How to choose period products

Cost, safety, comfort and environmental impact can all help in making personal decisions.

Two inverted hands holding a disposable tampon and a reusable menstrual cup, two choices of menstrual products, against a dark pink background

On any given day, over 300 million people around the world have their period. But the high cost of period products is still a problem for many. These costs are not just financial (although accrual is a serious issue that goes largely unnoticed in the US); There are also environmental, health and safety costs to consider.

While single-use period products like pads and tampons make up the bulk of the multi-billion dollar global market, reusable products like cups (which are inserted into the vagina to collect blood) and period panties (absorbent underwear) are gaining traction. Recently, my team took an insightful look at product data related to cost, health and safety, comfort and satisfaction, and environmental impact in the United States.

How much do period products cost?

Scotland is the first country to offer free period products to anyone in need. In the US, pads are the cheapest to buy, followed by tampons — even though prices for these products have risen nearly 10% in the last year. Reusable menstrual cups and period panties are more expensive at first. Cups offer cost savings from about a year.

Some factors to consider with reusable materials:

  • You may need to try more than one menstrual cup to find your fit, or you may want to have more than one on hand. The savings increase the longer your menstrual cup lasts, which can be two to ten years with good care.
  • Period panties have different levels of absorbency, so you can mix and match products depending on your menstrual flow. For example, you can use period panties on light days or in combination with tampons or cups on heavier days. They can also be helpful for other reasons, such as: B. in case of discharge or slight urinary incontinence.
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Your mileage may vary, they say, but see the table below for a rough cost comparison of period products.


costs per year

cost per item

costs over four years

disposable pads

$40 (assuming people use 20 pads per cycle)


disposable tampons

$60 (assuming people use 20 tampons per cycle)


Reusable menstrual cup

$20 to $40 per cup, which adds up to $60 to $120 (assuming people buy three cups to change into)

$60 to $120 (more if a cup doesn’t last the full four years)

Reusable period panties

$10 to $35 per panty

Not clear as the number of panties needed and their lifespan depends on how you use them.

Health and Safety of Period Products

Long-term exposure to high levels of toxic pollutants called dioxins can cause cancer and other health problems. Dioxins can form when bleach is used on pulp and paper products that are processed into sanitary napkins and tampons. Most people are not exposed to high enough concentrations to cause adverse health effects.

Over the years, manufacturers have modified the bleaching process to minimize dioxins in these products. Dioxin levels in tampons are much lower than FDA limits and even lower than food exposure. Menstrual cups do not contain dioxins as they are usually made of medical grade silicone; Neither are period panties (but make sure they’re free of chemicals known as PFAS).

The other risk of some period products is toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a life-threatening disease linked to a toxin produced by certain bacteria. TSS affects about 1 in 100,000 menstruating people in the United States. Reports of TSS with menstrual cup use are even rarer. It is mostly associated with the use of high absorbency tampons.

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Due to changes in how tampons are manufactured, cases of TSS have decreased. Reduce your risk of TSS by not leaving tampons in for more than 8 hours or menstrual cups for more than 12 hours. Depending on your flow, you may need to switch earlier to avoid leaking.

Comfort and satisfaction with period products

Most people can use tampons or cups regardless of their virginity. Some people do not want to insert anything into the vagina, in which case pads or period panties would be preferable. There is now a wide range of period panties ranging in colour, cut, absorbency and style from thongs to gym shorts. They can be bought online or in many department stores.

Menstrual cups can take some getting used to. A small, randomized study found that overall satisfaction was lower after the first month of cup use compared to tampon use, but was comparatively higher after months two and three.

Environmental Impact of Period Products

The environmental impact of a product can be estimated by means of a life cycle assessment. This takes into account its footprint from the use of natural resources to greenhouse gas emissions – the main contributor to global warming and climate change. The environmental impact of disposable pads and tampons is much higher than that of reusable menstrual cups due to raw materials, manufacturing processes and landfill waste.

Ultimately, it can depend on several factors which period products you choose and what makes the most sense for you. The Center for Young Women’s Health has more information on disposable tampons and pads, as well as eco-friendly alternatives.

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