Not all period products are vegan. Here’s our Ultimate Guide for everything you need to know about cruelty-free and sustainable menstrual products.
Standard period products are, unfortunately, not vegan. One reason is that they are not cruelty-free, meaning that they are tested on animals. As they are considered ‘medical devices’, they must be tested on animals to deem it safe for human use.
Fortunately, there are vegan brands out there that produce sustainable, biodegradable, plastic-, chemical-, and cruelty-free period products.
Sanitary pads and pantyliners
A sanitary pad is a thin strip of padding that you stick onto your underwear to hold it in place. It is made of an absorbent material that soaks up the menstrual fluid during your cycle. These come in various shapes and sizes, for the heaviest to the lightest of flows, and some have wings to ensure they won’t move. In contrast, a pantyliner is a thinner and smaller type of pad that is appropriate for lighter flows.
They protect you from staining your underwear, you do not need to insert anything, you will not get toxic shock syndrome, and it is safe for overnight use. However, there are drawbacks: the pad could be visible through your pants, you will have less freedom to do physical activities like swimming, it could wrinkle up or shift when moving, and it is not compatible with underwear like thongs or G-strings.
While conventional sanitary pads are not considered sustainable, as they are single-use, they also contain chemicals and are not cruelty-free.
However, vegan sanitary pads and panty liners are made with certified organic materials like cotton or bamboo, which decompose in landfills and are packaged in recyclable, biodegradable and compostable materials. They are free from animal products, plastic, fragrance and dyes, and certified cruelty-free. The companies that sell the products will be vegan-certified and FDA-approved, and use locally-sourced ingredients.
Tampons are small tubes of cotton wool that are inserted into the vagina. They soak up menstrual blood before it leaves your body. One type comes with an applicator for insertion, while the other does not (you use your fingers instead); however, both have a string at the end to pull and remove it. Tampons also come in a variety of sizes to cater to any amount of menstrual flow.
The main benefits of tampons are that you have the freedom to do whatever physical activity you desire — including swimming — you do not have to worry about it being visible, it is easy to remove, travel-friendly, and, once inserted correctly, you cannot feel it.
But that also means there is a slight chance you may forget about it and lose track of the last time you replaced it. Also, it may be difficult to insert the tampon the first time around; you cannot use it overnight as it may irritate and dry out your vagina, and there is an increased risk of toxic shock syndrome when in use.
However, if you stay away from the super-absorbent tampons, it will decrease the chances of that happening. There is also a notion that tampons may get ‘lost’, which is very unlikely as the opening of the cervix is too tiny for it to get through. On the unlikely chance the string breaks; the tampon will still be easy to remove by inserting your finger and thumb and pulling it out.
Like sanitary pads, standard tampons are also deemed unsustainable and non-vegan because of them being single-use, tested on animals and containing chemicals. And like pads, there are vegan alternatives that are also free from chemicals and made from certified organic materials, with recyclable and biodegradable packaging, and come with applicators made from the same safe materials. They are also certified cruelty-free.
A menstrual cup is a product that is made from silicone and is inserted inside your vagina. Rather than absorb, the cup collects the fluid, which you then dump out. Unlike pads and tampons, once the liquid is discarded, you can wash and reuse the cup.
Some advantages include is that the menstrual cup is affordable, relatively safer than tampons, and holds more blood than pads or tampons. You can go up to 12 hours before dumping out the fluid, it can be worn with IUD, there is less odour, it isn’t felt during sex, and your vaginal pH and beneficial bacteria will not be disturbed. When inserted correctly, there is no chance of leakage, and if you have used a diaphragm for birth control, it will be easy to insert a menstrual cup.
But it is messier than tampons or pads as you could spill the contents, and inserting and removing the cup could be challenging the first time around. Failure to wash the cup can increase chances of infection, your vagina could get irritated, and you could get an allergic reaction to the silicone or rubber material used to make the cup. The fact that the cup must be sterilised in boiling water can be seen as too much maintenance for some.
Menstrual cups are considered as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly alternative as they are reusable. They can last up to a decade as they are made of medical-grade silicone, rubber or latex. According to a study published in medical journal The Lancet Public Health, a woman would save an estimated 95% of what she would usually spend on pads, and 93% on tampons, in ten years. And one cup can replace up to 528 pads or tampons — that’s up to two years’ worth.
Vegan alternatives are made from medical-grade silicone, thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) or fairtrade rubber, which are considered safe for the body, contain no animal byproducts or animal-derived ingredients. They generally do not contain chemicals like BPA, phthalates, or PFAS, are non-GMO, and are not tested on animals.
Like its name, period underwear, also known as panties or pants, is a garment that absorbs the blood. You do not need any of the other products mentioned, but you may want to use a tampon, menstrual cup or disc for extra security. Just like the menstrual cup, it is reusable, and you can toss it into the washing machine to use the next day. There are also period bottoms available, which come in leggings or even bikini sets and one-piece swimwear — the possibilities are endless.
It is thinner than pads, discreet, offers you 12-hour protection, and can last for two years. You can bleed freely, it’s travel-friendly, and it will stay in place and can be worn overnight. Period underwear also comes in a variety of sets to accommodate for any flow. But the chances of an odour are high; there are limited styles, it is an expensive purchase, and it’s high maintenance, as it has to be washed and dried after every use, and the more you wash it, the less absorbent it will become.
Period underwear is also seen as a great environmentally-friendly alternative to standard menstrual products as they are reusable — they can replace hundreds of disposable menstrual products, and up to two or four tampons per use. Vegan alternatives are made from cotton and bamboo; they are also cruelty-free and chemical-free.
What period product is not vegan?
While the menstrual disc is similar to the menstrual cup, which also collects blood, this period product is not reusable. It must be discarded after every use, making it an unsustainable option.
Fortunately, there is an unlimited range of vegan period products available that you can buy that cost the same as their non-vegan counterparts.