Are some period management techniques and products healthier than others? Would you discourage vagina-havers from any particular methods?
— asked by Emily from Utah
The bottom line
Avoid sea sponges, makeup sponges and homemade crocheted tampons.
Tell me more
Menstrual hygiene is a very personal choice. Some women hate the feel of tampons or menstrual cups, and others despise pads. Using something that is reusable matters to some and disposable is essential for others. There are many permutations and combinations of opinions, beliefs, blood flow and experience that go into choosing a menstrual product.
The issue with tampons and menstrual cups is they are both associated with menstrual toxic shock syndrome (m.T.S.S.). Fortunately, the risk with modern menstrual products is very low — about 1 out of every 100,000 women of reproductive age. Menstrual cups should not be considered safer m.T.S.S.-wise compared with tampons. As far as tampons are concerned, cotton does not appear safer than cotton blends. One key factor in m.T.S.S. is the introduction of air with insertion and that happens with both cups and tampons.
Pads and period underwear have no risk of m.T.S.S., but some women find external products irritating.
Sea sponges will introduce a lot of air, can’t be cleaned appropriately and when evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, dirt and debris was found in them. Makeup sponges are highly absorbent, but are not meant for this purpose and so the m.T.S.S. risk is unknown. (Many of my emergency medicine colleagues tell me they routinely retrieve rogue makeup sponges from the vagina.) Crocheted tampons have not been studied safety-wise.
Beware of all these so-called period hacks.
This question is part of a series of questions on Women’s Health. Read all the questions, and Dr. Gunter’s responses here.