Prices are accurate at the time of publication.
- Period underwear can be a sustainable replacement for tampons and pads.
- To absorb blood and prevent leakage, period underwear uses layers of material and fabric technology.
- Period underwear is reusable, machine-washable, and can last up to 2 years when cared for properly.
When it comes to menstrual hygiene, there are a lot of choices on the market.
Traditional options like tampons and sanitary pads are popular — but they contribute to a vast waste issue and can fall victim to shortages. That's why reusable products such as period underwear are gaining traction for those who menstruate.
According to the Center for Women's Health, period underwear is a sustainable alternative that promotes free-bleeding. Its design allows for menstrual blood to be absorbed by the undergarment without blocking period flow.
However, according to Nicole Sparks, MD, a gynecologist at North Atlanta Women's Care, there is no health reason to choose period underwear for free bleeding instead of another menstrual product. She says it all depends on your finances, lifestyle, and comfort level.
Here are some things to know when deciding if period underwear is right for you.
How does period underwear work?
While period underwear can look like traditional underwear, the difference lies in the fabric. Period underwear uses extra layers of microfiber polyester that absorbs blood and prevents moisture from making contact with your skin and vagina or leaking onto your clothes. Much like other types of menstrual products, there's different period underwear available based on the heaviness of your flow.
For example, Jodi Caden, CEO and co-founder of Proof, says Proof uses Leak-Loc™ technology, which features a multi-layered, absorbent core with reinforced leak proof edges that draw liquid in and keep it in the underwear. The antimicrobial lining is designed to reduce odor and inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Another brand, Modibodi, has patented Modifier Technology™, which includes a stain-resistant lining to prevent menstrual leakage.
How to wash period underwear
Most underwear is machine washable, but Sparks recommends rinsing the blood out with cold water first before placing it in with the rest of the laundry. Alternatively, you can also hand wash period underwear in cold water then hang it to dry.
However, Alisa Vitti, a hormone expert and founder of the hormone healthcare company FLOLiving, says that it's always important to default to the manufacturer's instructions when washing. The frequency of underwear washing can depend on the brand and how much fluid the product can absorb.
With proper care, period underwear can be worn for up to two years.
Who can wear period underwear?
Vitti says that while period underwear can be worn by anyone who wants to try it, it can be especially beneficial for certain people who have:
Should you wear pads or tampons with period underwear?
Despite period underwear's ease of wear, Vitti cautions that you shouldn't feel tied down to only period underwear. "If you have a heavy flow, period underwear is a great backup to whatever else you're using and can give you the reassurance of things not leaking through the clothing," says Vitti.
Caden says wearing another hygiene product such as a tampon with period underwear can also help people feel more comfortable while gradually making the transition to underwear for total period protection.
How to choose the best period underwear for you
Top brands in period underwear include Thinx, Dear Kate, Proof, Ruby Love, and Modibodi. According to Thinx, its popularity stems from the product's versatility, which ranges from overnight to athletic use.
Beyond versatility, Caden says safety should be of utmost priority when selecting period underwear. Customers should avoid products with chemicals that can make their way from the vulva to the bloodstream.
There are claims that tampons, pads, and period underwear from certain manufacturers contain toxic chemicals, including per- and poly-flouroalkyl substances (PFAs). However, these claims are controversial and have been refuted by the companies in question, like Always and Thinx.
We are exposed to PFAs in everything from contaminated drinking water to takeout boxes. Ingesting these "forever chemicals" has been associated with health risks including cancer, high blood pressure, and liver disease.
It's still unclear the level of risk associated with PFAs in clothing. A 2020 animal study found that exposure to a specific PFA, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), through the skin was comparable to the effects of ingesting it. However, this study solely focused on PFOA and not the other 9,000 PFAs that scientists have identified.
Overall, more research is needed around PFAs in clothing and the effects of exposure.
Benefits of period underwear include versatility and less waste
When comparing period underwear with other menstrual products, Caden says "pads leak and shift during wear, and menstrual cups can be tricky to use and inconvenient to clean."
Vitti adds that period underwear is useful in absorbing both light and heavy blood flow. This is especially great for folks undergoing physical activity such as hiking or bike racing, where it would be problematic to change every few hours.
In addition, while the FDA reports toxic shock syndrome is rare and the rate of cases has declined in recent years, it continues to pose a small risk when using tampons. When looking at lighter flow, Sparks says period underwear can be a good replacement for other menstrual products.
Period underwear is also an eco-friendly product compared to pads and tampons that are easily disposable. Caden says switching to a reusable product reduces the amount of single-use plastics dumped into landfills and oceans.
According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, the average person who menstruates is estimated to use up to 12,000 to 16,000 disposable menstrual products in their life. It can take about 100 years or more to break down plastic from pads and tampons.
Period underwear design allows you to free-bleed while the fabric absorbs menstrual blood and prevents leakage onto your skin and clothes. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional single-use products such as pads and tampons.
When deciding if period underwear is right for you, Caden advises stepping away from conventional items and experimenting.
On a similar note, Vitti stresses the freedom in making choices for your body. "Maybe this year you use period underwear, and next year you use the cup because you want to look at the color of your bleed and the consistency. You should have all of these options and tools."