Before you continue reading, please be aware that this post acknowledges the existence of periods and some of the details associated with having a period. If you are not part of the 51% of the menstruating population this might not be personally applicable, but feel free to read on. Product innovation can be exciting even when it’s not for ones own benefit. And this is not just an innovative product, it’s a new product category.
I heard about THINX period panties from a good friend (thanks Carrie!). I had never even considered an alternative to tampons and pads. But I liked the idea of reducing my waste. I started using OB tampons years ago partly for that reason. So I thought I’d give the THINX panties a try.
ABOUT THE PRODUCT
THINX period panties are underwear that you can wear while you’re bleeding instead of, or in addition to, tampons, pads, liners, cups etc. I only used them to replace period products, but I know people also sometimes wear THINX as a backup in addition to tampons. They have 4 layers of protection: a leak-resistant barrier, super-absorbent fiber, anti-microbial lining and moisture-wicking cotton. Unfortunately not organic cotton. They offer nine different styles, which vary by absorbency and range from boyshorts to thongs. Some are for heavier days and can absorb multiple tampons-worth and some are for lighter days. They seem to offer two colors: black and another that varies. I was able to snag a red pair earlier this year. Fear not, the lining is solid black on all of them so you still don’t have to worry about leaking or discoloration.
The reasons I am excited about these from the get-go are that they are easy to market with no real explanation needed on how to use them, and they are accessible to everyone who can wear underwear. I consider these a new product category with the potential to replace existing products in the market. I don’t foresee pads and tampons going away and I imagine reusable sanitary items are not completely new, but I am excited about the potential these have. I can see a time when these become the norm and tampons and pads become the exception.
The first time I used them it was a little weird. I am primarily a tampon user and the idea of just letting it flow was a bit scary. But after the first month or two I got used to it. In fact, I have now come to fully appreciate them because when I’m out and about I don’t have to worry about changing my tampon every few hours. Knott’s Berry Farm with two kids in tow on my period? No problem! Volunteering at my kid’s school for hours with no bathroom break in sight? No problem! Airplane ride with bathrooms you avoid at all costs? No problem! And bonus – when using the toilet with young kids, no curious kid at crotch height asking what that string is.
I started off with the hiphugger and they are surprisingly comfortable. They don’t feel bulky or thick in the crotch; not too tight but fitted. You just put them on and go. After using them, I rinse them in the shower, hang them up and then wash them with my other delicates, hang dry. I’m using them about once, maybe twice per cycle if I’m on top of my laundry. That’s pretty much it. Easy peasy.
Will these save you money? My theory was that even for people who could care less about the environment or who don’t have the luxury of spending a premium on covering such a basic need, the cost savings might be appealing. THINX Period panties cost $32.
I have four pairs and on average use 5 pairs per cycle. Putting taxes and shipping aside, when comparing my monthly spending on liners and tampons, versus supplementing with THINX panties (since they are not completely getting rid of my need for tampons and pads), I’ve estimated that it would take a little less than 15 months for me to start seeing a cost savings.
There are many alternatives to using traditional pads and tampons, none of which I have tried. If you’re interested in reading more click here to read on Wellness Mama blog about other options. Additionally, organic and unbleached tampons and pads are now more widely available, including at Target. While they are made up of organic cotton and many of them have claims of empowering women and giving back to girls (I didn’t find out how or where), they are still made with plastic applicators and have plastic wrappings. So I don’t think they’re quite there yet in terms of helping the environment or being considered “green” despite their subtle packaging hints.
Spending several minutes going through their website you quickly realize the complexities of menstruation. THINX opens the door to this significant part of our lives through a wide variety of articles on topics including an open letter about the show GIRLS, menstruating while trans, how to make DIY tampon earrings, infertility and bleeding, women of color and body hair, the myth of a normal sex drive… I could go on and on because there are so many and they are all equally fascinating. THINX is a conduit for social awareness for women’s issues. Earlier this year they started a grassroots campaign to fight for menstrual equality, they have partnered with a variety of organizations to bring education on related topics to students, and they donate menstrual products to groups worldwide. I honestly never considered that something so basic as a period could be a barrier to so many people who have them. If you’re interested in reading more or helping out, please visit their website.
In addition to all of this behind-the-scenes work, they use women with a variety of body shapes and sizes to model their products. They are changemakers and forward-thinkers.
WHAT PROBLEM DO THEY HELP SOLVE?
As I touched on above, there are social issues surrounding menstruation. These products help to address some of those. According to THINX “the United Nations declared menstrual hygiene a public health issue in 2014.” However, for this review I’m focusing on what I see as the two main environmental concerns: waste and our health.
Depending on the start date and menopause, women can menstruate for up to 30 or 40 years. Doing the math, that can equate to 360-480 periods. There are estimates that women use and dispose of over 10,000 pads and tampons in their lifetime.
Up to 90% of pads are made from plastic materials and not disposable. Tampons are made from cotton and rayon and can take up to 500 years to decompose. That means we’re sitting on every single tampon and pad that’s ever been created and disposed of. All of our disposable sanitary products will out live us and generations down the line. There is a children’s book we have with a page of a mother pushing her daughter on a swing under a huge oak tree that reads “I want to show you what was here before you were born.” Sadly those tampons will outlive the oak tree.
Another environmental concern that is apparently up for debate is how to dispose of tampons. I am a flusher. I never knew there was another way. I read the notices on public restrooms and think of course I wouldn’t dispose of my pad in the toilet. But a tampon is so small and sometimes it’s not even an option, if you know what I mean. But upon reading into it, the arguments against flushing make sense. Tampons are made from absorbent materials therefore making it difficult for them to breakdown in water. They might also clog up toilets causing plumbing issues (although in my twenty-five plus years of flushing I’m not totally convinced of that). Either way, they take a while to decompose and possibly longer if sitting in water.
I came across a website that appears to be a college project, but it’s a nice visual of the life cycle of tampons.
The biggest health concern associated with tampons is TSS (toxic shock syndrome). I remember my mother warning me about it when I was a teenager. She had a friend who suffered from it but luckily didn’t die. Fun fact: the bacteria that causes TSS can also lead to the flesh-eating disease. Putting fun facts aside, the instances of TSS are super rare so almost none of us have to worry about it.
And then like everything we use, there are the chemicals. Tampons are considered a “medical device” so manufacturers are not required to disclose what they are made from (similar to the ingredients in cosmetics, as I discussed in my W3LL People review.) A CNN article raises concerns by consumer groups about various chemicals found in the products, such as chloromethane, styrene and dioxins. We are exposed to many of these chemicals every day in small doses and the companies continue to state their products are safe. After some very brief research, I’m not convinced this is a big area for concern but still something to consider. It’s probably good policy to try to reduce our exposure to added chemicals whenever we can.
On the FDA website, as well as on every product sold, they warn consumers to use the lowest absorbency possible. After reading about TSS and how it was the super absorbent materials that caused it, this isn’t exactly reassuring. I pretty much have the opposite strategy – use the highest absorbent tampon possible, especially in instances like going to sleep or on an airplane ride. Right on the FDA website it says “if you need coverage for longer than 8 hours, such as when sleeping, choose a pad instead.” That is a record scratch moment. Wait, what? Aside from the fact that I don’t sleep for more than 8 hours, who doesn’t use a tampon through the night? If I have any say in it, I try to get up as little as possible at night. Thus super plus tampons. Probably the only time I use those out of the assorted box. That or when I run out of my super size. I am dumbfounded after researching for this product review how much I thought I knew about periods and menstrual products, and how much was wrong.
DO I RECOMMEND THEM?
I do for a number of reasons. They are nice and comfortable. They will eventually save me money. I mean, how many green products can actually make that claim? I can be lazy about my menstrual cycle and not worry about changing my tampons in public restrooms if I’m out. I don’t have to worry about carrying products with me or running out. I can feel less guilty about all of the waste my period is creating. Less period trash to worry about spilling out of my trashcan. Less chemicals and paranoia about TSS to stress about. No explaining tampon strings to my kids. In a nutshell, yeah, these are a bloody good idea.