The business of periods has come a long way since bulky pads and cardboard tampon applicators were the only options. Here's what you need to know about picking your best period products — from tampons, menstrual cups, and even period underwear.

By Mallory Creveling
October 01, 2020
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If the latest wave of newfangled period products is any indication, menstruation is having a moment...and considering it's a monthly moment for about 1.9 billion women globally on any given day, it's about damn time we got an upgrade.

While tried-and-true period product brands like Tampax have expanded their offerings into organic cotton products and even menstrual cups, smaller start-ups continue to pop up, providing more choices for women to find comfort and protection through their cycle.

If you're looking to try something new for your period protection, there are a few factors to consider to find your flow's best match, says New York-based gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, M.D. For starters, think about whether you tend to have heavy or light periods (or somewhere in between). You may also want to think about how much you want to spend, the environmental impact of these products, and of course, how comfortable they are to use and wear. To help you narrow down your choices, take a look at this guide on the different types of period products on the market right now, plus the top options in each category, according to reviewers and our own testing.

Tampons and Pads

Tampons and pads have been the go-to method for menstrual care for decades, and still remain the most popular options. While the general concept of tampons and pads have remained relatively unchanged over the years, brands have made important updates — most recently, turning to organic cotton as a leading material.

While there's really no medical reason to choose organic tampons over conventional options, which often include synthetic materials, some people might have a sensitivity toward those non-organic materials, says Dr. Dweck. If you regularly experience irritation, odor, or yeast or bacterial infections every month after your period, talk to your doctor about whether your choice in feminine hygiene products could be to blame. Your doc may suggest giving organic tampons or pads a try. Even if you don't have a sensitivity, organic could still be the way to go for anyone looking for tampons and pads that are completely free of dyes, scents, and chlorine bleaching — and of course, made of organically grown cotton.

If you have a heavy flow or are prone to leaks, one product you should keep an eye out for is the tampliner. Created by a company called Callaly, it combines a tampon with a panty liner that fits between your labia, aka the lips on the outside of the vagina, which works as an extra barrier to wetness. Right now, it only ships to the UK and Ireland but should be expanding soon, according to the company.

In addition to going organic, some brands have also come up with subscriptions for tampons and pads — they just show up at your door every month — making sure you're never in a messy situation where you need a period product and forgot to restock from last month. Reusable pads, made from breathable cotton, are also a relatively new advancement in period products, and eliminates waste from disposable pads themselves but also all that extra packaging. Just rinse and wash with the rest of your laundry when you're done with one or when you swap for a fresh, reusable pad.

The latest tampon and pad period products:

Tampax Pure Tampons

Your typical tampon, with a bit of an earth-friendly upgrade. The Tampax Pure line contains no chlorine, dyes, or fragrances, and uses certified-organic cotton. For easy insertion, it has an applicator, which is also made of mostly plant-based materials. Make sure you choose the right absorbency for your flow — using an ultra-size tampon on a light day may not only irritate your vagina and cause some pain upon insertion or removal, but it can also increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome, says Dr. Dweck.

o.b. Organic Tampons

Also free of chlorine, fragrance, and dyes, these tampons come in sizes super and regular. They also feature 100% organic cotton — from the tip through the string. You won't get an applicator with this one, which means you don't have to worry about tossing or recycling extra plastic.

Buy It: o.b. Organic Tampons, $18, 3-pack of 24, amazon.com

Rael Organic Cotton Overnight Pads

Pillowy soft sounds exactly like what you'd want touching your vulva all night, right? Well, that's what you'll get from these pads, which come in two sizes for a care-free night's sleep. You'll find a few features that help make them leak-proof and comfy, including a 100% organic cotton top sheet, waterproof back panel, and side wings.

Lola Cardboard Applicator Tampons

You get the ease of an applicator with this tampon — even with a curved edge for more comfortable insertion — but without the plastic (they're all cardboard). This organic cotton tampon also reliably stops leaks, without offering any chemical additives, synthetic fibers, dyes, or otherwise.

Cora Tampons and Pads

Prefer to flip between tampons and pads, depending on the day of your cycle? Try Cora, an organic cotton tampon and pad brand, which offers a subscription plan. Choose the number and absorbency of your period products and you'll get a shipment each month that fulfills your flow's needs. (FYI, Odeeva also offers a subscription for your period products.)

Buy It: Core Tampon + Pad Combo, $10/month for subscription, cora.life

Aisle Reusable Maxi Pad

These cute, colorful pads work on your heaviest days — they can hold up to four tampons-worth of liquid. To enhance the leak-proof factor, they also have wings on the side that snap underneath your underwear so the pad doesn't shift around throughout the day and wicks away wetness for hours. Switch out the pad about once a day or however often you'd switch out your regular pad. Give them a quick rinse underwater, and then wash them with your regular load of laundry. The brand also has mini pads and liners for lighter days. (Related: These New Pads Are Supposedly the Most Comfortable Ones Ever)

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups have gone more mainstream, thanks to a move toward more environmentally-friendly products and an uptick in available options — even from major tampon brand Tampax. In fact, the menstrual cup market is expected to reach $963 million by 2026, up from $632 million in 2018, according to Allied Market Research.

The earth-friendly draw of menstrual cups comes from the fact that you can use most cups for years, taking away the waste and carbon footprint that comes from daily disposal of pads and tampons (many of which are still being made with synthetics, which take far longer to degrade). The biggest difference between menstrual cups and tampons or pads: The cups don't absorb blood, but rather collect it in a small, flexible cup, often made of silicone, explains Dr. Dweck. You put the cup inside the vagina like you would a tampon (without the applicator), and it sits just below the cervix. Most come in varying sizes, which you'll choose based on the location of your cervix, your flow, and whether you've had a baby. (Consulting the size guide found on most brand's packaging can help.) You can keep most cups in for up to 12 hours before the collected blood needs to be dumped out and the cup cleaned. To be clear: You should clean your menstrual cup after every use, either by rinsing it with hot water or using a mild, oil-free, and fragrance-free soap.

When choosing a menstrual cup, it's best to go with one that's made of medical-grade silicone, which is bacteria-resistant, explains Dr. Dweck. Also, check to make sure your menstrual cup doesn't contain BPA, a harmful synthetic substance that's been shown to disrupt the endocrine system leading to many potential health implications.

The one caveat to using menstrual cups: They typically require a bit of a learning curve for proper insertion and placement, and it can take some trial and error to do it correctly, says Dr. Dweck. "The first time you remove it, it's going to be messy and it might look like a lot of blood," she says. "You'll get accustomed to what you secrete, though."

Speaking of removal, you want to be really careful when doing this — don't just grab and pull — as most create a seal via suction inside the vaginal canal, so you need to break that seal before you pull it out, explains Dr. Dweck. You can do this by pinching the base of the cup until you feel the seal "pop" or loosen. Otherwise, it can not only get messy and feel uncomfortable but if you have an IUD, you can even risk dislodging it in the process. So, take your time and don't be forceful with it, she cautions. (Related: Kristen Bell Fainted While Trying to Take Out Her Menstrual Cup)

Another product, similar to a menstrual cup, is a menstrual disc, which also collects blood and is a little more shallow in shape. It sits just passed the vaginal canal, so you can't feel it and it doesn't rely on the same suction to prevent leakage, thanks to that deeper placement. Some people prefer disks for easier insertion and removal (because they don't have that suction effect), and because they can offer a shield for your period when you want to have sex — unlike menstrual cups, which you need to take out pre-intercourse, says Dr. Dweck.

The latest menstrual cup and disc period products:

DivaCup

One of the most well-known brands out there, the DivaCup has more than 16,000 reviews on Amazon and scores 4.4 out of 5 stars. Take your pick from Model 0, 1, or 2, each offering a different size meant to fit your flow. All you have to do is fold the cup to insert it into the vagina, though, as mentioned, it can some practice to get the hang of this. The efforts are worth it though: Many reviewers say they wish they tried the DivaCup sooner.

Intimina Lily Cup Compact

Need a menstrual cup you can easily carry with you on a hike or camping trip? Try this one from Intimina. It folds flat and comes with a carrying case so you can toss it in your bag and just grab it when you need it. While it should be simple to insert and remove — especially if you choose the right size (the brand offers two) — but you can always check out the user manual, particularly if you're a first-timer.

MeLuna Menstrual Cup

This menstrual cup offers several options for fit and style. Sizes range from small, for younger users, to extra-large for women who have had multiple vaginal births or heavy flows. Choose from three different handles, as well — a stem that's best for beginners, a ring, which stands out the most for anyone nervous about removal, and a ball, which offers the most comfort but is the smallest shape of the bunch. With your cup, you also get a cleaning brush, instruction pamphlet, and travel pouch for easy cleaning and storing.

Lena Menstrual Cups

Get 12 hours of protection when you choose the large or small cup — or buy the duo pack so you have an option for lighter and heavier days. Made of medical-grade silicone, these menstrual cups have a bell-like design that comfortably fits inside the vagina. Many Amazon reviewers say they used the Lena as their first menstrual cup and recommend it as a sub for tampons.

Saalt Soft Cup

Vegan, cruelty-free, and FDA-registered, this menstrual cup checks off all the top-notch boxes. It also has that coveted high-quality silicone material, and it's softer and more flexible than other cups out there. Choose from a desert blush or mist grey color, as well as small or regular sizes. (Related: The Founders of Saalt Menstrual Cups Will Make You Passionate About Sustainable, Accessible Period Care)

Flex Disc

Made sans BPA and latex, you can opt for a disc that works for light, medium, or heavy flows. Wear this menstrual disc for up to 12 hours and for any activity, from running to swimming, and simply toss it in the trash after. This disc won't block your vaginal canal (and doesn't take up as much space as a cup), so you can have sex with it inserted.

Buy It: Flex Menstrual Disc Pack, $15, 12 count, amazon.com

nixit Menstrual Cup

Free of BPA and other chemicals, the Nixit cup features medical-grade silicone. Unlike other menstrual cups, it doesn't have a suction design. Instead, you get a double-rim and more circular structure that's meant to catch your blood, avoid leakage, and make for easy entry and exit. This cup only comes in one size and has no stem, which can make it more comfortable for some.

Period Underwear

Wearing leak-proof underwear during your period might sound comparable to sporting a diaper, but the newest designs are anything but baggy or bulky. Thanks to an upgrade in construction, period underwear now comes in streamlined cuts and multiple styles, just like your regular undies. As with menstrual cups, reusable period underwear is great for eliminating waste — but unlike menstrual cups or discs, you don't have to worry about insertion, removal, or being overly cautious about how long you wear them. While everyone's flow and comfort level will be different, typically you can slip on a pair of period underwear and be good to go for the day.

Many brands have different levels of protection, offering multi-layered gussets (the part of the underwear that sits right under the vulva, where a pad would be) made of moisture-wicking, waterproof, and anti-odor materials. You can choose whether you want to wear the leak-proof underwear solo or as an added layer of protection along with a tampon or cup (good for super heavy days), says Dr. Dweck.

Styles range from full coverage to bikini and even thong options. The fabrics are just as comfy as your regular panties, too, often featuring nylon or polyester blends. And because leak-proof underwear wicks away moisture and keeps you dry, you're never just sitting in blood.

The latest period underwear menstruation products:

Knix Super Leakproof Bikini

If you're looking for seriously comfortable period underwear that comes in many styles — bikini, high rise, boy short, and more — Knix is for you. The new super leakproof line means you can slip into a pair even on your heaviest period days. They're meant to hold about eight tampons worth of blood, thanks to three layers of material, including one that's moisture-wicking to pull wetness away from the skin, an absorbent layer to prevent leakage, and an outer layer that resists liquids. The four-way stretch fabric and flat seams also make this period underwear as comfortable and discreet as your regular pair, and you can wash them just as you would your normal undies, too. (FYI, your period blood color could signal an underlying health problem. Here's what to look out for.)

Thinx Hiphugger

Ranging in size from XXS to 3XL, you can find your perfect fit with this pair of leak-proof period underwear. In addition to size options, you also get several color choices, all with a lace waistband that lies flats, feels comfortable, and looks good too. Not only does this period underwear stop liquids from leaking, but it also protects against odors. Toss them in the washer and hang them to dry when you're ready for a refresh.

Ruby Period Underwear

Find your favorite style of period underwear, including bikini, hipster, brief, or high-waisted, and your best size (you have seven options from XS to 3XL). The gusset offers a multi-layer built-in pad that keeps you dry and moves with you, no matter what activity you're doing. While you can double up with a tampon or cup, the underwear itself will offer enough protection to keep you from worrying about wetness.