How to choose the best period products for your lifestyle

All healthy women experience their period once per month. Typically, your monthly menstrual cycle lasts between 3-7 days, depending on the individual. During that time women need to use the best period products in order to absorb the menstrual flow, maintain personal hygiene and ensure comfort while they go about their daily business. There are a lot of different products on the market so it can become a bit overwhelming. Find out what product will suit your needs as Bloom discusses this topic in more detail.

What is a menstrual cycle?

Your menstrual cycle, also known as a period, is a recurring monthly process regulated by hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. A woman’s body releases an egg from their ovaries each month. The uterine lining then thickens as it prepares for pregnancy. However, if the egg remains unfertilised, the body sheds the uterine lining. This cycle occurs every 28 days starting when girls reach puberty at about 12 or 13 years old and lasts until a woman is in her 40s when menopause occurs.

Best period products available in South Africa

1. Sanitary pads

Sanitary pads or towels are worn inside one’s underwear during the menstrual cycle. They are multi-layered with absorbent material that controls the menstrual blood flow.

The best way to use a sanitary pad is the following process:

  • Choose a sanitary towel type based on your flow level
  • Make sure your hands are clean
  • Remove all the adhesive backing
  • Stick the pad onto the centre of your underwear
  • Change as often as necessary to maintain hygiene and prevent leakage

Who is a sanitary pad best for?

Sanitary pads can be used by women of all ages and menstrual flow types, but they are best suited for the following women:

  • Young girls who have just started menstruating. This is because the sanitary pad is one of the easiest products to use. They are comfortable and don’t require any insertion into your vagina.
  • Women with sensitivity issues. A non-obtrusive sanitary pad is ideal for those who have sensitive vaginal tissue, or medical conditions, like vaginismus which causes the muscles surrounding the vagina to contract involuntarily.
  • Have a light menstrual flow. Thinner pads provide adequate protection for those women who have a light menstrual flow, like those who are in the process of perimenopause.

There are many different types of sanitary pads: some are thinner for light flow and others are much thicker because they are designed for heavy blood flow. Usually, once it has been used, disposable pads can be thrown out in sanitary bins found in most toilet cubicles. However, there are certain types of reusable sanitary pads. These cost-effective, environmentally-friendly pads are made from an absorbent material that can be rinsed and washed and reused.

How much do sanitary towels cost?

A pack of nine pads can be bought from Bloom’s participating pharmacies, like DisChem and Clicks, and stores like Pick n Pay for about R22 while a pack of 18 pads will cost you about R32. A reusable sanitary pad can be bought for R34 from Clicks and is guaranteed to last up to three years.

2. Tampons

Tampons are one of the best menstrual products on the market. They are designed to be inserted into the vagina to manage menstrual flow. Tampons are cylindrical in shape and are made from absorbent material with a string attached for easy removal.

The best way to use a tampon

  • Choose a tampon size and absorbency level. There are some that come with an insertion applicator and some that do not.
  • Make sure your hands are clean.
  • Ensure that the tampon is positioned the right way, with string on the outside
  • Hold the tampon or tampon applicator at a 45-degree angle and push it into your vagina.
  • Make sure the string is hanging outside.
  • It’s advisable to change tampons every 4-8 hours, or as often as necessary.

All women can use tampons, regardless of age or menstrual flow type but they are well-suited to those with the following:

  • Busy lifestyle and activities. Many women who engage in physical activities and sports, prefer to use tampons as these are more comfortable and less visible in tight activewear clothing.
  • Value convenience. Tampons can be worn discretely and are not very visible, which makes them a great choice for those who value privacy.
  • Have a light to moderate menstrual flow. While there are different types of tampon absorbency levels, they are best suited for those who don’t have a heavy period flow.
  • Comfortable with insertion. Proper insertion and removal are important so it’s important that those who use tampons are comfortable with vaginal insertion.

How much do tampons cost?

There are many different types of tampons ranging from Mini to Superplus. The lighter your menstrual flow, the smaller the tampon required and vice versa. A pack of 32 tampons will typically cost between R32-R45 from stores like DisChem, Clicks and Pick n Pay.

3. Menstrual cup

A menstrual cup is another one of the best menstrual products available. It’s a bell-shaped reusable device made from medical-grade silicone, latex or rubber that is inserted in your vagina during menstruation to collect menstrual blood. It forms a seal to prevent any leakage and typically holds more fluid than either sanitary pads or tampons.

How to use a menstrual cup?

It can be a bit tricky at first but, with a bit of practice, you will soon get used to the insertion and removal process. Reusable menstrual cups are used in the following way:

  • Choose the right size cup
  • Make sure your hands are clean
  • Fold the C–shape or S-shape and insert it into your vagina
  • Rotate the base to make sure it’s sealed properly
  • Pull out the cup and empty it every 8-12 hours
  • Sterilise thoroughly between use by boiling the cup in water for 10 minutes, or by using an approved sterilising solution as recommended by the manufacturer

Menstrual cups are best suited for those women who:

  • Are environmentally-conscious. Sanitary pads and tampons, due to their disposable method, are not very eco-friendly and contribute to significant non-biodegradable waste that accumulates in landfill sites. A menstrual cup, however, can be reused and can last several years.
  • Cost-effective. The menstrual cup will save you money as you will not need to purchase feminine hygiene products on a monthly basis.
  • Have a heavy menstrual flow. The menstrual cup can hold much more fluid than sanitary pads or tampons.
  • Want convenience. The menstrual cup can be worn for up to 12 hours, which means you won’t have to make any changes every 4-8 hours, as is the case with pads and tampons.
  • Have allergies or body sensitivities. Some women can experience allergic reactions or sensitivities to the materials used in tampons or pads. A menstrual cup is made from hypoallergenic materials, so it is suitable for those with sensitive skin or allergies.

How much do menstrual cups cost?

There are many different brands and sizes of menstrual cups that can be bought online or in-store. Although they cost more than sanitary pads or tampons, you can save money in the long run given how much use you will get out of a cup. A menstrual cup typically sells at pharmacies, like Clicks and DisChem for about R200.

What to consider when choosing period products?

These are some of the factors you need to consider when choosing the best period products for your needs:

  • Menstrual flow level. Decide whether you are light, medium or heavy as this will influence the type of tampon or pad you will need.
  • Health considerations. If you suffer from any allergies or skin sensitivities, choose period products that are made from hypoallergenic material.
  • Lifestyle and activities. A feminine hygiene product should accommodate your lifestyle. Consider what you will need to do on a daily basis.
  • Cost. Evaluate your budget and the long-term costs of disposable period products versus reusable products. Choose the option that is most cost-effective for you.
  • Use. Some products are more difficult to use, based on your experience or your body type. Choose and try out some products to discover what works best for you.

Harmful effects of period products

Be advised that some period products can have harmful side effects.

  • Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). This is a rare and uncommon, but harmful bacterial infection that is linked to high-absorbency tampons that have been left in for too long. It’s estimated that 1 in 100,000 women are at risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome.
  • Allergies and sensitivities. Some disposable products may contain chemicals, like scented pads, that could cause allergic reactions or irritations, like skin rash.

Period poverty in South Africa

Many girls in South Africa suffer from period poverty, which means there is a severe lack of access to proper hygiene products due to financial constraints. Unfortunately, as a result, many girls are forced to miss school during their period. Find out more about this issue and how you can help.  

Get health insurance with benefits for women’s health

Getting the best period products is essential for your comfort and personal hygiene. Discover what works well for your body and budget with these insights from Bloom. Get in touch with one of our trained consultants to discuss what health insurance plan would suit you. We have a range of plans that are available with benefits designed specifically for women.

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