menstruate don’t know about this because it’s rarely discussed but with more studies and people speaking out, we can create change. There certainly needs to be more transparency from the traditional menstrual product companies.
Let’s take a look at some of the alternative options to the traditional drugstore period products.
Best sustainable and eco-friendly period products
With more people waking up to the negative impact humans are having on the planet, sustainable and eco-friendly period products are popping up everywhere and becoming more popular. Plus, now that you know about all the nasties found in traditional period products, you might be more inclined to try a safer, more sustainable option.
Sustainable, eco-friendly tampons
We are all for reusable products, but we understand that everyone has their own preferences and lifestyle needs. For eco-friendly, disposable tampons, our favorite brand is And Sisters who’ve come up with an organic cotton tampon with a biodegradable cardboard applicator. They’re also on a mission to end period poverty and regularly donate products to people without access to these types of products.
- Easy to use - just like a regular tampon but friendlier to the planet
- Made with sustainably produced organic cotton
- Zero synthetics, chlorine bleach, dyes or perfumes
- No applictors subtract from overall waste
- Some have cardboard applicators that biodegrade over time
- Add to landfill waste
- Cost is something you’ll have to deal with at every period as opposed to reusable products
Sustainable, eco-friendly menstrual pads
Just like sustainable tampons, there are eco-friendly disposable menstrual pads available as well. And just like with tampons, they’re made with organic materials - such as cotton or bamboo fibers. These products are most often plastic free and compostable too.
FLO is a UK-based company that specializes in natural period, bladder and sexual wellness care. Their line of products is eco-friendly, sustainable and they donate 5% of their profits to people in low-income settings.
- Easy to use and keep in place with wings
- Eco friendly and sustainable
- Made with absorbent organic cotton or bamboo
- Although biodegradable, still take a while to decompose compared to a waste-free product
- Can be bulkier than other options like tampons or menstrual cups
- The cost of disposable products is higher than that of a reusable product
Best reusable period products
Reusable period products are far better for the planet than disposable ones. One study found that reusable period products (like the menstrual cup) could greatly reduce solid waste when compared to other products - like pads and tampons. Your options as far as reusable period products go are:
- Period panties
- Reusable pads
- Reusable tampon applicators
- Menstrual cups (the most zero waste option)
There are degrees of how beneficial they are, though. The lifespan of period underwear can be up to 4 years, 2 years for reusable pads and up to 10 years for a menstrual cup. Let’s look at each of these options separately.
Period panties are relatively new on the market. Made with various layers of high-absorbing technical tissues, the period panty is designed to keep you dry, absorbing your menstrual fluid while your body heat helps evaporate the liquid.
How much fluid can period panties hold? It depends on each product. Some light-absorbency models can hold about 2 tampons worth, while the heavier duty ones can absorb up to 4 tampons worth of menstrual fluid.
- More absorbent than a menstrual pad or regular tampon
- Easy to use - just slip it on like regular underwear
- Last up to 2 years when used regularly and washed as instructed
- Can be used together with other products on heavy-flow days
- Can feel uncomfortable on sensitive skin
- More possibilities of odors as blood makes contact with the air
- You need a couple of pairs to cover all your cycle (so the initial investment could be quite expensive)
- Difficult to change midway through the day if you're not at home (unless you're fine with carrying bloody undies in your bag).
- Washing after each use can be time-consuming and not as convenient as a menstrual cup
- Long drying time (24-48 hours)
Check out this article if you’d like to see a head-to-head comparison of menstrual cups vs period panties.
Reusable menstrual pads
Reusable pads are a great option for those who are concerned about the chemicals in regular drugstore pads as well as the impact of solid waste on the environment. They’re made from natural, washable materials that absorb menstrual fluid. They usually come with wings that fold around your underwear with snaps or velcro to keep the pad in place and need to be washed and dried before using again.
These are a good choice for beginners as they’re similar enough to the disposable kind and are easy to use. Some people prefer not to insert anything into the vagina during menstruation so if this is you, try a reusable pad. You can also check out our article that compares menstrual cups and reusable pads.
We love this set from Hey Girls that includes 5 reusable pads and a wet bag to store the used ones. Hey Girls also believes in ending period poverty and donate a product with each purchase!
- Can last up to 2 years
- Stay in place easily
- Need to be washed and dried before using again
- Higher chance of odors
- Bulkier than an internal option like a menstrual cup or tampon
- Difficult to change when you're out: You have to wash them immediately or need to carry the dirty ones with you until you're home
Reusable tampon applicators - best period product for tampon lovers
Yes, we've mentioned plastic a bunch of times already. If you think about tampons and the sheer number of plastic applicators that exist out there from every single-use application, our minds go a little crazy.
We understand that some people are simply uncomfortable with the idea of putting fingers inside themselves to insert a tampon. The people at Dame have figured this out and introduced a reusable applicator set. They’ve put a lot of thought into their product, making it BPA-free, with self-sanitizing technology and a smooth finish.
If you’re still hooked on tampons and can’t handle the idea of ditching the applicator, then picking up a reusable product like this might be your best bet.
Pros: This is a great product if you just can’t imagine your life without tampons. At least by using a reusable applicator, you’re avoiding unnecessary plastic ending up in landfills and oceans.
Cons: A disadvantage here is that you’re still using a disposable one-time-use product (the tampon).
Moving towards a zero waste period
Of all the sustainable options we mentioned above, the one below - the menstrual cup - is the closest you can get to a zero waste period. Sure, both reusable pads and period panties are reusable, but they don’t have that long of a lifespan. On the other hand, you can keep a period cup for up to a decade - provided you clean and sterilize it properly and take proper care of it in general.
Menstrual cups - the best option for a zero waste period
What kind of menstrual cup company would we be if we didn’t toot our own horn a little? All jokes aside, a menstrual cup comes in at the top of the eco-friendly list. There are a ton of benefits to using a menstrual cup, both for your body and the planet.
Menstrual cups generally collect more blood than traditional period products. You may have noticed that we said collect instead of absorb. This is because unlike other products that are made from absorbent material, period cups collect menstrual fluid within the vagina. This is a huge benefit because the medical grade silicone is safe to use inside the body and doesn’t react in a negative way with the bodily fluids or menses like other products (this is what often dries you out, causes smells or even infection in some cases).
- Healthy for your vaginal flora since the medical grade silicone is non-toxic and does not create any immunological response from your body
- Easy to use
- Capacity of 3 /4 tampons
- Lasts for up to 10 years
- So comfortable you can’t feel it once it’s inside you
- Odorless when compared to tampons, pads or period panties
- Allows you the freedom to go about your daily activities
- Less likely to leak
- Zero waste
- Steeper learning curve, it can be difficult to get used to inserting and removing it at first
- Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of using an internally inserted period product
- Seeing your menstrual fluid in all its glory could be a bit much for some people
- Emptying and reinserting the cup when you’re in a public bathroom or traveling (even though still much easier and doable than changing period panties or reusable pads in these settings!)
We’re obviously big fans of the menstrual cup. We encourage you to test and try out different options to see what works best for you. It’s all about being comfortable and knowing which products fit your lifestyle better.
Best period products for tweens
Menstruating for the first time as a young person is a big adjustment. Along with a changing body, you now have to adapt your schedule and lifestyle around the pain, bleeding and awkwardness of monthly menses.
The most common period product that tweens and teens start with is period pads - an obvious choice because it’s the easiest option for beginners. There are other, more sustainable options too. Menstrual cups targeted at teenagers are becoming more common as young people today are increasingly aware of the impact of waste and disposable products have on our environment.
Are you the parent and wondering if your child is old enough to use a menstrual cup?
Despite the steeper learning curve, a menstrual cup is a great option for tweens and adolescents. Because they have a greater capacity (they can collect from 2-4 tampons’ worth of fluid), they can be left in longer, making them a more comfortable and discreet choice for young people.
- Scent-free when compared to pads, tampons or period underwear
- More comfortable than a menstrual pad - you can’t feel a period cup inside you
- Less likely to leak compared to pads or tampons
- Discreet in terms of packaging - no plastic waste to throw away in the bathroom
- No need to change every 2-3 hours or during classes
- Freedom to go about daily activities
- Steeper learning curve than sanitary pads or tampons
- Can be tricky to empty and reinsert the menstrual cup in a public bathroom
Best period products for athletes
If you lead an active lifestyle, you don’t want to be constantly thinking about your period. Even worse if you’re worried about leaks when you’re swimming or stains on your riding breeches.
One advantage of using a menstrual cup for sports is that once you’ve inserted it correctly, you won’t feel it at all. At least that will give you the peace of mind you need to continue on with your day and your favorite activities. So whether you’re choosing a menstrual cup for swimming, kickboxing, HIIT workouts, bouldering and more, you can feel secure knowing that you can go about your business.
- So comfortable you can’t feel it
- Less chance of leaks when inserted correctly
- No strings or flaps leave you chaff-free
- Wear up to 8 hours without changing
- Can shift out of place is you’re doing an activity that involves a low of bending or twisting
Best period products for heavy periods
During the first few days of your period, it’s normal to experience a heavier flow. For some, this heavy flow can even continue for more than 8 days. With the right period product for heavier periods, you can go back to forgetting about changing your pad or tampon constantly.
Enter the menstrual cup. Menstrual cups have a lower risk for TSS than high-absorbency tampons. They’re also much healthier for your vaginal flora and the planet. For those who haven’t tried one yet, a menstrual cup can be great for dealing with heavy periods.
A heavy flow is officially considered losing 80ml or more of menstrual blood during a cycle. But as we mention in another article, research about how much you bleed on your period could be outdated. Some cups come with grooves with measurement on the sides so you can see exactly how much blood has collected when you go to empty them. The small Ruby Cup has a capacity of up to 24ml and the medium Ruby Cup can hold up to 34ml - that’s 3-4 tampons worth. Imagine the freedom of not having to change a tampon every 2 hours on a heavy day!
If you want to know how other period cups compare, we do a breakdown of the best menstrual cups for a heavy flow here.
That was an extensive walkthrough of the period products available on the market, wasn’t it? Now that you’re more informed, you can take a think about everything you’ve read and make better decisions about how you want to deal with your monthly menstruation. If you have any questions, we’re always here to help! Reach out any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For every Ruby Cup purchase, you’re making a step towards ending period poverty by donating a menstrual cup to someone without access to safe period products. Grab your Ruby Cup now.