The Lowdown on Menstrual Panties - A question of Safety or Convenience?

In recent years, the amount of choice women have to manage their menstrual hygiene needs have multiplied. The choice is no longer about pads vs tampons - the sheer array of products available on the market today mean that we as consumers need to be more aware and educated in order to make the choices that are right for us and our health.

This is what led me to start researching menstrual panties. I had been using menstrual cups for several years, but was looking for a complementary product to manage leaks during the first few days. I thought menstrual panties would be the perfect product for me, but I couldn't help wondering how companies managed to make a panty so absorbent, and hygienic while all the while calling it organic and safe. I wondered if it was just the marketing pitch or had they actually made a scientific breakthrough that made cotton super absorbent and washable without any added chemicals! I started reading about what actually makes period panties absorb the ‘equivalent of 2 tampons’ and what I found out was far from being comforting.

The science behind absorbency in menstrual panties

First things first - the basic structure of a menstrual panty. In the majority of brands, it is made up of three layers -

  • The first layer is a water repellent layer that is closest to the skin. This makes sure that any wetness is immediately absorbed and stays inside while the layer that touches the skin remains dry.

  • The second layer is the absorbent layer or the middle layer that sucks up the menstrual blood

  • The third layer is the outside waterproof layer that makes sure the absorbed menstrual blood remains in the panty and does not leak outside of it.

In addition to this structure, manufacturers also add an antimicrobial agent, in some cases silver or zinc to make sure bacteria present in the menstrual blood does not multiply in the warm humid atmosphere, especially as they are marketed as wearable for upto 12 hours. The antimicrobial agent also makes sure that smells are reduced and kept to the minimum.

Sustainable does not necessarily mean organic

Many of these brands use science and technology to invent ways and methods to make menstrual hygiene products easier and more accessible to women. Many of these products are doing a great service in addressing issues such as period poverty and shame around menstruation. However, as consumers, it is equally important to know whether the elements present in these products have harmful effects on health. The vaginal and vulval tissues are extremely absorbent and sensitive to the environment, In addition, the vaginal microbiome is a delicate balance of good bacteria that ensures a healthy acid/alkaline balance.

It is important to stay aware of the chemicals that may be present in some of these products, that may also, in some cases, be certified bio or organic.

Recently, there was a controversy around the Thinx brand, the leader in menstrual panties, containing PFAS in their period panties. This was only discovered when a service-minded blogger decided to test Thinx products for PFAS after asking the company for information about the same and receiving none. The results showed that the panties contained a high percentage of PFAS, a substance with proven links to endocrine disorders, hampers the functioning of the immune system, and could cause cancers and affect fertility. This was denied by Thinx, and their marketing material today mentions that it does not contain PFAS but does contain silver and copper iodes for odour proofing their products.