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As we become more focused on sustainability and being financially savvy, we have to stop and think. How much does caring for our monthly cycle add to the landfill? Most pads and tampons aren’t exactly recyclable or biodegradable. Besides that, stocking up on period products each month adds up over time. What other options do we have? Well, many women are turning to “period underwear.”
What Is Period Underwear?
Period underwear are reusable, extra-absorbent panties. The idea is to reduce or eliminate the need for disposable menstrual products like tampons and pads. So, if you’re sick of dealing with panty liners, pads, tampons, or even the menstrual cup, keep reading. Period underwear can be a fantastic alternative — (or addition), depending on how you use them.
Period underwear are panties designed with special moisture-wicking gussets. ( This is the thick part at the bottom) that soaks up the menstrual flow. The gussets can be made of cotton, wool, or synthetic fabrics, such as fleece-like material.
Depending on the brand, one pair of period underwear can hold as much liquid as five regular tampons! Period underwear have more uses than the menstrual cycle. You can also use them for incontinence related to maternity, postpartum, and workouts. You can learn more about those pesky leaks and how to fix your pelvic floor here.
Period Underwear Choices
Menstrual underwear comes in many sizes (from XXS to XXL) and cuts, just like regular underwear. You can still get bikinis, hipsters, boyshorts, briefs, hi-waist, and hiphuggers. If you’re concerned about panty lines, don’t worry — they even make thongs!
They also come in a variety of fabrics, like cotton, bamboo, polyester, modal, and spandex/elastane. More often than not, they’re a blend of these fabrics. (The waistband may just be Spandex or elastane.)
As a result, you can get panties made from lab-created or natural fabrics, like cotton and bamboo. However, the gusset may be made of a different material than the rest of the underwear, since it needs to be absorbent.
Is Period Underwear Safe to Wear?
So, it sounds like a good idea, but are period undies safe? There’s some concern that certain brands have per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These “forever chemicals” are often found in waterproof fabrics like raingear because they repel water. They’re linked to hormone imbalance, reduced fertility, immune system problems, and low birth weight.
Thinx, Inc., is a New York City-based brand that serves as an umbrella for three different collections. Thinx is underwear to absorb periods. For teens, there’s Thinx Teens. And Speax is underwear for bladder leaks. From 2020 to 2022, three class action lawsuits were launched against Thinx for PFAS contamination.
After consolidating these lawsuits into one, they reached a settlement in December 2022. Women who had purchased the underwear and were concerned about PFAS could submit a request for a refund or a voucher for a future purchase.
PFAS testing looks for fluorine in the materials. Thinx had fluorine in up to 3,264 parts per million (ppm), which is very high. Other brands that had smaller amounts of fluorine were Knix (373 ppm), Sustain (up to 71 ppm), Ruby Love (27 ppm), and Saalt (10 ppm).
I’ve listed the panties that tested 0 ppm of fluorine below.
Pros and Cons of Period Underwear
As you now know from the PFAS issue, there are pros and cons to wearing specialized period intimates.
Pros of Period Underwear
There are lots of pros of period panties:
- Environmentally Friendly – Period panties lower monthly waste. However, as I just covered, the type of material matters. Some period underwear brands don’t just have PFAS or fluorine. Some have synthetic fabrics, like nylon and polyester, which come from petrochemicals. Aka what plastics are made out of. Washing these synthetic materials sheds microplastics into the water. These eventually flow into our groundwater, lakes, rivers, and oceans. That’s why you’ll want to opt for organic cotton, bamboo, and other natural materials when possible.
- Leading Up & Trailing Off – With busy schedules, it’s understandable if we occasionally lose track of the exact day of our periods. Sometimes we’re also too quick to put away the panty liner. That’s where period underwear can really help.
- Nighttime flow – Why risk staining the sheets? Period panties work well through the night.
- Postpartum bleeding – Vaginal births can lead to postpartum bleeding, and wearing a tampon isn’t ideal. Thick pads can be aggravating; that’s where period panties come in!
- Backup Leak protection – Sometimes tampons leak, especially with heavier flow days. Period panties can serve as insurance.
- More Comfortable Than Pads – The gussets of period underwear are much thinner than pads, so they’re more comfortable to wear. Period panties move with you and don’t go off-center as menstrual pads can.
- Less Cramping – Some women report less cramping when they use period underwear instead of tampons. It makes sense, as period panties are non-invasive.
- Travel convenience – Long flights can make it challenging to get to the bathroom when we need to switch out a tampon. Period panties can hold a couple (or more) of tampons’ worth of flow, giving you more time (up to 24 hours!). They’re a great addition to your travel packing list.
- Machine-washable – You can machine wash most period underwear brands, at least after briefly soaking., making This makes them convenient to wash and wear.
Cons of Period Underwear
Some potential downsides include the following:
- PFAS and other chemical contamination – Regular PFAS, fluorine, and other chemical exposures may be hazardous over time. That’s especially the case for anything in close contact with your private parts.
- Cost: Period undies tend to be more expensive than regular underwear. They range from $12 to $55 per pair.
- The washing out process – Handwashing some of the underwear in cold water before machine washing isn’t so fun. However, as mentioned, simply soaking first may be an option.
- Need for changing – Heavy flow days may require changing mid-day, just like pads or tampons.
- Potential for leakage – Unfortunately, not all period panties are leakproof. While some designs can hold up to five or even 10 tampons’ worth of liquid, others hold two or fewer.
- Potential for odor – Depending on the material, usage (period vs. incontinence), and time wearing them, there’s a potential to build up an odor.
The pros and cons depend on which brands, cuts, and fabrics you get. Check the latest reviews to make the best purchase.
How to Take Care of Period Underwear
The special fabric in period underwear requires some special care. Opt for gentle soaps and detergents over harsh detergents and bleach. Also, avoid using fabric softeners or other chemicals.
Top Period Underwear Brands
The best period underwear is free of toxins, comfortable, and easy to care for. These are some of the most popular chemical-free brands.
The Period Company’s
The Period Company’s “The High-Waisted” underwear gets excellent reviews. This company also tested 100% free of PFAS and uses OEKO-TEX certified 95% organic cotton (the remaining 5% is polyester). They’re also affordable, starting at $12 a pair, and can last anywhere from 2 to 10 years.
Modibodi period panties are 95% bamboo viscose with 5% spandex to add stretch. The lining is a blend of merino wool, polyester, and polyamide. Modibodi’s organic cotton styles are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). They are estimated to last at least 2 years. Independent lab testing found zero PFAS. If your man has leakage issues, Modibodi has him covered! They have a men’s line as well.
Bambody is another clean brand that tested free of PFAS and other chemicals. The name comes from their use of bamboo fabric, which is blended with cotton and spandex. The lining is synthetic, though. Bambody is certified through OEKO-TEX. They were also certified safe by the Hohenstein Textile Testing Institute in Germany. They’re estimated to last about a year and a half.
Aisle is a sustainable period underwear brand based in Canada. They use independent testing to ensure there are no detectable levels of PFAS (less than 1 ppm). Their materials include organic cotton, Tencel, recycled polyester, technical cotton, thermoplastic polyurethane, and other materials. The lining is made of Truetex™ which is a blend of hydrophilic and hydrophobic fibers. Aisle is certified by OEKO-TEX and Control Union, under the OCS (organic content standard). They should last about 3 years.
While WUKA wasn’t part of the study, they do regular testing to ensure their products are PFAS-free. They use GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton, recycled plastic, and Tencel modal fibers from beech trees. Tencel modal is biodegradable and compostable, so it doesn’t burden our landfills. WUKA is also certified through OEKO-TEX. Plus they’re estimated to last at least 2 years.
Some of these companies also have swimsuits, bras, sleepwear, and other intimates.
Period Underwear: Bottom Line
Next time you need a new pair of underwear, consider getting some period panties. You may be able to vastly cut back or even eliminate menstrual products from your budget. They’re accessible and easy to find – you’ll even see them on Amazon. But if you’d prefer to shop locally and feel the fabric before you buy, you can also find them at natural products shops and department stores. Period panties can help take the stress out of menstruation!
Have you tried period underwear? What has your experience been? Yay or Nay? Any recommended brands? Share with us below!