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Period products

There are lots of different options for collecting period blood, with different pros and cons. Find out about the various methods of managing your period to see which sounds right for you. 

There are lots of different options for collecting period blood, with different pros and cons – it can take a few tries to find a type of period product (and within that type of product, a particular brand!) that works for you. Often, people mix and match different methods depending on where they are in their cycle and what their needs are during the day.

Tampons

Quick guide to tampons

How they work

Tampons are small tubes of pressed cotton which are inserted into the vagina using an applicator or your fingers.

Pros & Cons

Quick, easy and low cost in the short term.
Discreet and can’t be felt once inserted into the vagina.
Can be difficult and/or uncomfortable to use.
Disposable, meaning they are costly long term and aren’t the most environmentally friendly option.

Where to get them

Tampons are easy to access in most shops and pharmacies.

Tampons are small tubes of soft cotton which has been pressed together. They are inserted into your vagina, using either the applicator, or your fingers.

They have a string attached to one end so you can pull them out after use. They can either come with an applicator (a plastic or cardboard tube used to help put them in), or without an applicator – make sure to check the box to see which kind it is.

Once the tampon is full of blood, or 8 hours have passed (whichever happens first), the tampon is removed and thrown away.

When choosing tampons, make sure to go for unscented versions, as the fragrances can upset the pH balance of your vagina and irritate the delicate skin of the vagina and vulva.

Please note

Never flush away tampons, as they can block pipes and cause water pollution. Always throw used tampons and applicators in the bin.

Lots of toilets have special sanitary disposal bins, or you can wrap the tampon in toilet paper and then put into the nearest bin available. You can also buy small bags to put used tampons in as a discrete disposal option.

Pros

  • Many people find tampons are a comfortable option because once they are inserted you can’t feel them.
  • With practice they can be very easy and quick to use.
  • Tampons are invisible once they’re in, and their small size means they’re easy to keep in your bag or pocket until you need them.
  • Unlike some other types of period products, tampons can be worn while swimming.
  • Because they are inserted into the vagina and therefore don’t rely on anything external to stay in place, tampons can be worn with any type of underwear, or none at all!
  • Tampons are disposable, meaning they don’t need cleaning between uses.
  • They are easy to access from many local shops and pharmacies.
  • Tampons are relatively cheap to buy in the short term compared to some other products.

Cons

  • Tampons can be difficult to use, and can feel uncomfortable to insert and take out.
  • It can be hard to tell when they need changing as there are no visual cues to tell you when they are full of blood. This can make them prone to leaking if you don’t know your cycle that well yet.
  • Tampons aren’t the most environmentally friendly option because they aren’t reusable and often aren’t biodegradable. However, there are some companies which make organic, biodegradable tampons, but these can be a little bit more expensive.
  • The cost of using tampons can add up over time as you have to buy them for every period, compared to some methods which are reusable for many years.
  • Tampons can leave behind a residue and/or tiny cotton fibres inside the vagina. This can cause irritation and, occasionally, infection.
  • Leaving tampons in for too long can put you at increased risk of toxic shock syndrome, so it’s very important to change them regularly.

How to use tampons

It can be tricky to learn how to use tampons at first, but it gets easier with practice! They can be kept in for up to eight hours at a time and come in different sizes, from light to heavy flow, for different times during your period.

Lil-lets has some great guides on how to use tampons:

Envrionment-friendly tip!

To cut down on the amount of tampon applicators that you throw away, you can buy reusable applicators. To use these, you can put the tampon into the applicator, insert as normal, and then clean the applicator with soap and water in between uses.

Pads and liners

Quick guide to sanitary pads and liners

How they work

Pads (sanitary towels) are liners for your pants that are made of materials which soak up blood as it flows out of the vagina.

Pros & Cons

Quick and easy to use as they don’t need to be inserted.
Relatively low cost in the short term.
Can feel bulky, messy and/or uncomfortable to wear.
Disposable, meaning they can be costly in the long term and aren’t the most environmentally friendly option.

Where to get them

Sanitary pads are easy to access in most shops and pharmacies.

Pads (sanitary towels) are liners made of materials which soak up liquids, which you can use to line your pants and ‘catch’ blood as it flows out.

Like tampons, they come in a variety of different absorbencies – some of them are designed for use when your period is really heavy, and some for when it’s lighter, like at the end of your period.

With pads, make sure to go for unscented versions, as perfumes can irritate the sensitive skin of your vulva.

Please note

Never flush away pads, as they can block pipes and cause water pollution. Always throw used pads in the bin.

Lots of toilets have special sanitary disposal bins, or you can wrap the pad in the wrapper it came with, or in toilet paper, and then put into the nearest bin available. You can also buy small bags to put used pads in as a discrete disposal option.

Pros

  • Lots of people find pads are an easy option because they don’t need to be inserted into the vagina. This is particularly useful when you are near the end of your period and your vagina is a bit too dry to use a tampon.
  • Pads are easy to store as they come in flat packets that fit easily into pockets of clothes and bags.
  • Pads are disposable, meaning they don’t need cleaning between uses.
  • They are easy to access from many local shops and pharmacies.
  • Pads are relatively cheap to buy in the short term compared to some other products.

Cons

  • Pads can feel uncomfortable to wear, as they can feel a bit bulky and messy, especially as they fill up with blood.
  • Pads can be prone to leaking, particularly if they move around or get unstuck from your pants. This means you have to change them regularly.
  • You can’t wear pads to go swimming, as they leak into the water.
  • Pads aren’t the most environmentally friendly option because they aren’t reusable and often aren’t biodegradable. However, there are some companies which make organic, biodegradable pads, but these can be a little bit more expensive. There are also reusable pads available.
  • The cost of using pads can add up over time as you have to buy them for every period, compared to some methods which are reusable for many years.

How to use pads

Pads can be simpler to use than tampons, as there’s no need to put anything into your vagina. To use them, you stick them to the inside of your pants, sometimes with sticky-backed ‘wings’ that wrap around the gusset to fasten the pad in place. But sometimes they can leak if your flow is really heavy, so make sure to change them regularly.

Reusable pads

You can also buy reusable pads! These are an environmentally friendly alternative to disposable pads with many of the same benefits. Also, similarly to period pants, they are designed to feel dry and comfortable so you barely even notice you’re on your period while wearing them!

You do need to wash them between each use, which means you need to have a few of them to rotate during your period, and a way of storing used ones if you are out and about.

Menstrual cups

Quick guide to menstrual cups

How they work

Menstrual cups are flexible cups that are inserted into the vagina, where they collect period blood.

Pros & Cons

Quick and easy to use (with practice), and comfortable once inserted.
Reusable, making them an environmentally option that is cheap in the long term.
Can be difficult to use at first.
Upfront cost is more expensive than disposable options.

Where to get them

Menstrual cups can be bought online and in some shops and pharmacies.

Menstrual cups are small containers made of a flexible material like rubber or silicone, which – like a tampon – are inserted into the vagina to catch blood and stop it flowing out.

They work by creating a seal within the vagina which holds them in place. When they are full, you pinch the base of the cup to break the seal, pour the collected blood into the toilet, wash and then re-insert the cup.

They can be a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, but with practice they can be an easy, comfortable and waste free method of managing your period.

Unlike tampons, they are reusable – they can last up to 5 years, making them a very envrionmentally friendly option.

Pros

  • Many people find menstrual cups are a comfortable option because once they are inserted you can’t feel them.
  • With practice they can be very easy and quick to use.
  • They hold more blood than tampons and pads – they can hold around 25ml, compared to the 5ml tampons and pads can hold. This means you don’t need to change them as often, and you are less likely to leak.
  • Menstrual cups are reusable. This means they have a lower environmental impact than disposable products, and also they are very cheap in the long run because you only have to buy a new one every 5 years.
  • Menstrual cups are invisible once they’re in, and their small size means they’re easy to keep in your bag or pocket until you need them.
  • You don’t need to have anything with you apart from the cup itself.
  • Unlike tampons, they don’t leave behind any residue or fibres.
  • Unlike some other types of period products, menstrual cups can be worn while swimming.
  • Because they are inserted into the vagina and therefore don’t rely on anything external to stay in place, menstrual cups can be worn with any type of underwear, or none at all!
  • They are becoming increasibgly easy to access from shops and pharmacies, and are easy to buy online.

Cons

  • Menstrual cups can be difficult to use, and often take a few weeks (and therefore a few cycles) to get the hang of.
  • It can be hard to tell when they need changing as there are no visual cues to tell you when they are full of blood. This can make them prone to leaking if you don’t know your cycle that well yet.
  • Menstrual cups are a bit expensive to buy in one go compared to a pack of pads or tampons.
  • They can be a bit messy, and cleaning them in a public toilet (like at school or work) can be challenging.
  • Leaving a menstrual cup in for too long can put you at increased risk of toxic shock syndrome, so it’s very important to change it at least every 12 hours, even if it isn’t full yet.

How to use a menstrual cup

Menstrual cups can be a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, so it’ s a good idea to try using the menstrual cup at home the first few times, so you have lots of time, space and privacy to practice. You may also need to trim down the stem to make the cup fit your vagina, so this will be easier if you are somewhere familiar and not in a rush.

There are lots of guides available to help you practice and work out how to use them, such as this guide to using a menstrual cup from Clue. The basic steps to inserting a menstrual cup are:

  1. Clean your cup (and your hands!) In between periods, you need to sterilise the cup by boiling it for 5-7 minutes, but you don’t need to do this while you are using it on your period; giving it a wash with warm water and soap is fine. Make sure to clean out the little holes round the rim, as those are what maintains the seal within the vagina. Always wash your hands before inserting or removing your menstrual cup.
  2. Fold the cup. To insert the cup, you need to fold it first. You can read about some different folds here.
  3. Insert the cup into the vagina. Get comfortable, e.g. by sitting on the toilet or squatting, and then push the cup into the opening of your vagina, keeping it folded.
  4. Open the cup. When you can’t keep it folded anymore, let it pop open. It should sit as low in the vagina as it comfortably can (a lot lower than a tampon). It might take some practice to work out where this is for you.
  5. Check the seal. Push your finger up the side of the cup and see if it has opened up and created a seal all the way round. If it hasn’t, you can gently push on the base of the cup to undo the fold (making sure to relax your vaginal muscles), or pull on the stem while clenching your vaginal muscles.
  6. Wear for up to 12 hours. Once inserted, you can wear the menstrual cup for up to 12 hours (although it might fill up before then depending on how heavy your flow is).

Any pain or discomfort?

You shouldn’t be able to feel your menstrual cup once it’s in; like a tampon, it’s designed to sit far enough into the vagina that you can’t feel anything.

If you feel any discomfort or pressure, you might have it in too low, so you should remove it and reinsert it.

Similarly, if you can feel the stem at the opening of your vagina, then it might be too long, so try trimming it gradually until it is long enough for you to reach, but short enough that it sits just within your vaginal opening.

To take out your menstrual cup:

  1. Wash your hands!
  2. Bear down. Sit on the toilet or squat above it, and push with your abdominal and vaginal muscles to move the cup closer to your vaginal opening.
  3. Pinch the base of the cup to break the seal. If you can’t reach the base initially, pull on the stem while bearing down and pull it closer to the entrance of your vagina.
  4. Pull out the cup, either by the stem (although this can get messy) or the base of the cup.
  5. Empty the cup into the toilet. Before emptying, you can look at the cup if you want to see how much blood it has collected, which can be an important part of tracking your period. Find out more about period tracking.
  6. Clean and reinsert. Wash the cup in the sink with warm soapy water, making sure to clear the little holes round the edge. If you aren’t somewhere you can do this, then either bring in a bottle of water to the toilet and/or give it a wipe with some tissue. Then reinsert!

Period pants

Quick guide to period pants

What are they?

Period pants are underwear or swimwear with a built-in absorbent layer. They can be washed and reused.

Pros and cons

An easy and comfortable option as they don’t need to be inserted.
Reusable, meaning they have a lower environmental impact than other products.
Need to be cleaned between uses.
Upfront cost is more expensive than disposable products.

Where to get them

Online from various providers. Some high street shops.

Period underwear consist of an absorbent material that holds one to two tampons’ worth of flow, a moisture barrier to keep you comfortable, and a layer designed to prevent any leaks or staining.

Pros

  • Many people find period pants are a comfortable option because they don’t need to be inserted. They are also designed in a way that makes them feel dry while you wear them, meaning they don’t come with the uncomfortable downsides of pads.
  • They are very easy to use – just put them on and go!
  • They hold a bit more blood than tampons and pads – on average about 2 times as much. This means you don’t need to change them as often, and you are less likely to leak onto your other clothes.
  • Period pants are reusable. This means they have a lower environmental impact than disposable products, and also they are relatively cheap in the long run because you only have to buy them ones, not for every period.
  • You don’t need to have anything with you apart from the pants themselves.
  • Unlike some other types of period products, period pants (speciffically period swimming costumes) can be worn while swimming.
  • There are lots of different types of underwear available, so you can find a style that feels comfortable.
  • They are easy to buy online.

Cons

  • Once they are full of blood, they need to be cleaned and dried. This means you generally need a few pairs to last your period, and makes them a fairly high-meaintenance option. It also make them harder to change when you are out and about, because you need spares with you and somewhere to store the used pants until you can clean them at home.
  • Period pants are quite expensive to buy in one go compared to a pack of pads or tampons.
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