Dealing with that time of the month is emotionally taxing enough without having to worry about whether you have enough product to last you the entire cycle or shouldering the cost of buying new menstrual products. While it may seem like the costs aren't that big of a deal — it's only a couple of bucks a month right? — feminine hygiene products are about a $23 billion global industry and are expected to keep growing. There's also evidence that women will spend around $18,000 over their lifetime on these products alone (Huff Post), which is no small number.
Let's not forget both the emotional and physical labor involved with having to purchase items and cleaning stained items. All this to say, it's a lot of work (and money) to take proper care of your feminine health.
The good news is that there are new period products on the market that can help. Many of them will help you save money, cut down on waste and make dealing with periods a bit easier. Let's explore a few of the newest period products on the market.
Washable Menstrual Pads
Instead of buying disposable pads, those made of organic materials such as cotton or bamboo that you can use over and over again are a great alternative. They look exactly like what you've come to know as a winged pad, except they're made of reusable fabric that snaps around your underwear.
As you do your search you'll find there are different designs, some with various adsorbent layers and others where you can add in inserts and swap them out. All of them should be machine washable, though there are many that recommend that you hand wash them to lengthen their lifespan. Then, simply hang them to dry.
There may be a bigger upfront cost when purchasing this type of period product but you should be able to save money over the long term since reusable pads tend to last for around five years. Plus, they're better for the environment, which is a win in our books.
Reusable Menstrual Cups
Think of menstrual cups as an alternative to tampons — one that offers less risk of toxic shock syndrome (if at all). They are also cheaper — you're spending $30 upfront for one instead of buying multiple boxes of tampons. If you're still wondering what is a menstrual cup, these items are usually made with medical-grade silicone or other safe products so you can rest assured you're not inserting anything into your body that's potentially harmful.
Basically, you insert a menstrual cup much like you would with a tampon, but there is a different technique to it. To be honest, it might take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy to see why they've become popular. Aside from the cost and it's eco-friendly benefits, you can leave a menstrual cup in for longer than a tampon.
A menstrual disc is very similar to a menstrual cup except the shape is a bit different. It also holds a lot more fluid so you can keep it in for up to 12 hours and still get some form of protection. These discs are made with BPA, latex or phthalates and are meant to be thrown away when done.
Some women contend that menstrual discs are more comfortable than a menstrual cup, but they can be messier to remove. That might be something to keep in mind if you're nervous about getting blood on your hands.
Organic Cotton Tampons
If you're feeling iffy about menstrual cups, discs and pads, you can still be eco-friendly and purchase organic products. That's where organic tampons and pads like Cora come in. They're disposable but are made of 100% cotton and are compostable, biodegradable and vegan. In other words, they have a lower environmental impact than more conventional disposable menstrual products.
What are period panties? They're exactly what you think they are — underwear designed to be worn during your menstrual cycle. Instead of wearing regular underwear and using a menstrual cup or pad, you simply wear these and it'll prevent you from staining your clothes. It can be a much more comfortable option, since absorbent material is already built into the garment itself.
When shopping around, you'll find lots of different designs (some of them are quite cute!) and absorbency. Product descriptions should tell you how absorbent they are, like how many tampons the material holds. Keep in mind that period panties tend to be a bit more expensive than some of the options mentioned above, particularly if you decide to only use this product exclusively.
Period Tracking Jewelry
Interested in tracking your menstrual cycle so you know when to experience mood or energy changes, and even when your period will come? There are plenty of apps but period tracking jewelry helps you track data automatically. Think of it much like you would a fitness tracker you wear like a watch, but it's specifically for period-related stats.
Ones like Bellabeat track the reproductive cycle, stress levels and more. You can wear the accessory as a clip, bracelet or necklace — the smart technology will sync with an app so you can check your different stats. You can even get reminders such as when you need to take your birth control pill. Unfortunately, these products are not currently FSA-eligible.
Ask most women what the most pressing challenge is when it comes to their menstrual cycle, and they will say it is dealing with cramps. Sure, you can take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen but there is a medicine-free way to relieve symptoms.
Enter heating pads. No, these aren't the bulky microwavable ones you typically see — many of these are small disposable warmers you can stick on your belly to get some relief. If you prefer something that's more eco-friendly, there are reusable pads. These are very similar to a TENS machine which uses pulse therapy to alleviate pain. Some of these are even portable and discreet so you can hide them under your clothes.
How Do I Choose The Right Period Product?
The truth is, picking the right one will depend on your preferences and budget. Many of the new reusable menstrual products can save you money over the long-term, but you may need to pay a bunch upfront. Besides, given different aspects to think about such as size and brand, it could mean you're paying more until you find the right one.
For example, period panties are pretty straightforward as far as decision making goes, but menstrual cups will differ depending on the size and other design factors such as the cup shape and handle. The good news is that there are plenty of online resources (including quizzes) available to help you get it right the first time.
Whichever product you decide to try out, don't forget that many of these products are FSA-approved, so you can purchase them with your tax-free funds, saving you a little bit of cash in the process.
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Sarah Li-Cain is a finance writer and a AFC (Accredited Financial Counselor) candidate whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Redbook, Financial Planning Association, Investopedia and International Business Times. She's also the host of Beyond The Dollar, a show where her and her guests have deep and honest conversations about how money affects their well-being. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, she can be found spending time at the beach with her family when she's not working.