Tampons to menstrual panties: We tried different period products and here's what worked
To cup, or not to cup? That is the question
Imagine you’re staring at the ice cream section at your local grocery store. A multitude of flavours, neatly stacked next to each other. Cups of classic vanilla and seasonal mango, with a guest appearance by a rare blackcurrant ice cream; there’s even a dabba of the exotic shahi meva malai next to some stacks of orange bars and sugar-free kesar almond ice cream. You don’t decide which one to reach for, and the confusion turns into annoyance. Now, instead of an assortment of ice creams, picture yourself at the chemist, staring down an assortment of period products, unsure of which one to pick.
Will it be the mighty menstrual cup? Eco-friendly and cost-effective, you can say goodbye to the sanitary pad wrappers calling the bottom of your handbag home. Wait, didn’t Sheetal say she thinks she got a UTI while using it?
Perhaps you don’t go too far off your usual pads, swapping them for ones made of natural fibre instead? “But what if it’s not as absorbent? Can I risk leaking?” you think to yourself.
Picking the right period products can feel like you’re about to embark on an adventure filled with menstrual monsters and bathroom breaks, peppered with nail-biting tension. Coming out on the other side unscathed makes you feel like something of a conquerer.
To help you make your decision, we tried the most popular period products available in India and are ready to share the results. From triumphant victories to hilarious mishaps, maybe even a few cautionary tales about products that promised the moon, but since you didn’t read the instructions all the way through, are left with something more akin to a lukewarm puddle.
We’ve got the curious adventurer who tried a menstrual cup for the first time and found herself Googling “how to remove a stuck menstrual cup” at 12 AM. There’s the eco-warrior who ditched disposable pads for reusable cloth pads and discovered a newfound appreciation for disinfectants and laundry detergent.
We tried the different period products available in India
Reusable cloth pads
Karishma Bansal (27) first used a reusable sanitary pad about 2-3 years ago. “I wanted a sustainable option. I don’t like the idea of pads that pile up in landfills. It’s not good for the environment, or the health of rag pickers.”
While she liked the concept of reusable pads, she shared that her execution had some glitches. After a few trials, she realised that it was not the best pick of period products for heavy-flow days. “I’m OK to use them for the first and last day of my period.”
Given the rainy reason, she primarily uses organic cotton pads on lighter days and tampons on days with a heavier flow. But for people who are curious about making the switch to reusable pads, she has a few words of caution.
“There is some trial and error. You need to ensure the width of the pad you are using matches the width of your underwear. Otherwise, it won’t sit too well and flip over.”
Washing the pad and making sure it’s properly disinfected can be a bit of a hassle, especially if you live in a humid city. “For washing, I prefer cold water first with some detergent. Rinse the pad in this manner 2-3 times. I scrub it well and rinse it again. You can wash it in the washing machine as an extra step.”
The most important thing, perhaps, is ensuring that you dry it in direct sunlight. “That helps with disinfection,” adds Bansal. “They are also more gentle soaps available for cloth pads and underwear that you can go for.”
If you are someone who doesn’t have a very heavy flow and lives in a dry environment with plenty of sunlight, then this might be a good choice for you. Or you could keep the reusable pads for the first and last days, like Bansal.
Menstrual cups are the next on her list to try as she continues to bid to switch to eco-friendly sanitary products.
Speaking of menstrual cups, 31-year-old Sara Hussain set aside her fear of things getting stuck ‘up there’ and tried out a menstrual cup for the first time.
“I spent more time researching proper disinfecting techniques rather than how to actually use it and struggled on the first day itself.”
Hussain says that before using a cup, spend some time on YouTube and watch the tutorials. “There are different folding techniques, insertion techniques, all of that, so you can try different methods to see what works for you. More importantly, you need to assess what size of menstrual cup to use.”
Some say cup size is determined by the flow. Others say cervix size, body weight and age. A gynaecologist is the best person to guide you about cup sizing and determining what will work for you.
“I folded the cup and inserted it like I saw in a tutorial. I felt very conscious throughout the day that something was inside me. I kept going to the bathroom to check for any leakage, but nothing. So it really held up that way. But my struggle came at night when I couldn’t figure out how to get it out properly. I felt like I was going to injure myself.” Certain that it was stuck, she looked up different removal methods and managed to get it out, but also made a bit of a mess.
“Once you get the hang of that, it really is so convenient and so much better for the environment. I was always a Whisper girl, but I think I’m ready to make the switch completely.”
Hussain adds that the soak-boil-dry sanitising of a menstrual cup is very important. “I use to also believe that cups cause vaginal infections and other problems, but it’s mostly due to improper cleaning.” A menstrual cup is a great choice for everyone; however, if you have conditions like PCOS or endometriosis, you might experience cramping. Talk to a doctor before you try it.
A beach vacation scheduled for April 2024 convinced 25-year-old Shivani Pathak to try tampons. “After doing the trickier-than-trigonometry math, I discovered my period dates collided with pool days. Naturally, I wouldn’t let Aunty Flo disrupt my water-baby life. So, I decided it was time to try the tampon and get used to it.”
She read the instructions, watched the videos, and stared at the tampon for a good five minutes before squatting in different positions on the bathroom floor in an attempt to insert it. “But it kept hitting a wall and wouldn’t go in even after changing the insertion angle. A couple of hours later, when it was time to change, I talked myself into trying it again, but my fingers just couldn’t physically push the tampon in. I’ve been terrified of tampons because I always picture the string breaking and me landing in the hospital to remove it or getting a nasty infection because I left it in longer.” A resuable tampon applicator like this one from Sirona might help make things easier.
Pathak says that if you’re not a scaredy cat like her, then you should give tampons a try. “It’s more comfortable than sitting with a wet pad.” Tampons give you freedom of movement without fear of leakage, regardless of your flow. If you’re someone who is always on the go and lives a very active lifestyle, then tampons should be your pick of period products because you don’t have to give a second thought to anything falling out of place.
Suhani Sharma, 21, started using Nushu’s period panties a month ago. “I had been reading about how regular pads were so toxic for the environment, and it pricked my conscience.” After a trial (and failure) with menstrual cups, period panties seemed like an easier way to transition away from sanitary pads.
“So far, I’ve used them once, towards the end of my cycle when my flow was lighter because the skeptic in me didn’t believe I could wear it outside the house without staining my clothes.”
The first thing that struck her about the period panties was the comfort factor compared to the crinkly sanitary pads she was used to. “Those often irritate my skin too. Washing the period panties by hand was tough, I didn’t particularly enjoy that part and stressed over proper disinfection.” She mentions that it’s also hard to know when they become completely clean since period panties usually come in darker colours. “I’m assuming it’s so you are not so aware of the blood stains, but it can be a challenge.”
For people tired of the rash that can come with using sanitary pads, Sharma says period panties are a great alternative for your skin. “Though, they’re not suitable for when you’re out of the house because you should technically only wear them once a day since you’ll have to wash them after and wait for them to dry before using them again.”
For lighter flow days, when you’re flopped on the couch, finally reading the murder mystery book (we have some suggestions if you’re looking for a thrill) that’s been collecting dust on your bookshelf, you can swap your sanitary pad or panty liner for this.
A note of caution: This story contains personal experiences from contributors. Please consult your healthcare provider if you’re looking to make a switch to find what would work best for your needs, especially if you live with pre-existing conditions or have sensitive skin.