Are reusable period products worth it?

Sometimes I forget that the sustainable living community can be a bit of a bubble. Things that have become the norm for me usually seem weird to others. I realized that when I ordered the Nixit menstrual disc. I was kind of excited about it—not that I get excited about periods—but it’s a good option and people should know about it. But no one I know uses reusable period products or is even interested in them. What a shame. But since you are reading this article, I’m assuming you want to learn more and that’s wonderful news!

Why switch to reusable period products?

Most of us grew up with two options when it comes to periods: pads and tampons. And yes, when they first hit the market, they were a huge game changer but over time those products have become filled—and wrapped—with plastic and other chemicals like PFAs and pesticides. Obviously, the first issue is that after use, they end up in landfills where they won’t biodegrade but a lesser known problem is that pads and tampons come in contact with some of the most sensitive tissue in our bodies. There is little data about their direct health effects but we know that the substances they contain have been linked to increased risks of cancer and hormonal disruptions. Better safe than sorry. Besides, let’s mention how much it costs to menstruate. While the numbers vary, it’s fair to say that it easily adds up to thousands of euros over a lifetime.

What alternatives are out there?

Let’s get straight to the point. Today, there are 4 alternatives to pads and tampons: reusable pads, period undies, menstrual cups and discs. While discs and cups can be intimidating at first, reusable pads and period panties are a great place to start. Just like with conventional period products, it comes down to personal preferences and it just takes is a little trial and error to figure things out. I wasn’t sure if I should give brand recommendations or not but we’re all so different that it feels impossible. The only advice I have is to buy from sustainable brands (tips here) and read the reviews.

Reusable pads

Reusable pads work the same way as conventional pads except you wash them after use instead of throwing away. They come in different sizes and shapes and they’re usually sold with a little wet bag for when it’s time to change them. Now I’ve never been a huge fan of pads but like I said, they’re a great starting point, especially for teens. Besides they come in handy when you can’t use internal protection like when you’re postpartum or after surgeries.

Period underwear

Period panties are like pads… except the pad is your underwear. You wear them, you wash them and you wear them again. They come in different fits and absorbency and design wise, they can look really good. I’m talking seamless, cool colors, lace… you name it! But I mean, not having wings sticking out of your undies is a huge step forward by itself, right? The good ones can last most of the day but because you can’t really change them if they fill up faster than expected, I like them better for lighter flow or chill days when I know I won’t be out very long.

The biggest misconception people seem to have about reusable pads and period panties is that they will smell. In reality, they are much more breathable than regular pads. That’s why they feel drier when worn. but also why it’s harder for odors to form. Less humidity means less bacteria and less bacteria means staying fresh longer.

The menstrual cup

As it name suggest, menstrual cups are cups that are inserted into the vagina to collect periods. They’re usually made from silicone and come in different shapes and sizes, with stem at the base for easy removal. They can be worn for up to 12 hours and just need to be emptied and cleaned before being reused. Cups are extremely comfortable but may require a little practice for correct insertion and removal. Their only flaws are that they’re not super public bathroom friendly and that they’re not recommended for IUD users due to the fact they rely on suction to remain in place.

The menstrual disc

Menstrual discs are the lesser-known cousins of menstrual cups. They do the same but because of their different shape, they don’t rely on suction to stay in place. That makes them safer to use with an IUD but it also means they sit higher in the vagina, which makes them a little trickier to use. They’re also not the best in public bathrooms but they hold the most blood out of all period products. You should be just fine the whole day. Besides, they can do this cool thing called auto-dumping where they empty themselves when you go to the bathroom, without taking them out . Last but not least, you can have sex while wearing one.

It can be scary to switch from disposable period products to reusable ones. But it is so worth it. And it’s not just because you’re ditching plastic. The cost per use is unbeatable; so is the comfort (urine soaked tampon string anyone?). You’re no longer risking toxic shock syndrome every month and you’re always prepared if aunt flo decides to show up unexpectedly.