The last time I wrote about reusable period products, I was mostly interested in their environmental and financial benefits compared with single-use tampons or pads. While that still applies, the recent tampon shortage made options like menstrual cups and discs, period underwear, and reusable pads all the more attractive.
At the moment, menstrual cups and discs are the only insertable, FDA-regulated alternative to tampons, said Dr. Barbara Wilkinson, an OB-GYN at Brigham and Women's Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
There are some other products being developed using reusable tamponlike materials, like a menstrual sponge, but none have yet been FDA approved. This may be due to concern about those products absorbing and potentially allowing for the growth of bacteria, which could increase the risk of the rare but potentially life-threatening toxic shock syndrome.
“We generally advise people to use either disposable tampons or the reusable, body-safe silicone menstrual cups or menstrual discs inside,” Wilkinson said. “Other than that, you’re mostly looking at non-inserted devices and looking at things that are going to focus on absorption on the outside.”
Everyone’s body is unique, with different menstrual flows, Wilkinson said, so she advised trying a few to find a reusable menstrual product that’s right for you. While many of these options may seem expensive, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll likely recoup the cost over time because you’ll be spending less on disposable products each month.
Menstrual cups and discs
One thing to keep in mind: If you have an IUD, you should probably consult with your doctor before using a menstrual cup. That’s because there’s a chance of dislodging the IUD when removing the cup, although it’s unlikely.
Wilkinson said that menstrual cups can still be appropriate for people with IUDs since they generally sit a little lower in the vaginal canal than where the IUD strings would reach, but most cups (and doctors) still advise consulting your physician before using.
She also acknowledged that people will have varying levels of comfort with the cups. Some, like those with IUDs or those who find the stems on menstrual cups uncomfortable, may prefer a menstrual disc.
Menstrual discs, like the Cora and Ziggy included in this list of menstrual cup options, have a slightly different structure. They tend to be wider and flatter in shape, and they do not rely on suction to stay in place, so IUD users may feel safer removing them without the risk of dislodging the IUD.
The Cora cup is one-size-fits-most, made from soft medical-grade silicone. You can keep it in for up to 12 hours before removing, emptying, rinsing, and reinserting. It promises to hold the equivalent of five to seven tampons without anything leaking through, during exercise, sleep, or even sex.
Promising review: “I was skeptical at first, but I really do like it better than the diva cup, and that's saying a lot. It's very comfortable, and so much easier to put in, and you don't have to make sure it's open. Just slide it back into place and you're ready to go for 12 hours. So easy. And cleans out easily too. I love it! I'm sold.” —Tara Steinberg
You can buy the Cora Disc from Amazon for around $30.
If you’re interested in a disc but don’t want to worry about keeping the same one safe and clean between cycles, Softdisc makes these disposable menstrual discs that hold up to five tampons’ worth of fluid, so you’ll still be lessening your impact and saving some money.
Moving on to the most popular absorptive external product — period underwear.
As with any other kind of underwear, period underwear does not pose many health risks. There are tons of brands making it these days, so your choice will likely come down to material quality and quantity of absorption, as well as price and style.
The only real concern that Wilkinson had about these external period products was the potential for vulvar irritation for those with sensitive skin.
“The thing I worry about for people who have more sensitive skin is that they develop a little bit of vulva vaginitis or a little bit of irritation to the skin of the vulva by having moisture against their skin all the time,” she said. “Many women just find that uncomfortable, but some women are very sensitive to it and they get irritation to that skin that requires additional treatment or time to recover after they're using menstrual products.”
Despite this concern, Wilkinson believes that the companies focusing on these absorptive products have done a great job of helping people stay dry, comfortable, and safe with moisture-wicking material — in fact, they may even be better for those who are sensitive to lingering moisture than traditional disposable pads.
“The newer menstrual underwear in particular, Thinx probably being the original and most popular brand that we see, seem to have done a really great job in developing materials that are truly wicking and absorptive,” she said.
Thinx has a ton of great options when it comes to period underwear, but these cotton boyshorts happen to be my favorite of the ones I’ve tried (the only other being the sleep shorts). I wanted something specifically for overnight use after my periods got heavier as a result of my copper IUD. They’re as comfortable as any pair of cotton underwear or boxers I’ve worn to bed, and I’ve never leaked through them, even on my heaviest nights.
All Thinx products fall into one of five absorbency levels and are available in sizes ranging from extra small to 4X. I got the boyshorts in a medium and have washed them many times now with no damage or shrinking.
While I don’t necessarily feel wet while I’m wearing them, I don’t love the experience of taking them off to use the bathroom and having to pull them back on. It’s definitely messier than using a tampon, but I’m willing to deal with that drawback for the sustainability element, comfort, and peace of mind since my cycles have escalated. I’ve even thrown these on in addition to a tampon as a backup when I’m wearing a skirt or dress on particularly heavy days.
Promising review: “I’ve wanted to try period underwear for a while but couldn’t find my size. I saw my size in these and decided to try. They are PERFECT for me. I’m pear shaped, 300lbs and 5'8. The size 4x is an exact fit for my size 26/28 self. I have no more coverage issues, especially at night, and they are extremely comfortable. No odor, no leaks, and I always feel dry. I’m definitely buying more!” —Jaime
You can buy Thinx Cotton Boyshort from Amazon for around $38.
Another period underwear (and swimwear, loungewear, shapewear, maternity, etc.) brand that gets a lot of love is Knix, and these sleek full-coverage high-rise panties had the most reviews AND highest rating. Just from looking at them, you’d never know they were designed for super absorbency. Sure, they look like the underwear my mom wears, but everyone has days when they want to feel a little more contained, especially when you’re bloated and bleeding. Plus, moms get periods too.
The gusset, or the central area that does the absorbing, is extra long and thin, so you won’t feel like you’re wearing a diaper despite holding up to eight tampons’ worth of fluid. These also come in sizes extra small to 4XL and tons of cute colors. The nylon and spandex fabric blend is designed to feel snug at first, but relax with wash and wear for an ideal fit.
Promising review: “LOVE these period panties! So practical and so comfortable! will be buying more!” —Shannon H. via Knix
You can buy Knix Super Leakproof High Rise from Knix for around $35.
If you want more of a classic style that truly looks and feels like you’re wearing regular old underwear, this Modibodi bikini-cut pair is a great option. The majority of the fabric is made from bamboo viscose with a touch of spandex with a special gusset material to absorb fluid and fight odor and bacteria. The lace trim and high leg cut are purely for style, which I can appreciate even if no one else will be seeing them since I need a little extra help to feel cute and confident while on my period.
This option is best for light-to-moderate flow days since it only promises to hold around two tampons’ worth of blood, or to serve as a backup on heavier days. They’re available in five fun colors and sizes extra small to 6XL.
Promising review: “These are wonderful pants - soft fabric, great fit - forgot I had them on! Highly recommend.” —Emma D. via Modibodi
You can buy Modibodi Sensual Hi-Waist Bikini from Modibodi for around $26.
Not familiar with the GOAT acronym? It means “greatest of all time,” and while I have no idea if this company had that in mind during branding, the reviews indicate that it’s an appropriate association. These period undies are a bit more affordable than some other brands, and they actually look quite similar to the very trendy Parade underwear. But with the added bonus of being moisture-wicking, leak-proof, and having the capacity to absorb three to four tampons’ worth of fluid.
They’re high-waisted and full-coverage, making them super comfortable to wear to bed, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t also wear them under your clothes during the day. They only have them in black right now, which is still chic, and the sizes range from extra small to 3XL.
Promising review: “I liked these more than my Thinx underwear. They’re much more comfortable and the price is a steal. Plus the design is a lot more flattering.” —TB
You can buy Goat Union Overnight Period Underwear from Amazon for around $17.
I’ll admit that I was aesthetically drawn to these because the style reminds me of Calvin Klein underwear, which I love the look of. However, they also have thousands of 5-star reviews and affordable prices, so this recommendation is not just about the look.
This period underwear is intended for lighter days with the capacity to absorb up to two tampons’ worth of fluid, but they still promise to be leak-proof for maximum protection. They’re made from a silky bamboo fabric that’s cool and breathable with added front to rear layers in the gusset for moisture-wicking absorption. They also come in a variety of colors and multi-pair packs in sizes XXS to 2XL, though reviews indicate that they’re low-rise and you should size up.
Promising review: “I’ve been looking for period panties for awhile but always thought thinx was too expensive. These won’t break the bank and are great. My period is usually light and last 7 days so these can last me 24 hours. Like many of the other reviews say tho you need to size up. They do run small. Otherwise they’re great and I highly recommend.” —Sheila Pryde
You can buy a two-pack of Bambody Absorbent Hipster underwear from Amazon for around $11.
Reusable Menstrual Pads
If you wear traditional pads, you might be more interested in trying the reusable ones.
Most of them have snap closures to keep them in place instead of the adhesive that does this job on disposable pads. The snap closure has the pro of actually staying in place and not accidentally sticking to your skin, but the con of feeling bulkier underneath since snaps require more structure.
There are tons of companies making reusable pads that you can find on Amazon and elsewhere, but these two companies in particular caught my eye thanks to quality materials, reviews, and aesthetics (not that anyone else is seeing them, I just don’t like buying anything with a tacky floral pattern).
The first thing that attracted me to Rael’s pads was the 100% organic cotton top layer that promises to prevent irritation and alleviate odor, with four additional moisture-wicking layers lined up underneath. They’re catering to even the most sensitive vulvas without sacrificing functionality, since they’re ultra-absorbent to avoid any leaks. They have nickel snaps to hold them in place, although the wings do seem to be as flat as possible. You can machine wash them and wear them up to 120 times before you need to invest in another pack.
Promising review: “Very comfortable and works well! Such a nice option not having to worry about running out of pads every month. Love that it is organic and safe for my body and overall health. Highly recommend!” —Kris C. via Rael
You can buy a three-pack of Rael Organic Cotton Reusable Pads from Rael for around $34.
Similar to Rael, Dame reusable menstrual pads consist of five layers of moisture-wicking, odor-proof, protective organic cotton. I liked that this three-pack comes with pads for different purposes — one panty liner–style, one regular, and one for overnight use. It also comes with a dry bag, which I hadn’t seen anywhere else, which allows you to safely store used pads if you need to swap them while you’re out and about. The bag and the pads are all machine washable to keep things clean and fresh for long-term use.
Promising review: “I love how they’re easy to clean with the bag. I wear these at night in particular and find they don’t irritate my bikini lines like disposable pads. I highly recommend trying them. I bought this variety pack; it’s served me well and the DAME pads have changed my thoughts on my preconceived notions of reusable pads being hard to clean.” —Jill via Dame
You can buy the Dame Reusable Pad Set With Dry Bag from Dame for around $45.