The best skin care routine for dry skin

As we approach the colder months of the year, dry skin sufferers may be noticing an increase in their symptoms. Cold, dry air can take an already-pesky problem and turn it into a constant source of annoyance.

But don't think this is a regional issue - even those who live in a warm climate year-round can suffer from dry skin. While innate biological factors can definitely play a role in how likely someone is to develop dry skin, your daily hygiene routine can either improve or worsen the situation.

If dry skin is plaguing you, we're here to help. Here are some time-tested, straightforward strategies to deal with the problem.

Use a Gentle Cleanser

If you have dry skin, it's crucial to use the right cleanser that won't strip all the natural oils from your face. Most foaming and acne-fighting cleansers can be too drying for your skin. If your face feels tight after cleansing, it's time to switch to something less harsh.

Find a cleanser with a cream or lotion-based texture, or one that's designed for dry skin. Look for words like gentle, soothing or hydrating and ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides. A cleansing oil can also be a good option for dry skin.

Make sure not to wash your face too often, ideally one or two times a day. You should use a cleanser at night to remove dirt, makeup and other impurities from your face. Some people with dry skin may prefer to rinse their face with water in the morning instead of using a cleanser.

If you work out during the day, it's a good idea to use a cleanser to remove sweat. Keep some wipes on hand if you're at the gym or in a hurry. Also be sure to moisturize afterwards.

Find a Serum

Those with dry skin should add a serum to their skincare regimen. A serum is like a hydration boost and should be layered under a moisturizer. Give the serum a few minutes to absorb before adding the moisturizer. Look for serums that have hyaluronic acid or glycerin.

Use the Right Moisturizer

Use a cream-based moisturizer, one with hyaluronic acid, glycerin, emollients or ceramides.

Some people think that a thicker moisturizer will lead to more acne, but that's not the case. Finding the right moisturizer can decrease dry skin and acne at the same time.

When you use harsh products or skip moisturizing, your skin will produce more oil to compensate. This can lead to more acne. If you moisturize regularly, your skin will stop overproducing oil and your acne will decrease.

Many people forget to moisturize their bodies, especially in the summer. Using a body moisturizer is a necessary step in the skincare process. Use a heavy moisturizing cream and if that's not enough, try layering with an occlusive like petroleum jelly to lock in the hydration.

Add a Sunscreen

Wearing sunscreen is crucial to every routine, whether you have dry skin or not. If you do have dry skin, find a daily sunscreen that also includes moisturizer.

Using sunscreen regularly will prevent discoloration, age spots and even skin cancer. Put on a sunscreen after you've moisturized and let it sit for 15 minutes before going outside.

Have the Right Night Routine

The right nighttime routine is crucial for those with dry skin. First, start by removing any makeup from your face. You can do this with a hydrating cleanser or make-up remover followed by a cleanser.

Next, apply your moisturizing serum and moisturizer. Some people use a thicker moisturizer at night, especially if they're worried about their face or body looking too shiny during the day. Then, you can add a retinol for anti-aging purposes.

If you have dry skin on your body, apply petroleum jelly as a moisturizer. It will soak in while you sleep. If you don't want to apply it everywhere, stick to the driest parts of your body like your knees, elbows and lips.

Facial sleeping masks can also provide more hydration than a typical moisturizer. These masks will be the final step in your routine and lock in any other moisturizer or serum you've applied.

What to Avoid with Dry Skin

When treating dry skin, avoiding the wrong products is as important as buying the right ones. Alcohol-based toners can be overly drying and harm your skin's moisture barrier.

It may be tempting to scrub flaky skin away with a physical exfoliant, but they can be too harsh for dry skin. Stick to chemical exfoliants if you have uneven skin, acne scars or age spots.

You should also avoid washing your face and body with hot water. Hot water can remove the natural moisture from your skin and cause further problems, especially if you have eczema. If you can stomach it, take cold showers. If not, try to take the coldest shower possible and limit shower time to less than 10 minutes.

When you get out of the shower, pat your skin gently with a towel. Avoid rubbing too hard, as that will further exacerbate your issues. Apply a moisturizer immediately after.

Don't use products that have dyes or perfumes. It might be fun to have margarita-flavored body wash, but fragrant products can be irritating to dry skin. Check and see if your shampoo and conditioner have harsh ingredients or scents.

When you have dry skin, being consistent with your routine is important. It's not enough to moisturize once in a while - you have to make it a regular part of your daily life, like brushing your teeth.

Talk to a Dermatologist

If you adopt a gentle routine as illustrated above and still have painful, flaky skin, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

They can determine if you're dealing with something more serious than dry skin and prescribe more powerful products if needed. For example, a fungal infection could look like flaky skin and require antifungal drugs. If you've been using more moisturizer and are still having severe dry skin, talk to a professional before buying any new 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.

Exploring the benefits of exfoliating your skin

Exfoliation is a term that you probably hear all the time. You might see an exfoliation product in a commercial, hear a celebrity talk about their exfoliation routine on a podcast or see a character on a TV show exfoliating before bed. But is it actually a part of your skincare routine?

While it might seem like a technique reserved for divas and Instagram influencers, exfoliating has practical benefits that even the most down-to-earth can appreciate. Here's a little bit more about exfoliation - and why you should give it a try.

Types of Exfoliation

Exfoliators can come as creams, cleansers and toners. You can also buy exfoliator pads for easy application.

Here's what you should know about the various kinds of exfoliants.

Physical

Physical or mechanical exfoliation is the most well-known kind. It refers to using a physical scrub made with natural ingredients like walnut shells, rice powder or sugar crystals, or even artificial ingredients like plastic microbeads. You can also exfoliate with a washcloth, sponge or loofah and some kind of lotion or body wash.

Physical exfoliation also includes professional services like microdermabrasion, which involves an aesthetician or dermatologist using a special tool to remove dead skin cells.

It's easy to damage your skin when using physical exfoliants, especially if you use harsh ingredients, exfoliate too often or scrub too hard. Limit physical exfoliators to a few times a week or every other day.

Chemical

Chemical exfoliants are more commonly recommended by dermatologists and are more powerful than physical exfoliants.

There are two types of chemical exfoliants: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). Some skincare products will contain both AHAs and BHAs.

AHAs, which include glycolic acid and lactic acid, can reduce sun spots, fine lines and acne scars. BHAs include salicylic acid, which is a common ingredient in acne-fighting products. In general, AHAs are better for those with dry skin, while BHAs are best for those with oily skin.

Chemical peels are a type of chemical exfoliant most commonly performed by a licensed aesthetician or dermatologist. They are a more powerful version of what you can buy at the store.

Enzymatic

Enzymatic exfoliators are similar to chemical exfoliators, but less powerful and possibly less irritating. If you've never used a chemical exfoliant before or have sensitive skin, start with an enzymatic one first.

These exfoliators are fruit-based, using strawberries, papayas, mangos and more.

Benefits of Exfoliation

Exfoliating has many advantages and can be a regular part of your daily skincare routine. Here are just a few reasons to give it a shot.

Products absorb deeper

Because exfoliating your skin removes the top layer of cells, it allows other products to penetrate deeper. Depending on your skin, it could mean the difference between a product having its desired effect or not.

If you're using a product like retinol or a hydrating serum, you'll see more benefits if you add an exfoliant in your routine. Using a chemical exfoliant also makes your moisturizer absorb deeper into your skin's surface.

Can reduce acne

Using BHAs like salicylic acid is one of the most popular and well-known ways to fight acne. If you've used acne-specific products before, it's likely that you're familiar with salicylic acid. You can find salicylic acid in a cleanser, toner, mask or lotion.

Once the acne has healed, use chemical exfoliants to minimize any lingering acne scars. This can take some time, so be patient.

Can reduce signs of aging

When used regularly, chemical exfoliants can help reduce signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. They can be used on top of a retinol product if your skin can handle it.

Chemical exfoliants can also even out skin tone damage caused by the sun.

Downsides of Exfoliation

Because exfoliants are so powerful, they can have side effects when used incorrectly. Here's what to look out for.

Can cause irritation

Strong exfoliators are actually capable of harming your skin. Overusing a physical exfoliator can lead to increased irritation, acne and other problems. You can also cause micro-tears in your skin, which can then become infected. In general, be careful about using a physical exfoliant on your face.

Before adding a chemical exfoliant, spot test somewhere to check for allergies. This is good advice when adding any new product to your skincare routine.

You should also use a moisturizer when exfoliating. Using an exfoliant without moisturizing afterwards can lead to increased acne, because the skin will produce more oil to compensate for dryness.

Can increase sun sensitivity

Chemical exfoliants make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so make sure to use sunscreen. If you don't, you may get more sunburns and residual peeling.

Be especially careful if you're adding new chemical exfoliants in the summer, or if you're consistently spending multiple hours outside. If you've been exfoliating, you should wear sunscreen every day, even when it's cloudy or rainy.

How to Start Using an Exfoliant

Interested in adding an exfoliant to your daily routine? Start small with one product and give it a few weeks before adding anything else. Even if the instructions say you can use it daily, start with a few times a week. Using an exfoliant too often can be irritating to your skin, and that irritation can take some time to build up.

If you're already using a prescription skincare product, adding an exfoliant may be overkill. Ask your dermatologist if there will be any potential side effects.

There are plenty of exfoliants available at drugstores and grocery stores. Don't assume you have to buy high-end products to get the benefits of exfoliating.

Make Sure to Exfoliate Your Face and Body

Some people think that exfoliating should only be done for your face, but it's also useful for the rest of your body.

Your body has thicker skin than the face, so you can use facial products on your body without having to worry about a negative reaction. Exfoliating your body will also have the same benefits, like increased absorption, smoother skin and less acne.

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.


About the Author:

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.
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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

The Ultimate Guide: What is a menstrual cup

Period discomfort is often a mix of physical pain, annoying logistics and excessive costs. Women spend hundreds of dollars and countless hours worrying about their menstrual cycle. They may stress about having feminine hygiene products on-hand, run to the bathroom when they feel leakage and even save old underwear to use during that time of the month.

But the advent and rising popularity of the menstrual cup can remove many of those problems - even though many women remain unaware of their benefits. They may seem confusing and scary at first glance, especially if you don't know anyone who uses one.

Read below to find out everything you need to know about the menstrual cup - what it is, how it works and whether or not it's right for you.

What is a Menstrual Cup?

Menstrual cups may sound like newfangled devices, but they've actually been around for a while. Menstrual cups were first patented in 1867 - well before the first tampon patent.

Today's menstrual cups are made out of a flexible medical-grade silicone cup that fits into your vagina, absorbing menstrual fluids during your monthly cycle. You don't feel them when inserted correctly, and they're also leak-proof.

These new period products are safe to keep in your body for about 12 hours at a time, while tampons should only be used for a maximum of eight hours. Like tampons, using menstrual cups beyond their suggested recommendation can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, a serious condition that can lead to death in extreme cases.

When using a menstrual cup, set a timer on your phone reminding you to remove it as soon as you're close to the 12 hour mark. When the time comes to remove it, insert your fingers into your vagina until you find the seal. Then, lightly press the sides of the reusable cup until the suction seal breaks. Remove it slowly, empty the contents in the toilet and wash with unscented gentle soap and warm water.

If you don't have access to mild soap, you can use a mixture of vinegar and water. Once the menstrual product is clean and dry, you can reinsert it immediately. When your menstruation period is over, sanitize the cup in boiling water so it's clean before your next period.

This feminine hygiene product is incredibly durable, and some brands last up to a decade even with regular menstrual cup use. Women who use menstrual cups appreciate that they're an environmentally-friendly alternative to tampons or pads.

Types of Menstrual Cups

These are the most common menstrual hygiene brands that produce menstrual cups:

  • DivaCup
  • Blossom
  • Lena
  • Saalt
  • Softcup

Most brands carry two or three different sizes: a small for young girls or teens, a medium for women in their 20s and a large for women over 30 or those who have given birth.

The right size also depends on the shape of your cervix. Take this menstrual cup quiz to find out what size period cup is right for you. They'll suggest a specific brand and size that fits your monthly menstrual flow, lifestyle and cervix placement.

While menstrual cups are more expensive upfront than a box of tampons or pads, they're only about the cost of four boxes of tampons. Because leaks are less common with menstrual cups than tampons and pads, you won't have to constantly throw out underwear that gets period stains.

Some companies make disposable, 12-hour menstrual cups. These may be a good alternative if you're traveling, camping or going to a place where washing a resuable menstrual cup isn't an option. These usually cost about $1 per cup and come in packs of 12.

You can buy menstrual cups at drugstores, in the feminine care aisle of grocery stores and at online retailers like FSAstore.com.

Downsides of Menstrual Cups

While menstrual cups have several obvious benefits, there are some drawbacks that women should be aware of before investing in one.

Cleaning can be awkward

If you're emptying a reusable menstrual cup at home, cleanup isn't likely to be an issue. But if you're at work or living in a dorm, it might be difficult to clean the menstrual cup discreetly.

There are wipes you can purchase to clean the menstrual cup in a more private location. Keep a stash of these in your purse, work desk or car. You can buy these wipes online, in drugstores or from other large retailers.

More expensive upfront

For $7, you can buy a 34-count box of tampons or a 42-count box of pads. Menstrual cups cost between $25 to $40 so women living on a tight budget may struggle with the initial cost.

To save money, look online for menstrual cup coupons. Some manufacturers may provide a discount code when you visit their website.

Since period products are now considered qualified medical expenses, you can also use money from your FSA or HSA to pay for one.

Insertion can be uncomfortable

Women who use pads or panty liners may be uncomfortable inserting a menstrual cup, and it can take a few tries to get the hang of it.

Even women who normally use tampons may find it difficult to use a menstrual cup. Make sure to read the directions carefully, talk to friends who have used them, and watch an instructional video first. When it's time to remove the cup, squat down over the toilet like you're having a bowel movement. This makes it easier to break the seal.

Risk of leaks

While menstrual cups are generally more leak-proof than tampons and pads, they're not 100% guaranteed. If you buy a period cup that's too small or you don't insert it correctly, there's a chance of leakage.

That's why it's important to buy the right size and make sure the suction seal is in place. When you're first starting out, consider using a thin pad or panty liner in addition to your menstrual cup. If you have a pair of period panties, consider wearing them.

These precautions may prevent any problems in case the reusable cup is too small or positioned incorrectly. You'll likely become more comfortable with it after a few cycles.


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.
Eligibility

Tampon Sizes, Which to Choose and Size Chart

When you take a walk down the feminine care aisle, the tampon options can seem overwhelming. Do you stick with the regular size or go bigger? Do you choose a multipack with a variety of sizes? Should you try those organic cotton tampons you saw mentioned on Instagram?

Those are important questions to answer, but most women just stick with the same habits they've had since their teenage years. The problem is that our bodies change drastically as we mature into adulthood, and the best size and type of tampon for our bodies changes along with it.

So here's a simple breakdown to help you shop for feminine products - how to choose the right size and type, as well as which tampon alternatives and accessories to consider.

How to Choose a Tampon Size

Consumers should pick a tampon based on their flow. A woman whose period is lighter should choose a Light or Regular tampon while a woman with a heavier flow should choose a Super or Ultra tampon.

Here's an easy guideline to follow:

Tampon Size Chart

LightRegularSuperSuper PlusUltra
Less than average flowAverage flowHeavy flowVery heavy flowHeaviest flow


Women may also need to consider their schedule when picking the right tampon. For example, a full-time teacher may opt for a Super tampon in case she doesn't get the opportunity to use the bathroom every few hours. A shift worker with regularly scheduled breaks may be able to get by with a Regular or Light tampon.

The strategy employed by many women is to use a mix of tampon sizes to accommodate flow variation. They'll use Super or Ultra-sized tampons the first two or three days, switch to Regular for the fourth and fifth day and then downgrade to Light for the last couple days.

The tampon size you need isn't impacted by your vagina. It also doesn't depend on your weight or height. It may correlate to your age because women who are close to menopause may have lighter or shorter periods.

You may have to experiment to find the right size. Here's how you can tell if you're using the wrong size: If you've removed a tampon after four to eight hours and it's mostly dry, then you can switch to a lighter size. If you have to remove a tampon every couple hours, then you should upgrade to the next largest size.

Tampons should never be kept in for longer than eight hours. Always remove a tampon at the eight-hour mark, even if it's still mostly dry.

Removing tampons more often is better. Even if you can go a full eight hours with a Super tampon, it's better to use a smaller size and remove it every six hours.

Some doctors say that using a tampon that's too big for you is also unsafe. If the tampon is still dry when you remove it, this can lead to vaginal micro-tears.

If you're still soaking through after using several Super Plus or Ultra tampons in one day, or more than seven to eight tampons total, you may need to see a doctor. Excessive menstrual bleeding can be a sign of other problems and should be checked out by your OBGYN.

Many women find themselves combining tampons with panty liners, pads or period panties. For example, you may add a panty liner along with a Super Plus or Ultra tampon during the first day or two of your period in case of leaks.

Different Types of Tampons

Size isn't the only way to differentiate tampons. Here are some other variations:

Applicators

Most tampons come with an applicator, which helps you comfortably insert the tampon. These applicators can be made from either cardboard or plastic. Tampons with plastic applicators are usually more expensive, but are often more comfortable to insert. Women who are eco-conscious may also want to avoid plastic applicators.

There are also some applicator tampons with no applicators, like those from the brand o.b. Tampons without applicators are more common in other countries, but most American women prefer tampons with applicators.

Organic

Tampons may also come in organic and non-organic, which refers to whether the company used organic cotton or conventional cotton.

Some people think that using organic tampons will result in a lighter period or prevent yeast or bacterial infections, but this hasn't been scientifically proven. Whether you choose organic or conventional depends on your personal preference.

Other Factors

There are also scented and unscented tampons. Most vaginal health experts recommend avoiding scented tampons because they may encourage bacteria growth.

Some companies sell compact tampons with shorter applicators that are easier to store in a purse. They should still have the same absorbency as regular-sized tampons.

Pad and Panty Liner Sizes

Like tampons, pads also come in a variety of sizes depending on your menstrual flow and panty size. These include light, moderate, heavy, and overnight. They may also come in extra long varieties. Panty liners usually only come in one size.

Both pads and panty liners can be made with organic cotton or conventional cotton. Pads may also come scented or unscented, and with wings or without wings. Wings attach to the underside of the underwear to help the pad stick better and prevent it from moving around during the day. You may also use period underwear!

Panty liners are a very thin type of pad, usually best for women having an extremely light period or who want another layer of protection with a tampon. Some women use panty liners a few days before their period is about to start, in case it comes early.

Menstrual Cup Sizes

Most brands of menstrual cups come in two different sizes, small and large. In general, you should use the smaller size if you have a lighter flow or if you've never given birth before. If you've given birth before or have a heavier flow, the larger size may be more appropriate.

Each brand will have its own recommendation on which size to choose, usually found on the back of the box.


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

Real Money: Genetic testing and a life-changing discovery (Part 2)

Last time, I shared my experience of being diagnosed with a BRCA1 mutation -- a genetic condition that makes me more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. The doctors I spoke with recommended prophylactic surgery to remove my breasts, ovaries and Fallopian tubes.

Until I get the surgeries, I'm supposed to get a blood test, vaginal ultrasound and breast MRI every six months. The cost of these screening tools can be expensive, especially if you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) like I currently do. The average cost of an MRI is $2,000, whereas the ultrasound is several hundred dollars. Even the CA-125 blood test can cost $200.

I didn't have to worry about the cost of the procedures immediately. My husband and I somehow qualified for reduced expenses through our medical insurance, so everything from the consultations to the MRIs would be covered for now. But I also knew we had plans to move out of state in a few months, meaning I'd lose that affordable coverage.

Even before I found out my BRCA results, I knew I would want to get the preventative surgeries as soon as possible. I'm an anxious person by nature, so the idea of cancer hanging over my head was enough to give me panic attacks.

Some women are comfortable with surveillance and regular screening, but not me. Every doctor I spoke to recommended surgery as soon as possible since I'm not interested in having kids.

A major life decision

Not all women go that route. Many are scared of having surgery and believe they can detect cancer early enough. That may be true for most breast cancers, but ovarian cancer is different. Symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and can be confused with PMS or stomach problems. I don't like the idea of freaking out every time I'm bloated or feel discomfort in my abdomen.

Of course my HSA should be there to help. Right now I'm maxing out the family contribution limit of $6,900. We have an HDHP right now, but plan to sign up for a gold plan next year with lower premiums. And it's the right move for us today -- we'll save approximately $4,000 by doing so, but it means we won't be able to contribute to an HSA. That's why I'm planning to save as much as possible this year.

I also won't be able to open an FSA because my husband and I are both self-employed. Currently we are a partnership according to the IRS and plan to transition to an S-corp next year. Neither of those is eligible for an FSA. If I were able to open an FSA, then I would contribute to that account as well to pay for any other outstanding costs that insurance wouldn't cover.

Right now I'm hoping my HSA will have enough money in it to cover the costs of surgery. There might even be some left over in case I need follow-up appointments the year after.

If I wasn't getting surgery next year, I would keep my high-deductible plan and save more money in my HSA to pay for the costs of screening. There are no right answers when it comes to this situation, but approaching the financial side with a level head has helped me to feel more confident for the future.

No one can ever be emotionally prepared for this news, not even someone who's researched so much about breast and ovarian cancer. Some days I still wake up angry at my diagnosis. Some days I think maybe screening is better than surgery. But I always come back to my decision.

Thankfully, the financial aspect of BRCA is easier to swallow. Setting up my budgeting for success means I'll only have to worry about recovery and not how I'm going to pay the hospital bill.

Portable health needs

MedAngel ONE Wireless Thermometer

This Bluetooth thermometer is easy-to-use, compact, and connects to your smartphone, allowing you to store and transport your medications at the right temperature.

$49.99

BioWaveGO Wearable Chronic Pain Relief

BioWaveGO is superior, non-opioid, FDA cleared, and wearable pain relief technology, now available to anyone in pain without a prescription.

$299.99

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: Genetic testing and a life-changing discovery (Part 1)

Gene research is at the cutting edge of medical science. Researchers are realizing that genes can tell a lot about your body - from the most effective ways to exercise, to the best way to manage your diet, to which diseases and conditions you're more likely to develop.

With that in mind, I decided to take a test in 2017 to determine whether or not I had a mutation on the BRCA gene. In short, such a mutation would put me at a severely increased risk for certain types of cancers. Shortly after submitting the test, I received a positive result.

Here's my story: How I found out, what I did to address it, and how I plan to pay for it all.

How I found out

Almost a year ago, I read an article in the New York Times about the BRCA gene, which is responsible for suppressing tumors that can cause breast and ovarian cancer. If you think you've heard of it before, it was probably in 2013 when Angelina Jolie wrote an essay about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy because of her BRCA mutation. When I tell people I have a BRCA mutation, I usually preface it by asking if they remember Jolie's decision.

The Times article said that Jewish women had a one in 40 chance of having a mutation on the BRCA gene, and therefore being more susceptible to these types of cancers. I'm Jewish on both sides of my family, and the news hit home for one important reason - my grandmother died of ovarian cancer at 42.

I also used to work at a cancer agency. I learned how deadly ovarian cancer can be, and how difficult it was to go through treatment for even comparatively "mild" types of cancer. Every day I saw people suffering physically, mentally and financially, with no assurance that things would ever get better.

After reading the article, I asked my doctor about getting tested for the mutation. She didn't think I had enough family history to qualify, despite coming from a Jewish background, so she denied my request for a referral. I have very little family history to begin with, so this distinction seemed odd to me even at the time.

One testing option...

A few months later I discovered Color, an at-home DNA testing kit similar to 23andMe. Color offered a BRCA specific test for only $100. I'm a frugal person by nature and hated the idea of spending $100 out of pocket. Because my doctor didn't recommend the test, I couldn't even use tax-free funds to pay for it.

Providers only consider DNA tests as qualified medical expenses if a doctor recommends them. Usually, if the doctor suggests a BRCA test, it has to be done at their office. They can also write a letter of medical necessity if you want to purchase a DNA test for home use using FSA funds.

A few weeks after submitting my saliva sample to Color, I got my results: I had a mutation on my BRCA1 gene. In short, that means I have an 81% lifetime risk for breast cancer and 54% lifetime risk for ovarian cancer.

My head started spinning and my stomach sank. Thankfully, I was on the phone with one of Color's professional genetic counselors. She told me my next steps were an appointment with a clinical geneticist, who would then refer me to an OB-GYN and breast surgeon.

She also said I'd need a breast MRI, vaginal ultrasound and a specific blood test every six months until I got my surgeries. Most BRCA-positive women get their ovaries and Fallopian tubes out once they're finished having kids, or before age 35.

That may sound extreme, but ovarian cancer currently has no effective screening method. A vaginal ultrasound will usually only pick up cancer once it's advanced, and the blood test has a high false-positive and false-negative rate. In short, by the time you get diagnosed it might be more severe than expected.

Next steps...

The testing was only the beginning of my BRCA journey. Next, I had to figure out how to pay for all the additional tests I would need - and especially how to cover the cost of surgery. Be sure to check back to see how this journey is affecting my health and financial planning for the next year.

Eligible testing and diagnostics

LetsGetChecked Basic 3 STD At Home Test

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$120.00

EZ DETECT - Early Warning Signs of Colorectal Disease

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Basics

Flex-Ed: Using an FSA to cover prescription medicines

If you have any prescription medications you take on a regular basis, you probably have a routine - go to the pharmacy, wait in line, hand over your insurance card and pay for the prescription with your debit or credit card.

Even with your insurance chipping in, chances are you end up paying a decent chunk of the bill out-of-pocket. If you're battling a chronic condition, those costs can really add up over time. But what if you could get that medicine at a cheaper price without using your insurance card?

It might sound crazy, but billing your insurance isn't always the most cost-effective option. Here's what you should know about the alternatives, and how your FSA card can save you even more.

Pay for prescription medicine instead of using insurance

A recent investigative report from The New York Times and ProPublica found that 40 common prescriptions were cheaper using GoodRx, a prescription discount card, than billing insurance.

GoodRx is the most common type of prescription discount card, and it's completely free. Blink Health, SingleCare and WellRx are some of the other cards available. All you have to do is print one out or have it mailed to you.

These discount cards only apply if you don't bill the prescription to your insurance. Here's how it works: You fill the prescription at a pharmacy, present the GoodRx or similar discount card and then pay for the remainder with your FSA card. Some pharmacies will even have the cards sitting out for anyone to use.

Discount prescription services list their prices before you buy, so you can see if it will be cheaper than using insurance and which pharmacy has the best price. As with most cost-saving measures, shopping around is a step toward saving the most money.

Pay for over-the-counter medicine

You can use your FSA card to pay for over-the-counter (OTC) medicine if a qualified professional has prescribed it (note that OTC items which do not contain an active medical ingredient will not require a prescription and you can shop for thousands of qualified items here). The prescription must be written before you buy the drug and generally within the FSA plan year in which you purchase it. .

You can use your FSA card when you buy the item at the drugstore. You can also pay with a regular debit or credit card and then request reimbursement from your FSA provider. Keep the receipt and the prescription to prove it's a qualified medical expense.

Pay for prescription medicine after insurance

If billing your insurance is still the cheapest way to buy a prescription, you can use your FSA card to save even more money.

When you fill the prescription, give the pharmacist your insurance card. They'll run the prescription and bill you for any leftover amount. You can pay for that directly with your FSA card or use a debit or credit card and then file a claim with your FSA provider. And of course, keep the receipt to prove it was an FSA-eligible expense.

Eligible with Rx

Flonase Allergy Relief Nasal Spray

Relieve seasonal and year round allergies.

Aleve All Day Strong Pain Reliever

Get you back on track, all day long.


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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.

Sun Care Center

Be careful when tanning (even when it’s not hot out)!

As time marches on, trends go in and out of fashion. Slim-fitting pants are in, knee-length shorts are out. Natural hair is in - bushy perms are out. Healthy skin is in - tanning is out.

People are starting to realize that no tan is worth the risk of skin cancer. Beyond just the safety risk, tanning is also associated with an increase in wrinkles and other signs of premature aging. If you want to look your best into old age, a healthy approach to sun exposure is the best route.

But even people trying to avoid UV damage might not realize the truth - the sun can still cause damage on a cool, cloudy day. Here's what you need to know.

Why "tanning" isn't always what you think

Most people associate tanning with a long day at the beach or a Fourth of July BBQ. But you can get tanned - or burnt - even on a cool day. The temperature has no effect on the sun's rays.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, clouds and rainy weather don't prevent all UV rays from penetrating. That means you still need to wear sunscreen if you're hiking or visiting the beach on a cloudy day.

Eating and drinking outside

Now that it's spring, more people are opting to sit outside at their favorite restaurant or bar. If you grab a table outside, apply sunscreen a few minutes before sitting down. Even if you're not burning up, you're still at risk of sun damage.

If you plan a long day of sitting at the beer garden with your friends, remember to reapply the sunscreen every two hours. A hat and sunglasses will also offer important sun protection.

Gardening

Early spring is a volatile time for many parts of the country. It might be rainy and sunny or cold and hot in the same day.

No matter what the outdoor temperature is like, you should still cover up when puttering around in the garden or taking a walk in the park. If possible, wear a wide-brim hat, cover your arms and legs and put sunscreen on any exposed skin. Avoid outdoor activities in the afternoon if possible.

Snow and winter sports

If you're going skiing or snowboarding, you probably remember to pack your gloves, hat and other winter gear. Another important accessory to bring? Sunscreen.

Getting sunburned on the slopes is common, because you're closer to the sun at high altitudes. The sun reflecting off the snow is also more powerful than people realize.

If you're going skiing, remember to apply sunscreen before you hit the lifts and reapply every few hours. You should also use sunglasses and lip balm with SPF to protect your eyes and lips.

How to use your tax-free funds

Sunscreen is both HSA- and FSA-eligible, and you don't need a prescription to buy it with your funds. You can buy any kind of sunscreen, including lotion, spray or powder, as long as it's broad-spectrum and SPF 15+ (and allowed by your plan, of course). You can't use HSA or FSA funds on sunglasses, unless they're also prescription glasses. Hats and clothes with SPF also are not eligible.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Getting ahead of summer heat and dehydration

Now that the calendar has flipped to June, chances are you're spending a lot more time outdoors. And that means you need to start thinking about cooling off, inside and out.

We've all been there. You're working in the garden or playing a game of pick-up basketball when you start to feel off. You're sluggish, dizzy and maybe even a little irritable (okay, a LOT irritable). Dehydration has snuck up on you again, and you never even saw it coming.

We associate dehydration with a feeling of thirst, but the two don't always go hand-in-hand. Thirst is your body's way of alerting you to low hydration levels, but you can easily get dehydrated before your body sends out the signal. By the time you feel thirsty, you're often already experiencing some of the early symptoms of dehydration.

Now, we're not doctors, but we are fans of sunny days. This summer, don't let dehydration get the best of you. Always check with a doctor before making changes to your diet and routines, but here are some tips we use to prevent dehydration, and how your tax-free funds can help.

Common causes of dehydration

As the weather gets warmer, the risk of dehydration increases. Dehydration can be a mild problem - sometimes a cold glass of water can take care of it - but it can also become an extremely serious condition that requires urgent medical care.

Common causes of dehydration include:

  • Working outdoors in the sun
  • Drinking too much alcohol (and not enough water)
  • Exercising outside or in hot environments
  • Sunbathing
  • Driving in a hot car without air conditioning

If you're already sick with a fever, vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, you may become dehydrated if you're not drinking enough to replenish your fluids.

How to avoid dehydration

You can avoid dehydration by drinking water, wearing weather-appropriate clothes and taking breaks. Sip water or a sugar-free sports drink at regular intervals and avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day. Check the temperature ahead of time and try to do as much in the shade as possible.

Believe it or not, with a prescription, you can use your FSA to prevent dehydration with electrolyte replacement drinks. But don't try to sneak in some fruit punch without authorization -- you'll need a prescription from the doctor for those to be eligible with your FSA. If you often work outside and find yourself getting dehydrated, tell your doctor and they may be willing to write a prescription.

Some first-aid kits also have electrolyte solutions, which you can dissolve in water to create your own drinks on the go. These are useful to keep in the car or bring with you if you're hiking or going on a long road trip.

No matter how you pack your kit, the important thing is to have one, and have it handy, with everyone in your family educated on how to use it in case of an emergency.

How to get ahead of dehydration

The good thing is that despite the extreme circumstances that can result from dehydration, relieving it can often be a simple process. Try to drink some water or a sports drink with electrolytes if possible. Find a cool place to sit or lie down. Take a break from whatever you're doing or stop for the day if possible.

If you're dehydrated, you could also be overheating. Use the same cold packs you'd put on a swollen knee or hurt back to cool yourself down. Popsicles or ice are also good for both dehydration and overheating.

If you're still struggling, feeling weak, dizzy or confused, seek immediate medical help. Anyone with a fever over 103 degrees should be immediately taken to a hospital.

You can use your FSA to cover a visit to urgent care, the emergency room or your primary care doctor. If they prescribe something or run tests to determine the severity of your dehydration, those will also be covered.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.