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Despite big pushes toward greener living, it still feels like everything’s wrapped in plastic these days — and your tampons are no exception. Going eco-friendly and sustainable can apply to your period products too.
Between cramps, nausea, and the pink tax, being on your period is hard enough as it is. But if you want to lessen your impact on the planet, there are simple changes you can make for the next time you bleed.
In case you’re not sure where to start, we’ve rounded up 11 of the best eco-friendly period products on the market.
National Geographic reports that in 2018, Americans bought 5.8 billion tampons, most of which ended up in the trash. Since menstrual products are labeled medical waste and therefore not tracked, it’s tough for researchers to quantify just how much waste they create.
But since most menstrual products can’t be recycled (RIP, plastic applicators) and the average menstruating human will use somewhere between 5 and 15 thousand tampons and pads in their lifetime, it all adds up.
Once tossed in the trash, pads and tampons wind up in landfills before they break down into microplastics that pollute our rivers and oceans and enter our water supply. Thanks to harmful microplastics like these, scientists estimate that the average person consumes “a credit card’s worth” of plastic each week. Yum, right?
On top of that pile of waste, switching to eco-friendly can be a lot easier on your bank account.
One menstrual cup that lasts years can cost as little as $20, while a box of 37 disposable tampons that lasts 1 to 2 months costs $7. If you use tampons and average 450 periods in your lifetime, that adds up to at least $3,150 that you could instead be spending on, ya know, student debt or avocado toast.
At first, reusing a product you got all bloody might not seem too appealing. Erm, isn’t it unsanitary?
Well, no. As long as you care for your menstrual cup, reusable pad, or period undies as instructed, it’s just as sanitary as that tampon you threw in the trash. Most menstrual cups require regular sanitizing with soap and boiling water, while period underwear and reusable pads are rinsed and then go through the wash cycle.
Voilà — they’re just like new.
The short answer is usually no. You’d think manufacturers would be legally required to let you know the ingredients in products that go into or close to your vagina for several hours a day — but nope. Though activists are working to pressure tampon makers disclose ingredients, most still don’t.
However, the Women’s Environment Network says your disposable pad or tampon of choice could be up to 90 percent plastic — mostly polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyester. That’s the equivalent of four plastic shopping bags in one single-use product. Yikes.
Even when these products don’t go into landfills (and they usually do), they can still end up in the oceans. And a single disposable pad can take 500 to 800 years to break down, according to a 2019 study.
To make matters worse, researchers in a 2020 study frequently found endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates, bisphenols, and parabens in feminine hygiene products sold in the United States. Exposure to endocrine disruptors can affect your hormones and may lead to cancerous tumors or fetal development issues.
Still stuck on disposable?
If you’re set on using disposable products, there are still a couple of options for an eco-friendlier flow. Some tampons are made of 100 percent organic cotton or natural bamboo, which can be composted. Organic pads made of organic cotton, cellulose, and veggie gum glue are also compostable.
It can take 18 months for these products to fully break down in the right compost environment. For the best results, try pulling or cutting the pad or tampon apart (just like you would with paper, cardboard, or egg cartons).
Unfortunately, disposable applicators are never kind to the planet. Since plastic and cardboard applicators are considered medical waste, they can’t be recycled or composted. If you want to use disposable tampons, consider using applicator-free varieties or investing in a reusable applicator (see No. 3 on the list).
We used a few key measures to pick out the best and most eco-friendly products on the market, including:
- Reusability. Since reusable period products are by far the eco-friendliest, we primarily selected ones that can be used again and again. (For those days when you just can’t have your menstrual cup or period undies on hand, we did include one single-use option.)
- Antimicrobial technology. Hygiene matters when it comes to your period, obvs. We picked products that have antimicrobial technology to make staying healthy and sanitary as simple as possible.
- No plastic. Plastic hurts the planet — we don’t need to tell you twice. It’s also not great for your health *down there.* So we scoped out products that are free of harmful polymers.
- No harmful chemicals. Many period products are full of phthalates and other chemicals that can mess with your body and harm the environment. We made sure to choose products free of these substances.
- Reviews. We want to know what works. What fits just right? What’s easiest to use? By combing through reviews, we found the best of the best in the rapidly growing eco-friendly period product sphere.
- $ = under $20
- $$ = $20–35
- $$$ = over $35
1. Period Aisle Reusable Pads
Flow level: Heavy
Why we chose it: Formerly known as Luna Pad, Period Aisle offers reusable cotton-spandex-polyester pads in sizes mini (8-inch), maxi (10-inch), and super (13-inch), all of which hold up to four tampons’ worth of fluid.
These are ideal for even your heaviest days. Users call them comfy and easy to clean — just rinse and run through your regular wash and dry cycle. They’re made primarily with breathable cotton in black and a couple of fun prints.
Considerations: Some reviewers complain of fit and sizing problems. Rather than choosing a pad size based on absorbency, you choose based on the size of your lower body. Users mention leaks that can be remedied by sizing up.
Those with super light flows, meanwhile, said the pad was too big for their needs. If you’re #blessed with a light crimson tide, consider Aisle’s reusable liners instead.
2. Rael Organic Cotton Reusable Pads
Flow level: Light to overnight
Why we chose it: With five layers of organic cotton designed to wick moisture, these babies are like pads but with “an environmentally friendly glow-up.” Reviewers love them for their comfort and breathability.
These pads are free of harsh chemicals, and reviewers say they’re sensitive skin-approved. Plus, they’re meant to last for up to 120 wears. Choose from four sizes: petite, regular, large, and overnight.
Considerations: As with other brands of reusable pads, users say to expect an adjustment period. They’re a bit thicker than disposable pads and may shift around a bit.
Eco-friendly tampons and pads
3. Dame Reusable Tampon Applicator
Flow level: Medium to heavy
Why we chose it: Can’t part with your tried-and-true applicator tampon? No worries. Dame lets you keep calm and tampon on but makes it eco-friendly.
The sleek reusable tampon applicator is constructed from Mediprene, a material made by U.K. medical engineers and designed to last for life. It contains antibacterial Sanipolymers, which the company says are natural sterilizers that work around the clock to eliminate at least 99 percent of germs and microbes.
Reviewers call it extremely comfy and easy to use. Just pop in your cotton tampon, insert it, and rinse the applicator. Dry with a clean paper towel and place it in its carrying case. You can buy the applicator solo or get the reusable applicator set with a cotton travel wallet, storage tin, and set of organic tampons.
Considerations: Some reviewers say this product takes a little time to get used to after using disposable styles. Others say it doesn’t work well with light tampons.
4. Veeda 100% Natural Cotton Applicator-Free Tampons
Flow level: Medium to heavy
Why we chose it: If you’ve ever wished your tampon would fit in the nearly nonexistent pocket of your tightest jeans, Veeda’s got your back. These tiny, compact tampons are applicator-free and discreet for travel.
Made from 100 percent natural cotton and free of chemicals, synthetics, dyes, and fragrances, they’re hypoallergenic and perfect for the compost bin.
Considerations: Not everyone loves an applicator-free tampon — they’re def a bit trickier to insert. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll love how much space they save.
Flow level: Medium to heavy
Why we chose it: DivaCup led the menstrual cup trend years ago, and it’s still one of the most trusted brands on the market. The cup is made of 100 percent medical-grade silicone and free of chemicals, plastic, and dyes. You can wear it for up to 12 hours.
You’ll choose a cup size based on your age, your flow level, and whether you’ve delivered a baby vaginally. You can use DivaWash or another natural, fragrance-free, pH-balanced cleanser to clean your cup between uses.
Considerations: If you’re new to the menstrual cup game, heads-up that there’s a bit of an insertion learning curve. Many reviewers say they like to insert and remove the cup in the shower, where you can use water for added lubrication. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll forget it’s even there.
Also, the DivaCup is a bit firmer than other models, which some reviewers love and others loathe. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Buy the DivaCup online.
6. Saalt Soft Menstrual Cup
Flow level: Medium to heavy
Why we chose it: Saalt is a newer menstrual cup that seems to be all the rage. The brand says the Soft model, made of an ultra-soft silicone formula, is especially gentle and accommodating for those who experience bladder sensitivity, cramping, or discomfort with regular cups. If you’re new to using a menstrual cup or tend to be sensitive down there, this might be the cup for you.
The Saalt Soft Menstrual Cup is quite a bit more flexible than the DivaCup, which many reviewers say makes it more comfy. It also might be easier to adjust to than the firmer menstrual cups out there.
Considerations: If you need something firmer to hold your flow, you might find this cup too flimsy.
Reusable menstrual discs
7. Intimina Ziggy Cup
Flow level: Light to heavy
Why we chose it: Dubbed by the brand as “the one you can have sex with,” this menstrual disc is true to its tagline. It’s one of the few products out there that can be worn during sex, so you can get down without any mess. Reviewers say you and your partner won’t even feel it during sex, and it’s completely leak-free.
The reusable, flat-fit disc is made of ultra-thin medical-grade silicone and can be worn for up to 12 hours. It’s one of the most petite options out there, too, in case you find that other cups are just too big.
Considerations: Some reviewers say there’s a bit of a learning curve when switching from a cup to a disc. Since it doesn’t have a gripper like a cup, you’ll need to relax and get real comfy with your bod to insert it properly.
8. Nixit menstrual cup
Flow level: Light to heavy
Why we chose it: The Canadian-made Nixit menstrual cup is another disc-shaped option that offers 12-hour protection and mess-free period sex. Inside the dreamy packaging, you’ll find a cute, ultra-soft, 100 percent medical-grade silicone cup and accompanying carrying case.
Considerations: It’ll cost you more than the Intimina Ziggy Cup, despite offering more or less the same product. Reviewers dig the cute carrying case and trendier packaging, though, which possibly makes it worth the splurge. (Plus, reusable is always more cost-effective than your disposable products!)
Buy the Nixit Menstrual Cup online.
9. Thinx Classic Leakproof Underwear
Flow level: Light, medium, and overnight
Why we chose it: One of the first big period underwear brands to enter the market, Thinx led the trend for leakproof life. Thinx come in classic styles like hip huggers, high waist, and thong, with absorbencies from lightest to super. They’re designed to wick away moisture and control odor so you can live your life tampon- or pad-free.
They’re made of nylon and elastane, and the highest-absorbency styles hold up to four tampons’ worth of fluid. Most reviewers say their Thinx undies last through a whole day of flow. But if your flow is extra heavy, you might need a spare pair (one might not last you all day). Rinse ’em, toss ’em in the washer, and you’re good to go.
Considerations: While most reviewers rave about comfort and fit, some complain that the boyshort style feels diaper-like. And Thinx underwear has been under some scrutiny since researchers claimed they found toxic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the crotch area of certain Thinx styles.
10. Knix Leakproof Underwear
Flow level: Light, medium, or overnight
Why we chose it: Knix is a slightly more affordable and certified chemical-free option that’s quickly making a name for itself in the eco-friendly period sphere.
Made of nylon, Lycra, cotton, spandex, and carbon, the product is free of PFAS and other chemical treatments. After the Thinx debacle, the company pursued third-party testing to confirm the safety of its underwear.
Considerations: Some reviewers say the bikini style, which is meant to be medium absorbency, doesn’t have enough front-to-back coverage and leads to leaks.
11. Period Aisle Gender-Neutral Boxer Brief
Flow level: Light to heavy or overnight
Made of Tencel, organic cotton, and spandex, the boxers hold up to two tampons’ worth of fluid. But wait: They also come with a booster, a handy little insert that will allow your boxers to soak up an extra two tampons’ worth.
Considerations: As with many period underwear styles, some users complain of occasional leaks. Have a seriously extra heavy flow? Reviewers recommend buying extra boosters for stress-free period living.
Consider your needs and lifestyle. What’s realistic for your life and preferences? For instance, if you’re a pad user now, consider switching to the reusable variety or period underwear. If you use tampons, a menstrual cup might be right for you.
Check the ingredient list twice. Look for products that are transparent about ingredients. Manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients, but a quality company will. For the sake of your health, avoid products containing plastics and endocrine disruptors like phthalates.
Factor in cost. If you really want to save over the years, a single menstrual cup tends to be the most economical option. Period underwear and reusable pads can also help you fight back against the dreaded pink tax.