Sanitary Products for Your Period

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 08, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Today, girls starting their periods have a lot of choices in sanitary products: disposable pads, tampons, even menstrual cups. Try out several options to find out what's most comfortable for you. Soon you'll have a preference. Here's some basic information on your choices. 

Disposable Sanitary Pads

Pads for your period come in various thicknesses and absorbency. You can purchase them with or without wings that fold over to prevent leaking.

Select a pad based on how heavy your period is and what kind of clothes you’ll be wearing. You may want to buy two types of pads: a thicker one for your heavy flow days, and a thin one for the days you're just spotting. Be sure to change your pad before it is saturated. Most girls need to change pads every few hours.


Tampons are cotton tubes with a string on one end. You insert them into your vagina to absorb menstrual blood. The string helps you remove the tampon. Many tampons come with plastic or cardboard applicators to help you insert them. Some don't have applicators, and you use your finger to insert them. If you have a hard time, talk to your mom, sister, or a trusted adult about how to insert them.

Tampons generally come in light, regular, and super thickness. Often girls start with light or slender tampons. But the size you choose should depend on how heavy your period is.

It's important to change tampons at least once every four to eight hours. Insert a new tampon before going to bed and remove it as soon as you wake up. Leaving a tampon in too long increases your risk of toxic shock syndrome, which is caused by bacteria.

Menstrual Cups and Cloth Pads

You don’t have to use the same sanitary products your mom used when she was young. “Besides tampons and pads, which are the most commonly used sanitary product, menstrual cups ... and non-disposable cloth pads are other alternatives,” says Sharon Horesh Bergquist, MD, Emory School of Medicine, Atlanta.

A menstrual cup is made of silicone or rubber. You place it in your vagina to hold the blood. These cups can be disposable or reusable. Reusable menstrual cups should be emptied every 6 to 12 hours. Single-use cups are also available and should be removed and thrown away after 12 hours.

Washable cloth pads are the traditional method that women have used for centuries during their period. You can purchase them online or make your own.

Which Sanitary Product Is Right for You?

“Your lifestyle and activities will dictate which product is right for you,” says Atlanta pediatrician Deborah Pollack, MD. “If you swim or participate in other sports, tampons would make the most sense. Slender tampons are great to start with.”

If you're uncomfortable putting something in your vagina, pads are a great way to start. Try out a couple of different types of sanitary products to see what feels best. And, remember, talk to your mother, your older sister, or your doctor or counselor about any concerns.

Show Sources


Sharon Horesh Bergquist, MD, assistant professor of general internal medicine, at Emory School of Medicine, Atlanta.

Deborah Pollack, MD, Atlanta.

Children’s Hospital Boston, Center for Young Women’s Health: “Alternative and Environmentally Friendly Menstrual Products” and “Feminine Protection.”

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