Period products have come a long way in the last decade. What used to be a choice between oversized and bulky pads or dry as dirt tampons is now period-proof underwear in stylish cuts and colours, reusable pads and life-changing menstrual cups.
But while it feels like we went from the latter to the current offerings overnight, many of these sustainable alternatives have been in the making for decades, if not centuries. And if we’re talking about the reusable pad, well that was the OG of sustainable period products.
In researching this piece I took to the internet to see what exactly is the history of women’s menstrual products. Alas, I offer you a brief history of menstrual products.
Ancient times – According to Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, women in Egypt used papyrus as tampons. In ancient Japan, women turned to paper to absorb blood, while the Native Americans made pads out of moss and buffalo skin.
Early 1800s – Women used homemade menstrual cloths made out of flannel or woven fabric.
1890 – New tools like the Ladies Elastic Doily Belt started to appear in catalogues. You’d attach homemade pads to the silk and elastic belt.
1896 – The first disposable pads hit the market, inspired by bandage pads used in the war to stop excessive bleeding.
By 1915 – Patents were taken out for the first menstrual cups (generally made of aluminum or hard rubber), rubber pants (literally bloomers or underwear lined with rubber), and Lister’s towels (a precursor to maxi pads).
1920 – Kotex sells the first pad made of cellulose, a cotton-acrylic blend.
Somewhere between 1930-1956 – Leona Chalmers updated the menstrual cup, using softer materials to make a product more like the product available today. These weren’t a huge success “because most people prefer not to touch anything bloody, even though apparently they’re much more effective”.
1931 – A man named Earle Hass creates the modern tampon, made out of cardboard and cotton and complete with an applicator.
1933 – A woman named Gertrude Tendrich buys the patent and founds Tampax. “Tampons were advertised for married women only, as people thought that women could lose their virginity if they inserted one.”
1969 – Stayfree puts out the first pads with an adhesive strip, which was a game-changer, and put an end to menstrual belts – thank the lord.
1980s – Versions of modern maxi pads and pads with wings hit the market.
2020 – Modern period-proof underwear hits the market, reusable pads make a comeback and menstrual cups are reinvented.
Today’s offering is certainly the most inclusive, with disposables and reusables of many types being commonplace in the market. So if you’re looking to reduce your impact and avoid disposable period products, you’re well and truly covered. Here’s my top picks for sustainable period products.
Say goodbye to your monthly disposables, Modibodi provides period-, leak- and sweat-proof performance underwear. The brand uses high quality, tech-savvy fabrics (like bamboo, Merino Perform Wool and Microfibre) and the latest in breathable, antimicrobial fibres with a stain resistant lining for modern periods and leaks. Phew! On a sustainability level, moving away from disposables is highly favourable and these innovative undies are at the forefront of that. To that I say 100% #yasss. Shop Modibodi here.
If you’re keen to stick with something a little more traditional, Hannahpad has your undies covered. Hannahpad is made from certified organic cotton that does not contain chemicals such as bleach, dioxin, fragrances and formaldehyde. It is also washable and reusable – meaning less waste in landfills and waterways, healthier on your body and is a cost-effective solution that saves money in the long run. As a bonus, the reusable pads come in really lovely patterns to brighten up your day.
Swap out about 36 tampons every period for one cup you can use all year round. The Hello Cup is a menstrual cup available in inclusive sizing from extra small to large. Hello Cups are made from the highest quality medical-grade TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) available. Hypoallergenic and recyclable, they contain no nasties and are free of silicone, rubber, latex, BPAs and heavy metals. The cups have a unique smooth design and internal rim, and are available in a number of colours. The brand also has reusable liners for lighter period days. The Hello Cup is made in New Zealand.
Available in two sizes, Myoni cup is the simple, funky, environmentally friendly and ethical way to manage (and even embrace) your period. The menstrual cup is made from safe medical grade material featuring a sleek design for easy insertion and unique pouring lip, making it easy to empty. It comes with a cute little neoprene case to keep clean between periods. The Myoni cup is ethically made in Australia with love. The brand is committed to giving 50% of profits to community partners.
JuJu has you covered for all sustainable periods, with clear, no fuss menstrual cups available in four different sizes, reusable pads and liners, and period-proof underwear. The products are made in Australia and JuJu’s packaging is designed and printed locally, using recyclable paper and plant-based inks. Only good juju here.