Panty liners vs. pads. What’s the difference?

With the passage of the CARES Act in March 2020, flexible spending account (FSA) and health savings account (HSA) users finally got what they had long clamored for: feminine hygiene products like tampons, pads, panty liners and more now finally eligible for purchase with FSA and HSA funds.

It's a whole new world of eligibility out there, and the 70+ million Americans with tax-free health care accounts can now budget menstrual care into their expected yearly health expenses, which can help them save hundreds on taxes each year versus paying out-of-pocket with taxed funds. But having options can be difficult when it comes to something as personal as menstrual care, where comfort and effectiveness can lead to years of brand loyalty.

But if you find yourself with extra FSA funds in the coming months or overestimated your HSA contribution for 2020, this may be the perfect opportunity to explore what's new in feminine hygiene. From organic products to reusable, sustainable solutions, there's more options than ever on the market, and this could be your opportunity to try a break from your routine that may turn into something lasting.

First up, pads vs. panty liners!


You may be surprised to hear this, but according to the market research firm IMARC Group, menstrual care pads, also known as sanitary pads, are the most popular feminine hygiene segment in 2020, holding the largest market share compared to other menstrual care options. With that said, consumer attitudes have changed in recent years and the pads of the past are not quite the same as the ones you can find on the shelf today.

Pads encompass a huge category of feminine hygiene products, so we can't treat them with a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, let's explore each of the most popular versions and their pros/cons.

Pros and Cons of Menstrual Pads

1. Disposable Pads

Pros: Ease of use by far - disposables are the most common type of menstrual pad that is easier to find in stores thanks to greater variety in shapes, sizes and absorbency levels. There's no need to wash or store them, so they are particularly helpful when traveling.

Cons: Disposable pads are probably the least sustainable option out there, as they end up in the garbage after use and cannot be recycled or reused. Additionally, some disposable pads may contain chemicals or dyes that could be harmful for those with sensitive skin or allergies.

2. Organic Pads

Pros: Organic pads are part of a larger industry trend of women seeking out safer feminine hygiene products made from natural materials. By far, one of the biggest benefits is breathability. Organic pads do not use synthetic fibers that are found in most disposable pads, and are also free of dyes, fragrances and other additives that could cause allergic reactions in some wearers.

Cons: According to Nannocare, some women have reported that they notice an increased level of wetness when using organic versus synthetic products. As compared with synthetic fibers that have perforated surfaces, organic pads that typically use cotton may take a bit longer to absorb wetness. But, they have the added benefit of being able to absorb more flow than a disposable pad. So overall, organic pads seem like the better buy, but may require a bit of getting used to!

3. Reusable Pads

Pros: If you care about the environment and sustainability, this is the perfect choice for you! Reusable pads - usually cloth pads - are the most cost-effective, safe, and sustainable menstrual care option available. They come in sizes and absorbency levels to suit any flow, and many are made with organic materials to make them safer than disposable options.

Cons: Reusable pads are a great way to save money, but they require some work on your part to keep them clean and ready for reuse. According to TreeHugger, this can be accomplished by soaking them overnight (with some hydrogen peroxide) and put on a machine wash cycle on hot.

Panty Liners

As we've seen above, pads are a bit of a do-everything type of feminine hygiene product with varying sizes and absorbency levels, while panty liners are a bit more specialized. Panty liners are much smaller and are designed to be worn in the beginning and end stages of a woman's period to help absorb lighter flow. Let's dive into the pros/cons of this common, and sometimes misunderstood, menstrual care product.

Benefits of Panty Liners

Panty liners may not be the menstrual care product that you wear on a daily basis or during your highest flow periods, but it's certainly helpful to have at certain stages. In addition to the beginning and end stages of periods where liners can handle lighter flow, they are also helpful for women who have unexpected vaginal discharge or occasional bouts of incontinence. According to Flo, panty liners can be a great option in tandem with tampons or mono-cups, as they can handle any excess discharge that may occur. This is also another area where organic cotton panty liners have increased in popularity, so you can do your part to help the environment.

Disadvantages of Panty Liners

Depending on the type of brand you go with, some panty liners may not be the most portable options. Additionally, they may not be able to provide enough absorbency to handle heavier flows. As a means of controlling occasional discharge or wetness, panty liners are perfect for the job, but should not be relied on to handle menstrual periods.

What's the verdict?

It's a tie! Panty liners and pads often get confused because they look so similar, but they perform different jobs at different stages of your monthly cycles. In some cases, it's not a matter of choice, as they can sometimes work better together!

The fact is, there's far more to think about these days when you're shopping for menstrual care: cost savings, sustainability, comfort, and absorbency are all important factors that should inform your decision. But good old-fashioned trial and error helps as well! With thousands of new feminine hygiene products now eligible for FSA/HSA spending, now is the perfect time to explore how to improve your menstrual care regimen,put money back into your pocket, and give yourself peace of mind daily that you're safe, comfortable, and protected.

Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! We'll keep you posted on all the FSA changes that may be coming in the foreseeable future, so be sure to to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates.

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