Although more than half the world’s population has to deal with them on a monthly basis, menstrual periods aren’t often discussed — nor is their effect on menstruators’ wallets. Purchasing pads, tampons and other flow-absorbing devices is a financial burden most men don’t have to worry about, and those expenses can really add up over time.
What’s worse, since they’re considered “luxury” products, pads and tampons are ineligible for the tax-exempt status granted to most other necessities, like groceries, in the majority of the United States. And while average expenditure estimates on period products vary significantly, it’s not hard to see that menstruating is, under this model, pretty darn expensive.
Let’s say you buy one box of tampons every two months at $7 a box. Let’s also say you menstruate for 40 years, between the ages of 12 and 52. The math doesn’t lie: $7 a box x 6 boxes a year x 40 years = $1,680 over a lifetime. And since most people rely on a variety of different menstruation fixes — pads and liners in addition to tampons, for example — the figure is a bare minimum.
Not to mention the fact that pads and tampons create an incredible amount of waste, which is less than less than ideal for our planet. Case in point: The average consumer will use between 12,000 and 16,000 disposable period products over the course of a lifetime, per reusable pad company Gladrags. (That’s at an estimated cost of between $2,333 and $3,111.)
There’s gotta be a better way. Right?
Thinx and Other Period-Friendly Panties: The Way of the Future?
Thinx has several panty options, including this high-waisted style. Photo courtesy of Thinx.
One way to ditch the extra expense and waste of traditional pads and tampons? Build their absorbency right into the undergarments usually worn with them. That’s the idea behind THINX, a period underwear company started in 2014 — and a host of other brands like Dear Kate and Knix Leakproof.
For this article, we’ll focus primarily on THINX, one of the most popular options on the burgeoning period-panty market. THINX products start at $24 and go up to $39 per pair, allegedly holding anywhere between one-half and two tampons’ worth of fluid. The company also sells other period-friendly garments at higher prices, like training shorts ($65) and leotards ($60).
So: They’re not cheap. But considering the cost of the pads and tampons we’re throwing away almost immediately, they could be worth it.
But do they actually work? And are they comfortable? Will they hold up to multiple menstrual periods without getting smelly or stained?
We spoke to a variety of THINX users to find out.
These Folks Tried THINX, and Here’s What They… Think
The Thinx line also includes period-friendly activewear, like this leotard. Photo courtesy of Thinx
We’ll start with the good news: All of our correspondents reported that their THINX were useful, reliable, odor-free, and that they held up well in the wash — even when they ignored the instructions to hand wash and tossed them in a regular cycle.
And the bad news, you ask? THINX might not be viable as a total period product replacement. It all depends on your body, of course, but most of our sources seemed skeptical about using them without any other flow-blocking measures.
So period panties might not be able to totally offset the expense of disposables. But they can still serve some very valuable purposes, penny-pinching included.
They Control Leaks — and Stop Stains from Breaking Your Budget
Clinical psychologist Allison He Glickman, 29, of San Francisco was sick and tired of trashing perfectly good underwear, pajama, and bedsheets “as a result of “the exuberance of [her] menses.”
“I thought that Thinx panties could provide a backup to my other hardworking menstrual products,” she writes in an email.
After all, trashing all those stained items cost her tons over time. She estimates she was spending about $136 per year on pads and tampons, and an additional $50 or so per year on underwear replacements.
So she made a one-time purchase of $42 on two pairs of THINX — and was delighted when the company sent her four pairs by accident. Although she doesn’t use the panties as a total replacement for pads and tampons, they do relieve her anxiety about ruining her underwear and sheets.
Depending on where she is in her cycle, she might use them alone or in conjunction with a tampon. Either way, she says, they’re “worth every penny. I actually bought some for my sister and best friend too!”
They Can Make Transitioning Easier
THINX markets their products towards “people with periods” — language that piqued the interest of menstruating transgender person Zo Dikitsas, 25, who received their first pair of THINX as a Christmas present from a friend and found the product immensely helpful.
“Tampons make me feel more dysphoric and also hurt a little bit once I started to take testosterone,” says Dikitsas, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. “Pads didn’t work out so well because they slide around in my boxer briefs and didn’t effectively catch the blood from my period.”
Plus, transitioning meant that Dikitsas’ public bathroom options weren’t usually equipped with tampon machines — and that dose of testosterone meant the bleeding was unpredictable. “I would realize I was on my period and try to improvise with toilet paper,” Dikitsas says, before “driving around bleeding trying to run and go get some tampons last minute.”
They’re Great for Sleeping In
Photographer Amanda Shields, 31, originally purchased THINX so she wouldn’t have to sleep with uncomfortable pads. She estimates she was spending about $300 per year on disposable devices.
As it turned out, the underwear worked for her not just overnight, but all the time. “They are super comfortable,” the Michigan woman says, reporting that they stay dry and feel like normal underwear. And unlike most of our other sources, Shields finds she’s often able to use them on their own. “I think they work as well, if not better, than advertised,” she says. “I can usually get away with mine all day even on a moderate flow day with no other products.”
Thinking Twice? Try Other Period Alternatives
Many consumers swear by menstrual cups, but some find them hard to properly place, or uncomfortable. Olga Polishko/Getty Images
While it’s clear that THINX can be a helpful tool, they may not be right for you. But there are a variety of other period-product alternatives that may be more cost-effective, eco-friendly or comfortable.
The Diva Cup and Other Menstrual Cups
The Diva Cup, and other menstrual cups like it, is one well-known device that promises monetary savings as well as waste reduction. Many consumers swear by them. But some people — myself included — find them hard to properly place or uncomfortable, and having to boil the cup to clean it can be inconvenient and awkward.
The Penny Hoarder staffer Carson Kohler thought the cup-cleaning process sounded like a hassle, and she wasn’t convinced that period panties wouldn’t feel like pads. But she was frustrated by the amount she was spending on tampons and panty liners and conscious of how those disposables were piling up in a landfill.
Menstrual Discs, Including Flex
So when an ad (and discount trial code) for Flex menstrual discs popped up on her social-media feed, she decided to give them a shot. And while they’re actually more expensive than her previous period solution, she hasn’t looked back since.
Before starting with Flex, she estimates she spent about $84 per year on tampons alone, not counting other expenses associated with her period. After her discounted trial box, she signed up for a 24-pack quarterly subscription, which costs $35 a shipment, or $140 per year.
Despite the added expense, Kohler writes, “It’s worth it.” The Flex product is much more eco-friendly, only requires two daily changes, and — best of all — comes with the convenience of delivery.
“It comes to my door every three months,” Kohler says, “so I don’t worry about… rush[ing] to CVS late at night because I have no supplies.” Because it’s… well, flexible enough to move with the body and not as drying as tampons, Flex says the cup may help those with serious cramps and chronic infections feel more comfortable during menstruation.
Finally, don’t forget that the lowest-tech option can also be one of the best in terms of both monetary and planetary saving. Although newfangled options like GladRags and Lunapads have flooded the menstrual market, reusable cloth pads have been used for centuries — and maybe washing bloody fabric is better than dumping $1,700 or more in the trash.