A Guide to Period Products when you are Menstruating

DESIblitz explores the different period products available to women. Our guide weighs up the pros and cons of each so that you can make an informed decision as to which products best suit you when you are menstruating.

Guide to Menstruation

“My mum used to tell me not to tell anyone I’d started my period when I was younger.”

Many women will be familiar with pads and tampons when it comes to period products. But in recent years, newer feminine care products have emerged on the market which aim to alleviate the discomfort that women can feel when they are menstruating.

Without a doubt, periods can be a miserable time of the month, what with the heavy blood flow, hormonal changes and excessive cramps. But not all of us know of the various products that are available or how they may suit our body better.

For Asian girls, in particular, discussing periods openly can sometimes be a challenge. Particularly in parts of South Asia where menstruation is still seen as a taboo:

“My mum only told me about pads and tampons, she focused more so on pads than tampons. I found out she was only told about pads growing up and her mum before that and so on,” says Manpreet, 26.

There are also many underlying myths and misconceptions about how different period products are used. For instance, some women fear that inserting an external product into the vagina can result in a loss of virginity.

In fact, many South Asian women only use pads or cloths as a result of this view.

Jyoti adds: “My mum used to tell me not to tell anyone I’d started my period when I was younger.”

The stigma surrounding the female anatomy, periods, and virginity, only fuels the powerlessness of women who are unable to make an informed decision about what is best for them. And the lack of information given to South Asian women about their body is potentially dangerous.

Menstruation is a natural process and should be free from stigma. Women should not be embarrassed or ashamed to speak about menstruation.

With that in mind, DESIblitz explores the different period products available to women worldwide and the subsequent pros and cons of each.


Pads (otherwise known as sanitary towels or napkins) are typically the most common menstrual products used by South Asians.

They are oblong pieces of absorbent material that you stick to the inside of your underwear.

There are many types and features of the pad available on the market. For instance, some have extra material known as wings that are folded over the edges of your underwear to prevent leakages. Pads can also vary in length and thickness to suit different body shapes.

These disposable sanitary pads are made from cotton and synthetic materials such as latex. Typical sanitary pads are disposable after use, with women using on average 3 or 4 pads per day.

Pros of Using Pads:

  • They are easy to use
  • There are fewer health risks (e.g. no significant rise of Toxic Shock Syndrome)
  • Allows natural vaginal cleaning to take place
  • Can be worn overnight
  • Can be worn during light flows or spotting
  • Easy to find in shops
  • Are not invasive and do not require too much handling

Cons of Using Pads:

  • Doesn’t hold a lot of menstrual flow
  • They are expensive
  • They can be uncomfortable
  • Not environmentally friendly
  • Causes bad odour with heavy flows or on hot days
  • Cannot be worn during certain activities such as swimming
  • Cannot be discreetly hidden in one’s bag

When asked what products she was informed about growing up, Saima said:

“Only pads. Mum always said tampons were dangerous and should only be used after marriage!”

Cloth Pads

The recent return of cloth pads has proven popular amongst many women. Cloth pads are made from organic cotton, that can be washed after use.

The pad must be run under cold water before being placed in the washing machine (cold water helps to prevent a stain whereas warm water will ensure it).

Cloth pads often come in fabulous prints and colours. Moreover, cloth pads are reusable.

Pros of Using Cloth Pads:

  • They are cheaper than disposable pads in the long term as they are reusable
  • Environmentally friendly due to the reduced waste
  • Always on hand
  • Feels softer than the disposable ones
  • They tend to feel less sweaty than disposable pads
  • Can reduce the chance of thrush
  • Reduced risk of skin irritations
  • Also reduces the risk of catching pubic hair on the adhesive strip of a disposable pad
  • More absorbent
  • Can easily be made at home

Cons of Using Cloth Pads:

  • Requires extra time and effort to wash and dry the pads
  • Initial purchase is expensive
  • Bulkier in style
  • Not easily available to purchase
  • More contact with blood
  • Cloth pads may stain
  • Have to carry used cloth pads if out
  • Possibility of the cloth pad moving around much more than the disposable, stick-on pads


Tampons are absorbent materials compressed into small cylinder shapes that absorb menstrual flow from inside the vagina.

They usually come with a plastic applicator that helps to push the tampon in place.

Similar to pads, there are different types of tampons ranging in thickness and absorbency.

Tampons must be changed every 4-6 hours and shouldn’t be used overnight, as there is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

Pros of Using Tampons:

  • They are discreet
  • Lower risk of odour as tampon is placed in the vagina
  • Can be worn during sports e.g. swimming
  • Not noticeable through clothing
  • Can hold more menstrual flow than pads

Cons of Using Tampons:

  • Can be difficult to learn to insert tampons
  • Must be changed more regularly than pads
  • Higher risks of vaginal infections
  • Toxic Shock Syndrome is a risk
  • Cannot be worn overnight
  • Cannot be worn during a light flow
  • Many women have to use pads alongside their tampon
  • Higher risk of leakage
  • Can increase menstrual cramps
  • They are expensive
  • Not environmentally friendly

Probiotic Tampons

Probiotic tampons contain friendly bacteria that naturally occur in the vagina.

The bacteria are frozen in the cotton material of the tampon.

Once the tampon is inserted, the warmth and moisture activate the bacteria causing it to be released from the tampon.

This is a great solution for those who experience yeast infections after their periods as the blood collected also helps boost lactic acid production and lowers the pH of your vagina, both of which help to kill the yeast.

Pros of Probiotic Tampons:

  • They are good for the female body
  • Reduces the risk of post-period yeast infection
  • They are discreet
  • Lower risk of odour as tampon is placed in the vagina
  • Can be worn during sport-related activities e.g. swimming
  • Not noticeable through clothing

Cons of Probiotic Tampons:

  • Not easily available
  • They are expensive
  • Not environmentally friendly
  • Higher risk of leakage
  • Cannot be worn overnight

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are silicone or latex rubber cups that catch and collect your flow rather than absorb it.

To insert the menstrual cup, you tightly fold the cup and insert it, much like a tampon (without an applicator). The cup should then pop open and sit comfortably on the walls of your vagina.

A seal is formed that enables the collection of menstrual flow without leakage.

You can buy disposable menstrual cups however many cups are environmentally friendly and therefore reusable.

The menstrual cup can be left in the vagina for up to 12 hours before needing to be emptied.

To remove the menstrual cup, pinch the base of it to release the seal and simply pull it out. Then you empty the cup, wash with soap and water and use again.

At the end of your cycle, place the cups in boiling water to sterilise them, ready for the next month.

Find out how to use a Menstrual Cup here:

Pros of Menstrual Cups:

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Saving money in the long term (one purchase can last around 10 years)
  • Can be left in for up to 12 hours
  • No risk of odour
  • Intercourse is possible whilst having the cup in
  • Easy to use
  • Vaginal pH and beneficial bacteria stay in place
  • Known to potentially reduce cramps
  • Reduced risk of TSS as long as menstrual cups are used, changed and cleaned properly.
  • Can be worn during sports e.g. swimming

Cons of Menstrual Cups:

  • Hands-on and messier than other products
  • Can be difficult to insert for younger girls or those who have not had intercourse (but it’s not impossible)
  • Maintenance
  • Can take a while to adjust to the feeling
  • Initial price is more expensive than other products available

Sea Sponges

Sea sponges are plant-like organisms that grow on the seabed in colonies.

They are naturally absorbent and are used as a ‘natural tampon’.

Sea sponges need cleaning before, during and after the cycle (always clean new sponges – they are natural and could still have traces of sand in them).

When the sponge is dry you can trim it to a size and shape that you feel comfortable with.

You can use a natural antiseptic solution that consists of:

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 drops of tea tree oil
  • 1 tbsp of vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of baking soda
  • 1 tsp of hydrogen peroxide

Pros of Sea Sponges:

  • Comfortable
  • Non-irritating
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Easy to use
  • Contains an enzyme that discourages odour and bacteria growth
  • No exposure to chemicals and pesticides used on cotton pads/tampons

Cons of Sea Sponges:

  • Hands-on and messier than other products
  • Maintenance (needs to be cleaned before first use and then regularly during and after the cycle)
  • Delicate – upon removing the sponge could rip (extra caution is needed when removing the sponge)
  • Risk of TSS
  • Can be hard to clean

Period Panties

Period panties are highly absorbable underwear that can absorb fluids.

They are typically used for menstrual flow, but can also be used for women who have a leaky bladder.

Some women just wear the underwear during their period whilst others use it alongside their pads/tampons for extra protection.

Pros of Period Panties:

  • They are leak proof
  • Comfortable
  • They look cute
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Saving money in the long-term
  • Can be worn overnight

Cons of Period Panties:

  • Initial cost is pricey
  • You have to buy a lot of them or constantly use and wash them through your period
  • There is a higher risk of a ‘wetness’ feeling
  • Can be awkward to store when you are out

Cloth Pads, Probiotic Tampons, Menstrual Cups, Sea Sponges and Period Panties are available online to purchase on websites such as Amazon.

The many different types of period products available mean that there is something for every woman. Don’t be afraid to try the products out and find the one that best suits you.

Menstruation is a naturally occurring phenomenon. And therefore there shouldn’t be such a stigma surrounding it.

Education is key. If we know what is available, we can help make sure every woman has access to something that suits their body.

Please consult your doctor or GP before trying out any of the above menstrual products that you are unfamiliar with.

Harleen is an aspiring poet, novelist and activist. She is a metalhead who loves all things Bhangra, Bollywood, horror, supernatural and Disney. “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all” - Mulan

Images courtesy of Always Official Facebook, Tampax Official Facebook, Party In My Pants Official Facebook, Saforelle Official Facebook, The Diva Cup Official Facebook and THINX Official Facebook

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