Update Your Period Experience With a New World of Menstrual Products
Tampons and self-adhesive pads have been the gold standard of menstrual products since the 1970s. However, the 2010s brought significant changes to the menstrual product industry, with female-led startups challenging the old guard with new products—and a new attitude—about periods.
Menstruation has been a taboo topic for millennia, and companies that sell menstrual products have traditionally been coy about exactly what their products are (think of the blue liquid on pads in TV commercials). Today, a new generation of period-product companies is changing the way people talk and think about periods, taking a no-shame approach to addressing something billions of people experience each month.
Products of the 'period renaissance'
The past 10 years have brought about a sort of "period renaissance," with dozens of new companies touting innovative wares to make periods easier, healthier and even more enjoyable. Improvements and changes to old products are part of the trend, but new products are also making waves in the industry.
Pads, in various forms, are the oldest period product, and most "new" innovations in pads actually represent a return to older forms of the product. While disposable, self-adhesive pads have become a mainstay, increased attention to sustainability has led some menstruators to use washable cloth pads instead. These pads usually stay in place with snaps and can be washed by hand or in a washing machine and line-dried. While plenty of companies are selling these products, they are an easy do-it-yourself project for anyone with a sewing machine. A search of Etsy, the biggest online selling platform for handmade goods, yields more than 13,000 results for "cloth menstrual pad."
Although tampons are still one of the most popular menstrual products on the market, new variations are being unveiled each year. With concerns about toxic shock syndrome and harmful chemicals on consumers' minds, a popular trend is organic, cotton-based tampons, with major companies such as Tampax hopping on board. Additionally, concerns about the environmental toll of plastic tampon applicators have led to the invention of reusable tampon applicators.
Cups & discs
Rather than absorb blood, menstrual cups and discs retain blood in the vaginal canal and are later emptied. These products can hold up to twice as much liquid as a super-absorbent tampon, and depending on the individual's flow, they can be left in place for up to 12 hours.
Although they function similarly, there are several differences between cups and discs. Discs can be left in during sex, but are usually single-use, while cups are reusable and must be removed for penetrative sex. These products also differ in shape and their placement in the vagina.
Various forms of period panties have been around for many years, but such products exploded into the spotlight when the company Thinx was featured in Time magazine's Best Inventions of 2015. These innovative products use absorbent and moisture-wicking materials to collect menstrual blood and can be used with or without additional period products. Although they started with basic panties, companies are beginning to expand their product lines to include many styles of underwear, leggings, athletic wear, pajamas and swimwear. Similar to cloth pads, this apparel should be soaked before washing in a washing machine and air-dried.
One of the newest innovations in menstrual products is the period subscription box. These services vary in scope, but they generally entail a monthly shipment of tampons and pads. Some companies allow users to choose the exact number and absorbency level of the products for their specific period needs. Others include peripheral products, such as snacks or beauty items, to make periods more pleasant.
New to the scene is menstruation-related technology. The most common examples are period tracking apps, mobile tools that allow users to track their periods and period symptoms, see when future periods will happen, and keep track of ovulation. Other tech products can provide cramp relief, and one company even makes a "smart" menstrual cup, which connects to an app and provides real-time information on a person's flow.
Happier periods for all
Periods will probably never be anyone's favorite event, but new products can make the experience safer, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly. With the rise of period clothing, women who menstruate can maintain more active lifestyles without having to worry about leaks. Mobile apps that track menstruation can help people feel more in control of their period experience and even detect patterns or changes in their cycle.
It's difficult to predict what will come next in this rapidly evolving industry, but it seems the trend toward more honest and unabashed conversations about menstruation is here to stay.