It’s time for another one of those posts that will make people I know in real life avoid eye contact for a little bit, so if you’re a bit squeamish about normal female bodily functions this might be time for you to click away too. But I think it’s important to discuss these somewhat taboo topics, especially since it’s something that involves about one week every month for about 50% of the population for 3-5 decades.
It’s reusable menstrual product discussion time.
I’ve been using tampons (with cardboard applicators) and pantyliners for most of my life, but after hearing about the benefits of reusable menstrual products a few years back I decided to give them a go. Now that I’ve been through quite a few cycles with them, I feel like I can give a decent-ish review.
Why reusable menstrual products?
There are lots of benefits that come with reusable menstrual products:
One of the major benefits of plastic is how waterproof it is – unfortunately most biodegradable materials aren’t great liquid barriers. Disposable pads and pantyliners have a plastic backing, and often come wrapped in plastic as well.
While my applicator tampons are plastic-free, they’re still made of waxed cardboard and cotton. Cotton, while natural, is one of the most resource-intensive crops, so throwing out a t-shirt’s worth of single use cotton every month isn’t that great.
Disposable menstrual products aren’t that expensive in Australia, but reusable products are a significant saving since they can last for years.
There are a bunch of benefits to reusable products when it comes to convenience too. You won’t unexpectedly run out at the worst possible moment, and many of the products hold a greater volume so they don’t require changing as frequently. This also means less leaks!
The first reusable product I tried was a menstrual cup. These are little chalice-like soft plastic cups that seal over your cervix and catch any blood coming out. You take them out, empty the contents into the toilet, give them a quick rinse and put them back in. They have a larger capacity than tampons, and if used correctly they’re more leak-proof as well.
Menstrual cups have near universal acclaim online, with hordes of women ready to tell you about how life-changing they are. Unfortunately, it seems like my anatomy is weird and doesn’t play well with them, and there are very few negative reviews online, so I wanted to document my experience so that other people might feel less alone. But keep in mind that I’m an anomaly, so you are almost definitely going to have better luck than me! (I’m planning to give it another go at some point – maybe when my body forgets the horrors of my last few attempts a few years ago.)
The First Fail
I stupidly bought my first menstrual cup off iHerb in 2014 while bored out of my mind in Switzerland without reading up on them at all. DO NOT DO THIS. There are so many comprehensive guides and videos about menstrual cups on the internet now that it’s just negligent (Put A Cup In It for example).
The cup I bought was firm, slippery smooth with a frictionless stem, and way too long for my body. It suctioned itself to my cervix, and I couldn’t get it out. Eventually I wrestled it out of my body after two hours of mad panic and desperate crying. Luckily I didn’t have to pay exorbitant emergency fees! Score.
The Second Fail
After a few short months, I went back in to try again. (Stupidity or bravery? You decide.)
This time, armed with hours of reading, I decided to go for a Lunette Model 1 cup. This cup was made of a softer silicone, making it easier to break the seal. The stem also had ridges for better grip, and was narrower and shorter so it would hopefully fit my body better.
After enlarging the holes at the top with a dermal punch, I started using it – and yes, it was actually pretty awesome! But there were some dealbreakers that made me switch back to tampons after a year of trying really hard to make it work. I think most of these problems stem from the fact I’m small (155 cm), have a very strong core, a sensitive cervix and am very prone to UTIs, which turns into a perfect storm of cup failure.
Forming a seal
You fold the cup to insert it, then it opens inside you to form a seal. Despite trying a whole bunch of different ways of folding the cup, I couldn’t get it to consistently open up inside me. I’d go back and forth to the bathroom and dig around trying to get it to open, only to have it thump me from the inside half an hour later – or even worse, never form a seal so it would just leak constantly. One way of solving this problem is to buy a firmer cup which opens up more easily inside you. Unfortunately, I also have problems with…
Most people don’t feel much discomfort with menstrual cups, and can even forget that it’s there. Unfortunately I’m not one of them.
Inserting and removing the cup felt much more uncomfortable than a smooth tampon applicator – it felt like I was battering my insides (I also find applicator-free tampons incredibly uncomfortable). I get pretty bad cramps during my period, and the cup made it feel much worse, even though most people say that cups make them feel less pain. I could also feel the bottom of the cup pushing on my urinary tract, making it feel like I had to pee constantly and I had a UTI coming.
In theory, emptying out the cup should be simple and mess-free. In practice, there are bloody fingers involved, and if your body isn’t coping with insertion and removal well, and you’re a bit unco (e.g. me), there might be some spillage.
Since I had so much trouble getting the cup to open, there was also a lot of leakage. I had to keep changing pantyliners which actually generated much more plastic waste than tampons did.
Despite all this, I’m still planning to give menstrual cups another go – perhaps a narrower, shorter and firmer cup might work better.
Period underwear (period panties) have an absorbent layer in the crotch, with a waterproof backing.
There are 3 different designs of Love Luna underwear – there’s a Full Brief, which are basically giant granny panties, plus there are smaller Midi and Bikini Brief options. The absorbent layer is made of cotton, and is only 3 millimetres thick.
How well does period underwear work?
I’ve been mostly using Love Luna underwear to replace the pantyliners I used to use as a backup when you’re using a tampon or menstrual cup – which is great because if you’re like me, you have to throw out a lot of barely-soiled pantyliners.
Since I like to stretch the limits of things I’m testing, I’ve tried the Full Briefs overnight without any other products. Surprisingly, they do pretty well as long as you’re not having a really heavy flow day! Love Luna say that the Full Briefs can hold 15-20 mL of liquid, and the Midi and Bikini Briefs can hold 10-15 mL – I’ve only had leaks when a lot of liquid comes out at once.
I was also very impressed by how comfortable they felt. I expected the leakproof nature to mean they’d be tight around the leg holes and sweaty, but they actually feel a lot like regular underwear, and they’re much more breathable than a pad. They’re also less bulky and aren’t scratchy at all.
They don’t feel damp for long either – liquid soaks through the top part that touches your body very quickly, and feels dry again after a few moments.
I was a bit worried about cleaning period underwear at first, but it turns out it’s really simple. I wash them in the shower with cold water and soap, then once the water runs clear I let them dry, then chuck them into the washing machine. I haven’t had any problems with lingering smells so far, and I haven’t had to throw any out (I’ve been using the oldest pair for about 1.5 years).
Have you tried reusable menstrual products? Which ones worked for you and which ones didn’t?
Love Luna underwear was originally provided as a PR sample, although I have bought many pairs since; these are still my honest opinions of the products. This post also contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and purchase any product, you’ll be supporting Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy