The jury is still out on sanitary pads vs tampons vs menstrual cups

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“I wanted a cost-effective and hygienic solution to menstrual periods and menstrual cup was the only option,” said 26-year-old Shruti Sen (name changed), who has been using menstrual cups for the last two years.

Selecting the right menstrual product is not as easy as it seems and this sentiment has been agreed upon by many women. Sen, a media relation executive, said it was her curiosity which led to a Google search on menstrual products, wherein she stumbled upon cups. “Unlike sanitary pads, which I used since the time I got my first periods, cups had no health hazards. There was no gel or cotton or string that would irritate me or my skin,” she said. She added that though it was difficult to switch from sanitary napkins to menstrual cups, consulting a doctor helped her in the transition.

Gynaecologists say it is important that women are aware about the available menstrual products so that they can manage their menstrual cycle better rather than being managed by it.

Although comfort and sanitation hygiene matters to most women, doctors say the fear of using any new product and lack of awareness stops them from making the right choice in menstrual products.

“Whether to continue using sanitary pads or switch to tampons or menstrual cups is a question which always pops in every woman’s mind. We keep getting this query, especially from young working women, who find it difficult to manage their menstrual cycles while working,” said Dr Ashwini Bhalerao Gandhi, gynaecologist, PD Hinduja hospital.

On an average, a woman uses about 10,000 sanitary products during her lifetime. Doctors say it is the misconception and awkwardness that stops many women in India from not only making the right choice, but also trying the various better options in the market.

Dr Kiran Coelho, gynaecologist at Lilavati Hospital, said, “It is very important to raise awareness among women regarding the products they use. Usually, women are in fear of inserting foreign material inside their vagina. The biggest fear among single women of using tampons or menstrual cup is losing their virginity. I emphasise them to go for these products as they are more hygienic in nature.”

She said counselling a gynaecologist is must before a woman starts using tampons or menstrual cups. “A retained tampon can lead to life threatening complication like toxic shock syndrome (TSS) due to bacterial infection. A woman should know about it before using it. Tampons should be changed within 7-8 hours,” said Coelho.

Sanitary pads

Sanitary pads, also known as sanitary napkins or menstrual pad, which are still widely used in India, were one of the earliest forms of feminine hygiene. They come in a large variety of sizes, shapes, lengths, styles, and absorbency levels. Indian women mostly prefer pads because they are reluctant to put foreign thing inside their bodies.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Allow natural vaginal cleaning
  • No risks of Toxic Shock Syndrome
  • Can be worn overnight while sleeping
  • Allow you to monitor your flow regularly

Cons

  • Don’t hold much menstrual flow
  • Disposable pads are expensive
  • Disposable pads are uncomfortable
  • Disposable pads have a high environmental impact
  • Causes bad odour

Tampons

Tampons are easy to use and give greater physical freedom during periods than sanitary pads. They, too, come in various sizes and levels of absorbency. Women must change tampons at least every 4 to 8 hours. Women who use tampons may have an increased risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS is typically caused by bacterial infection from a retained tampon).

Pros

  • Prevents odour during use
  • Can be worn during sports such as swimming
  • Are not as noticeable as wearing pads
  • Can hold more flow than menstrual pads

Cons

  • Can be difficult to learn to use
  • Have more precautions to follow
  • Have to be changed every few hours
  • Cost more than other menstrual products
  • Poses higher risk of vaginal infections
  • Poses risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome
  • Can’t be worn overnight while sleeping
  • Don’t allow you to monitor flow easily

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups are still not quite as widely known in India as other menstrual products. Menstrual cup is made from soft, medical grade silicon. They are around two inches long. A menstrual cup is worn internally like a tampon, but it collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. Unlike tampons, a menstrual cup is not a disposable product. You insert the bell-shaped silicone cup directly into your vagina and leave it there for up to 12 hours. When it’s time to remove it, you pour the blood out, wash the cup, and then reinsert it.

Pros

  • Less embarrassing odour
  • Vaginal pH and beneficial stay in place
  • You change cup after 12 hours
  • Menstrual cups are better for the environment
  • No Toxic Shock Syndrome

Cons

  • Difficulty in inserting for some women
  • Removing the cup may be difficult for some women
  • Maintaining the cup may be difficult as it needs to sterilise