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We dissect the period products market sharing the pros, cons and average costs of all the available options.
The NHS website says that between the ages of 12 and 52, a woman who doesn’t have kids will have about 480 periods. So it’s important that we ladies feel supported and confident with the best possible period products to help see us through.
When it comes to selecting our preferred period product however, there’s ‘no size fits all’ mentality with each one carrying different pros and cons. “Different products are better suited to different situations and most vary in size depending on how much you are bleeding,” says obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr. Ellie Rayner, founder of The Maternity Collective. “You might want to use one type of product throughout your menstrual cycle, or you might want to use different items for different situations, such as sleeping, exercising or whilst at work.”
Comfort is another factor to base your decision on says fellow gynaecologist Miss Shirin Irani of Spire Parkway Hospital: “With so much choice on the market my advice is that women should opt for a solution that both suits their lifestyle and is comfortable to wear.’ With this in mind, we explore a range of period products, sharing their all-important pros and cons to help you make the best informed choice for you and your cycle.
What are the best period products?
Sanitary towels are the ‘original’ period product, says Miss Irani who hailed this period product as “easy to use and affordable” too. The average cost of a pad ranges between 2-38p according to data from SanitarySaver.
The NHS suggests that sanitary towels are a good starter period product for young girls:
“You might want to use pads for your very first period as tampons and cups can take some getting used to,” states the NHS website.
Sanitary pad pros:
- They come in various shapes and sizes to accommodate different flows.
- Unlike tampons, there’s no threat of Toxic Shock Syndrome. So you can wear them overnight worry-free.
Sanitary pad cons:
- They’re less discreet under clothing and can bunch up when moving.
- There’s environmental issues attached to disposable pads. Most towels contain polyethylene plastic (the sticky bit that attaches to your underwear) which is a harmful pollutant. They can also take 800 years to decompose and generate large quantities of greenhouse gases when burnt.
Fortunately reusable sanitary towels are now a widely available option too:
“These are all designed to be worn for a set amount of time and then washed after use and reused during your next cycle,” Dr. Ellie tells us. “This reduces plastic waste and can be a more cost effective option in the long run.”
Rovtop Reusable Washable Sanitary Pads | £13.98
Get 7 reusable and colourfully patterned sanitary towels with a handy wash bag included. Made from antibacterial charcoal bamboo fibre, these pads are waterproof, super-absorbent, soft-to-skin and machine washable.
Always Platinum Sanitary Towels – 12 pack | £1.90
These Always sanitary pads with wings have 5-star reviews at Boots, with many hailing them as leak-proof and extra comfortable too.
There are two types of tampons on the period products market: applicator and non-applicator tampons. Non-applicator tampons tend to be cheaper, though the average cost of a tampon is between 3-25p. With a pack of 16 costing you about £2.
Gynaecologist Irani recommends tampons with applicators for “for first time users” as it helps to position the tampon in the right place.
She adds: “Tampons provide a greater freedom and may suit the more active woman who doesn’t want to give up swimming or the gym because of her period.”
Whilst these period products may be more discreet, there is a rare health risk attached with tampons that Dr Ellie says you need to know about.
“It is really important that you change your sanitary product regularly as recommended to prevent complications like infection,” she tells us. “This is especially important for tampons, which should be changed every 4-8 hours to reduce the risk of a rare, but serious complication called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).”
According to the NHS, this is a bacterial infection that can lead to the release of harmful toxins that can be potentially life-threatening to organs in the body. A high temperature, vomiting and diarrhoea, flu-like symptoms and a sunburn-like rash are common symptoms to be aware of.
Whilst there are no figures on how many people get TSS from tampons, a BBC report said that around 40 people are diagnosed with the condition in the UK every year. And that an average of two people will die from it. The risk is therefore very small but notable when using tampons.
- A small product that can fit into pockets and small bags
- More discreet and less visible than sanitary towels
- Can be worn whilst swimming
- The rare risk of developing TSS
- The cost can add up, with reports suggesting the average woman will use 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. A 16 pack bought every month also equates to £120 every 5 years.
- The vast majority of tampons and their packaging are non biodegradable and contain plastic. They take a long time to break down and release harmful chemicals into the air when burnt. Some also end up in the sea, choking and causing harm to marine wildlife, which subsequently affects ecosystems.
Some independent brands have taken steps to producing more eco-friendly tampons. DAME have created a reusable tampon applicator and launched organic cotton tampons that are free from the usual harmful chemicals. Whilst Ohne has created tampons that are completely biodegradable.
DAME reusable tampon applicator set | £23.80
DAME’s reusable tampon applicator prevents millions of plastic applicators going to waste. It also boasts self sanitizing technology for clean and easy use. The set includes a reusable tampon applicator, 3x DAME 100% Organic Regular tampons, 3x DAME 100% Organic Super tampon and a Zipable carrying pouch.
DAME organic non-applicator regular tampons – pack of 14 | £3.30
These non-applicator regular tampons are made from 100% organic cotton, are free from toxins AND are naturally biodegradable. They can be used on their own or with the DAME Reusable Tampon Applicator.
Natracare regular organic cotton tampons – pack of 10 | £1.88
These tampons are made from soft certified organic cotton, and contain no plastic, no perfumes or dyes. They’re also totally chlorine free and biodegradable too.
Moon cups or menstrual cups have been hailed as one of the best environmentally friendly period products on the market. Whilst they may cost about £15-£30 upfront, their reusable nature is sure to save you pounds in the long run.
“Switching to a menstrual cup can save the environment from approximately 16,000 tampons, panty-liners and sanitary pads in your lifetime, which can take between 500-800 years to fully decompose,” says Stephanie Taylor, Founder and Managing Director of pelvic health company Kegel8.
They can be reusable for up to 10 years and can be worn for up to 10 hours whilst carrying a “a very low risk of TSS,” adds Miss Irani.
Whilst the pros are obvious, moon cups can be messier than other products and some will find that the method just doesn’t fit into their lifestyle.
Moon cup pros:
- Can be worn for 10 hours
- Can be worn during sex and whilst swimming
- They don’t disturb the pH balance of your vagina
- They’re reusable and don’t pollute the planet
- Whilst the initial cost may be expensive, you’ll save more money in the long term due to their reusable nature.
Moon cup cons:
- Can be tricky to insert and remove and messy.
- May need to be emptied more frequently when periods are heavy.
- Some cups are made from latex – and so not suitable for those with an allergy to this.
- There is a small chance of TSS if not used correctly.
Original Mooncup menstrual cup – Size A | £16.34
This Size A (for 30+ years old or after vaginal birth) is UK-made and contains no latex, dyes, perfumes, BPA, phthalates, plastic, bleaches or toxins. It’s the original product that first entered the scene in 2002.
Intimina Ziggy Cup | £33.25
This bright pink menstrual cup is reusable and can worn during sex. It’s flat-fit allows for absolute comfort and it’s leak-proof double rim ensures a mess-free period.
Curious about period underwear and its pros? These particular period products are designed to absorb blood during your menstrual cycle and are a reusable option boasting environmental benefits.
“Designed to replace your normal underwear, these are probably the easiest solution that’s also safe to use,” Miss Irani tells us. “They may not produce the fanciest pants for the fashion-conscious woman, but they are washable and reusable, so after the initial investment you could be saving money and the environment.”
Some big name brands have cottoned on to this newer period product trend, with Marks and Spencer and Holland and Barrett both selling a range in store. An average pair will set you back between £12-£30 pound (depending on absorbency level).
Period underwear pros:
- They’re reusable and therefore better for the environment.
- After the initial investment, they’re more cost-effective than tampons and pads.
- They’re available in different sizes and styles, so you’re bound to find one that works for you.
- They can absorb a light to medium flow.
Period underwear cons:
- They’re not necessarily recommended for heavy flows.
- The initial cost might be expensive, as you’ll probably want to buy a few to have in-between wash days.
Light Absorbency Period Full Briefs | £12.00
Marks and Spencer’s period pants have a three-layer gusset design that draws moisture away from the body, with an absorbent, anti-odour middle layer and a protective outer layer. They’re also made from stretchy Sumptuously Soft fabric for extra comfort. Plus they’re washable and reusable to help reduce waste.
Modi-Bodi Sensual French Cut Briefs | £23.50
These high-leg briefs are suitable for moderate-heavy flows and are available in this stylish and comfortable ‘French Cut’ fit. Made from breathable Modifier Technology – they’re super-slim (3mm), super absorbent, and have a stain and bacteria fighting lining for modern periods, bladder leaks and discharge.
Thinx Training Shorts | £48.28
These training shorts are perfect for anyone with a menstrual cycle. They’re super absorbent – claiming to hold the equivalent of up to 5 tampons. And are perfect for wearing to the gym too.
Organic cotton tampliners
Callaly have released a relatively new period product known as a ‘tampliner’. It’s a concept that combines an organic tampon and mini-pad in one. And is 95% biodegradable too.
The idea is that any blood not absorbed by the tampon is caught by the pad, saving your underwear from blood strains and any mess.
A pack of 16 (8 Regular, 4 Super, 4 Super+) will cost you £8, so they are notably pricier than regular tampons and pads. Yet their biodegradable nature does make them greener than their plastic counterparts.
Callaly organic cotton tampliner – pack of 16 | £8
This organic cotton tampon combined with a soft mini-liner is a new period product on the market. Providing mess-free insertion and removal, it works with any underwear from thongs to boxers, and cleverly wraps itself on the way out. Oh and it’s 95% biodegradable.
Other period products to consider:
Track your period each month with the Clue app on your phone. The clever tech tool analyses your period and provides notifications and predictions on when you’ll menstruate, ovulate and experience PMS symptoms.
It also has hundreds of articles that will help you get clued up on periods and the science behind them.
A basic version is available to download and use for free. But you can subscribe to get more in-depth analysis from £10 a month or £35 a year.
Download the Clue App here
Cooling Period Cramp Relief Patches
Those after a more natural pain relief for period cramps should consider BeYou’s pain relief patches. They promise to ease the muscular tension and pain when placed on the stomach or lower back for up to 12 hours.
BeYou Natural Cooling Period Cramp Relief Patches, £4.86 at Amazon
Period pain heat pads
Heat is another natural remedy that can help with cramps. But we can’t always carry around a hot water bottle to cure us. These cura heat pads can be popped in purses and easily applied under clothes to help when out and about.
Cura-Heat Period Pain 3 patches, £3.99 at Amazon
TENS pain machine
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation devices or TENS machines as they’re more commonly known, send little electric pulses to the area where you are experiencing pain. Some studies have found that these machines can actually help reduce period pain. So it may be worth investing in. But with a contraption like this, we’d recommended consulting with your doctor first before use.
Beurer EM50 Menstrual Relax TENS machine, £59.99 at Amazon
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