What are period panties?

We've all been there. You're using a tampon or a pad, and suddenly feel a wet spot. Bad news - you're leaking through your underwear. Now you have to find a spare tampon or pad and make sure there's no blood staining your clothes.

This used to be the norm. Unless you were able to constantly monitor your tampon or pad, there was always a chance of leaking through your underwear - especially on the first couple days of your cycle. Talk to any woman and she'll have at least one horror story like this.

Now that period panties have been around for a few years, women no longer have to worry about leaking through their underwear. These panties can absorb extra liquid and prevent embarrassing moments.

Read below to see how they work.

What are Period Panties?

Period panties are underwear made out of a special fabric that absorbs menstrual fluid. This prevents unsightly leaks that can also damage your clothes and cause visible stains.

There are two ways to use period panties. Some women with heavy flows will use them as a backup in case their tampon or pad leaks. They may also use them in place of panty liners during the latter days of the period when there's only a light flow. Women with especially light flows will use period panties on their own without any other menstrual products.

The absorbency of period panties may vary depending on the brand and style, similar to how different tampons have varying absorbency levels.

In general, period panties hold about two tampons' worth of blood, so how long they last depends on your typical flow. If one tampon gets you through six hours, you may be able to wear period panties for a full workday. If one tampon is only enough for three hours, then you should use period panties with another menstrual product.

Even though it's hard to imagine, users claim that period panties don't feel bulky or wet. Best of all, they don't carry an odor due to their antimicrobial properties. Some online users say that period underwear does feel heavier, but they eventually get used to it.

While most period panties are designed to be reworn like regular underwear, there are also disposable options. These are especially handy if you're traveling and won't have the ability to wash them.

Many women use them as an eco-friendly supplement or alternative to tampons and pads. One pair of period panties can last several years if cared for properly. They're also a good alternative for women who aren't comfortable using menstrual cups, but who want to reduce their tampon and pad use.

Some period panties come with a pocket where you can insert a heating pad to help with cramps.

Types of Period Panties

Like regular underwear, period panties come in a variety of styles including high-waist, bikini, hipster, boyshort and thong. There are even special sizes for postpartum women suffering from extra leakage, plus-size women and young girls, who may need smaller sizes.

Some period panties are also seamless, which means they won't be visible under your clothes. Most come in solid colors like black, tan, blue and gray.

Generally, you should be able to visit a store and try on period panties to see if they fit well. Some online retailers may even allow you to return period panties if they don't fit. Make sure to look at the sizing chart and read the reviews before ordering a pair.

Where to Buy Period Panties

You can purchase period panties almost anywhere you buy regular panties, including major department stores and online retailers. You can also shop for them through FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com with tax-free healthcare dollars. Some health food and wellness stores may also carry them.

Popular brands include Thinx, Ruby Love, Kinx, Lunapds, Lilova, Modibodi, Anigan and Dear Kate. Not all brands are highly-rated, so read reviews from sites like Wirecutter and Reddit before buying a pair.

Possible Issues with Period Panties

Though period panties sound like a miracle product, there are several issues that women should be aware of before buying their first pair.

Have to Be Air Dried

While period panties can usually be washed in a washing machine, most require that you air or line dry them. Using a dryer can negatively impact the fabric and reduce their moisture-wicking ability.

If you have a small apartment, it may be annoying to find a place to air dry your period panties. Also, some period panties recommend hand washing instead of using a machine, which can also be a hassle.

May Still Need a Backup

While some women may find that using period panties for their cycle is enough, others will still need to use a tampon, pad or panty liner. Still, period panties should be able to reduce the amount of menstrual products you need to use.

If you have a heavy flow, choose the period panty with the super or heavy absorbency level. These may cost slightly more than the ones with a lighter absorbency, but at least you're getting a product that fits your needs.

Come with a Heavy Price Tag

Period panties are generally more expensive than regular underwear. One pair can range from $20 to $40.

While this price may seem extravagant, consider how much you spend on tampons, pads and panty liners. Also, you'll save money if you're frequently ruining regular pairs of underwear due to leaks.

If you want to save money, visit the period panty manufacturer websites directly and look for coupon codes or sign up their emails. Like other companies, they may have special sales throughout the year. They may also offer slightly lower prices if you buy multiple panties at once.

Period products are now HSA and FSA-eligible, so you can use FSA or HSA funds to pay for period panties. Make sure to keep a receipt to prove that you used the money for a qualified medical expense.

Using period panties may seem awkward at first, but they can be a gamechanger if you've had embarrassing slip-ups before.

Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! To stay on top of all FSA news that can affect your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A Certified Financial Health Counselor and Student Loan Counselor, she also works as a money coach helping people one-on-one at Conscious Coins. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. She paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years.
Living Well

Should tampons be free: Why are feminine products so expensive?

For many people, paying for tampons is a given. Why should feminine hygiene products be priced any differently than other hygiene products?

But when you start to think about the gender disparity involved, things get a little more complicated. A growing number of women are arguing that because men have no equivalent expense, menstrual supplies should be free in public restrooms just like toilet paper.

Let's take a look at the true cost of menstruating, and the argument for making feminine products more financially accessible.

How the Cost of Tampons Adds Up

Even though tampons and other period products are an essential need for women, consumers still have to pay a sales tax on them in 35 states. The average sales tax in the US is 5%, so a $7 box of tampons will cost about 35 cents in taxes. The average woman will use about 240 tampons a year, which comes out to about $50 each year with tax.

A $7 box of tampons may not seem like a huge expense for middle and upper-class women, but it can present a serious problem for low-income women suffering from "period poverty."

Research published in the "Obstetrics & Gynecology" journal found that about two-thirds of low-income women could not afford menstrual products at some point in the previous year. About 20% couldn't afford them every month. About half of the women said they had to choose between buying food or feminine products at some point in the year.

Government assistance programs like Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) don't pay for feminine care products, even though they're a medical necessity.

Women who live in poverty may also lack access to warehouse clubs, where tampons are sold in bulk. If there's no major grocery store in their area, they may be forced to buy period products at convenience stores and drug stores. They may also have less free time to scour around for the best prices.

What Other Countries are Doing

Many activists argue that forcing women to pay for period products is misogynistic, because there is no equivalent expense for men. After years of lobbying, the laws in some countries do seem to be slowly changing.

In 2019, Scotland passed legislation to make tampons and pads free for all women. The country already offered free menstrual products at high schools and colleges. So far, Scotland is the only country in the world to enact such a law, but other countries are starting to reduce taxes on period products.

Starting in 2020, Germany will reduce its tax on tampons and other menstrual items from 19% to 7%. Other countries like Australia, Ireland and Canada recently eliminated their tax on period products altogether.

Still, many nations maintain a high tax rate on period products. For example, Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden charge a 25% tax on tampons and pads.

Ways to Save Money on Tampons

Even if you can't reduce the cost of tampons, you can still find ways to save on them.

Buy a Menstrual Cup

In recent years, menstrual cups have become a common tampon alternative. These are reusable cups that women can use during their entire period cycle. There are different types of menstrual cups, which can last between six months to 10 years before needing to be replaced.

Menstrual cups cost between $25 to $40, depending on the brand and size. For the price of four boxes of tampons, you can buy a menstrual cup that may last a decade. Even if you lose your menstrual cup every few years, it will still be cheaper than buying tampons and pads.

Menstrual cups have a learning curve and may be difficult to insert at first, but most women adapt to them quickly. Plus, they're eco-friendly and can prevent hundreds of tampons from taking up space at a landfill.

Women with heavy flows may also benefit from menstrual cups because they're more leak-proof than tampons. For women who are used to wearing a tampon and a pad, a menstrual cup can be a game changer.

Opt for reusable products

Menstrual cups are just one example of a growing trend in feminine care: reusable and more sustainable options like reusable pads, period underwear and more.

While these products do require a bit more maintenance on your part, the cost savings for reusables makes a compelling argument to work them into your routine. According to Menstrual Cup Reviews, cloth pads for instance can last as long as 5 years with proper care, which may be a compelling option for women looking to cut their menstrual care costs as well as do their part to limit their carbon footprints.

Get an IUD

One drastic way to reduce your dependency on tampons, pads and other menstrual products is to use a hormonal IUD as your birth control method. Using a hormonal IUD may result in lighter periods, thereby reducing your need for tampons. About 20% of women stop having a period altogether one year after IUD insertion.

Most health insurance plans cover the full cost of IUDs, but you should verify this before making an appointment. Remember, only hormonal IUDs may result in smaller periods. If you use a copper IUD, you may actually experience heavier periods.

Use your HSA or FSA

You can use funds from your HSA or FSA to buy tampons and other period products. If you don't currently contribute to your HSA or FSA, you should start now.

Calculate how much you normally spend on those products and save it in your HSA or FSA instead. As an added bonus, you'll get a tax deduction on those contributions.

You can buy any kind of period product with your HSA or FSA card, including tampons, pads, panty liners, menstrual cups and period panties such as Thinx. Make sure to keep your receipt to prove that each purchase is an HSA or FSA-eligible item.

You can't use money from your limited care flexible spending account (LCFSA) or dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA) to pay for period products.

Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! To stay on top of all FSA news that can affect your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A Certified Financial Health Counselor and Student Loan Counselor, she also works as a money coach helping people one-on-one at Conscious Coins. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. She paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years.