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Comparison of  Various Feminine Hygiene Products

9 Oct 2020

Still recalled the first time selling reusable sanitary pads at a flea market in 2015: many, be it ladies or gentlemen, were surprised when they heard about the products and had no idea of what were they at all. Some were too embarrassed to know more and just walked away while some were interested and asked many questions. Since then, reusable menstrual pads started to appear in media and many KOL also shared their experience. With more awareness about the environmental issues caused by plastics and disposable products, people started to know more or even use reusable menstrual pads. In this blog post series, I will try to write more about washable pads and answer the common queries, hope to help you to find out the appropriate products for you. 

Major Difference –One-time vs Reusable; Outside vs Inside

In 1921, the United States produced the world’s first disposable sanitary napkin. Since the 19th century up to that moment, women have always used washable menstrual pads, which of course were not as convenient and pretty as the nowadays products you can find in the market. There are all kinds of menstrual products in the market and the most common ones in Hong Kong would be disposable sanitary napkins. Tampons are not common in Asian market and often used only when girls take part in water activities. Disposable sanitary napkins and tampons are for one-time use only. Washable menstrual pads and moon cup are the new products in recent years and both of them are reusable.

Disposable Sanitary Napkins

Design: With wings or without; usually white in color

Usage: Outside body: Place on the panty by using the adhesive tape. Dispose after use. 

Change frequency: Change 2-3 times during day time and after wake up. 

Materials: Worldwide brands without disclosing place of origin, or majority made in china. No details about the materials used or the manufacturing condition. Outer layers are usually made of PE (a type of plastic), non-woven cloth, some are cottons. Inside layers usually contains non-woven cloth, highly absorbent polymers, bleached wood pulps/cotton.

Pros:Convenient and easy to use, thinner than washable pads, being accepted by general public

Cons:Contains toxic chemicals, e.g. chemicals found to be carcinogenic or trigger allergy, estrogen level exceeding requirements was found in HK, could cause menstrual irregularities or even infertility. Plastic could trigger allergy and itchiness when the napkins rub against the skin due to friction. Moreover, moisture trapped by the plastic of the napkins providing a perfect environment for the bacteria, causing unpleasant smell, dermatitis/pad rash (such as itchy, sore and/or inflamed) or even gynecological disease. Disposable napkins are non-biodegradable and could take 300-500 years to decompose. On average, a woman uses 15,000 and all these disposed napkins would lead to environmental hazards.

Washable Reusable Sanitary Pads

Design: All have wings, shape similar to disposable ones; many patterns to choose from 

Usage: Similar to disposable ones. Outside body: Fix the pads on the panty through the snap buttons on the wings; some can add absorbent layers to increase absorbency 

Change frequency: Change 2-3 times during day time and after wake up.

Materials: Country of origin depends on the brands. Materials are usually listed, cotton or flannel are the majority. Some will include leakproof layer. Snap buttons are usually plastic. 

Pros: Cloth material is much more comfy than plastic, much less likely to trigger allergy/pad rash. Reusable nature create significantly less impact to the environment. The hygiene level of the pads is determined by users. Easy to observe menstrual clots since no chemical absorbent is in use. Lovely Cotton washable menstrual pads is made in Taiwan. Both outer and inner layers are made of natural colored organic cotton, without chemical dye or bleach so no worries about harmful dye, bleaching fluorescent, heavy metals or other harsh chemicals. Also come with a breathable waterproof lining which is made of TPU, an eco-friendly material. TPU is resistant to water, bacteria and mold, and much more breathable than plastic. It can be decomposed and would not create burden to the environment. Even though price is higher than disposable napkins, washable pads can be reused and hence average cost is lower. 

Cons: Have to wash after use and not everyone can accept the washing part. Family members may not accept it either. Washable pads for night use are thicker than disposable ones. Some could have stains after use. 

Tampon

Design: With or without applicator to aid insertion, tube-shaped, have a string for removal

Usage: Insert the tampon into the vaginal through finger or applicator and pull it out using the string after used. Can use together with liner or day pads to avoid leakage

Change Frequency: Change every 4-6 hours during day time and once after wake up or get out of water 

Materials: Worldwide brands without disclosing place of origin. No details about the materials used or the manufacturing condition. Majority are made of rayon, or a blend of rayon and cotton, along with synthetic fibers, with plastic applicator

Pros: Hardly feel its existence and would not interfere water activities; one-time use without washing

Cons: Higher risk of infection compared to products used externally and must use with care, e.g. wash hands before using tampon, use the lowest absorbency needed, etc.., otherwise might lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome, TSS. TSS is a condition caused by bacterial toxins and symptoms may include fever, rash, skin peeling, and low blood pressure. A US model once lost a leg due to TSS. Moreover, since tampon is inserted into vagina and any harmful chemicals would be directly absorbed and circulated inside your body. Tampon is disposed after use and hence create a similar solid waste  problem as disposable sanitary pads. 

Moon Cup

Design: Usually bell-shaped or funnel-shaped, with a short handle or small ring at the end

Usage: Wash your hands thoroughly. Tightly fold the cup into half and insert the cup into your vagina to collect menses. Adjust its position as needed. Pull out the cup using the handle or ring. Can use together with liner or day pads to avoid leakage. 

Change Frequencies: Take out for cleansing at least 6 -12 hours

Materials: Country of origin depends on brands. Usually made of silicone or latex. Some will indicate medical grade 

Pros: Change less frequently, get to know the amount of menses clearly, would not interfere water activities. Durable and not creating solid waste. 

Cons: Higher risk of infection compared to products used externally and must use with care. Both cup and hands must be cleaned thoroughly before use. Might not be very comfortable for some people. According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapyan in UK, moon cup could cause pelvic organ prolapse if not using it correctly. Cup should not be used if you have vaginitis or are allergic to silicone/latex.

What's Next

You can first check if you can accept putting the hygiene products into vagina. If so, you then need to know if you can use them properly and with care. If yes, then is to decide to use tampon or moon cup. If you are not certain the long term safety of placing hygiene products inside your body, you can choose to use them only when needed, e.g. swimming and enjoy hot spring. If it is not acceptable to place hygiene products inside your body or worry about the safety issue, like me, then you can choose to stick to disposable sanitary napkins if not certain if you accept the washing part of the reusable pads. Continue to read more about the experience using reusable pads or give a try by using one piece or two, such as liner, little flow or only use them at home.