Tampons or Pads - What is the Difference?
Published: 14th May, 2021 in: Health
Tampons and pads are two of the most popular products used for periods. Whilst there are many different types of menstrual products out there, tampons and pads are the most spoken about and well-known choices.
We talk you through what the difference between tampons and pads is, their pros and cons and a range of alternative menstrual products to help you make the right choice for you!
What are Tampons?
Tampons are small cylindrical bundles that can be inserted into the vagina in order to absorb the blood flow associated with menstruation. They are generally made of cotton, rayon or a mix of both.
A tampon should be inserted into your vagina using either an applicator or your fingers and should sit as far up as your fingers will allow. This ensures that it is inserted properly and will feel comfortable. If a tampon has been inserted properly you should not be able to feel it. There should also be a thin string hanging from the bottom of the tampon which is there to help with removal.
Tampons come in a range of sizes and absorbances in order to account for different levels of flow. The &Sisters range of tampons ranges from very light to heavy, with options to purchase an Eco-Applicator Tampons mixed pack for a varying flow. Many people find that their flow becomes heavier as their period progresses and therefore a different size tampon may be required at different times.
You can also choose between applicator and non-applicator tampons. Applicator tampons come with a tube that you insert into yourself in order to position the tampon in place. All tampon products will come with instructions on how to use them correctly.
Make sure to always read the supplied information leaflet before using as this will also tell you how often your tampon should be changed. Tampons should always be replaced at least every 8 hours otherwise you may be at risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome.
The Pros and Cons of Tampons
All sanitary products have a range of pros and cons. You may find one product that works for you or a mixture depending on your lifestyle and preferences.
The pros of tampons:
- Size: they are small in size making them easy to carry around with you when you’re on your period, or as a precaution so you’re never caught short
- Discrete: as tampons are inserted into your body, they are not visible. This is ideal if you need to wear a swimsuit or tight-fitting clothing.
- Comfort: when inserted correctly, you should not be able to feel a tampon. This makes them comfortable to wear.
- Exercise: tampons are the ideal choice for exercising on your period as you don’t have to worry about them moving around. They are also the only sanitary product that you can swim with.
The cons of tampons:
- Irritation: some tampons can cause irritation and may result in uncomfortable infections such as UTIs. Using tampons made from 100% organic cotton such as the &Sisters range and ensuring tampons are not worn for long periods of time can help to reduce the risk of irritation.
- Insertion: inserting a tampon can be tricky the first couple of times. This can make them uncomfortable to wear if not done properly. Once you have read the instructions and practised a few times however, you should be good to go!
- Toxic Shock Syndrome: although extremely rare, toxic shock syndrome can develop if tampons are left in too long. It is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the bacteria in your vagina overgrows. To reduce the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome you should change your tampon frequently (every 3-4 hours ideally) and use the lowest absorbency tampon you can.
What are Sanitary Pads?
Pads, or sanitary towels as they are often known, are designed to absorb menstrual blood as it leaves your body, rather than before as tampons do.
They stick to the lining of your knickers and are made from absorbent materials such as cotton or polymers. Just like tampons, they come in a variety of sizes and absorbency levels in order to meet the needs of different flow types. There are also specific sanitary pads for nighttime use that are thicker and more absorbent to help prevent and leakages.
The &Sisters Heavy Night Pads are perfect for nighttime use and heavy flow days. They feature a rib-weave design that helps to direct moisture away from the skin to the organic cotton core for maximum comfort and leak protection. All of the &Sisters products are completely free from chemicals and synthetic materials making them a great choice for your period.
As well as differing sizes and thicknesses for flow, you can also choose between winged and non-winged pads. Winged pads are just that; they have sticky wings that fold onto the underside of your knickers in order to secure the pad in place. Non-winged pads are simply secured via the sticky base of the pad.
&Sisters offer a wide range of sanitary pad products for varying flows, as well as a mixed pack of pads with wings.
The Pros and Cons of Pads
Just like tampons, pads may not be suitable for everyone and all activities. Take a look at the pros and cons to see if sanitary towels are the right choice for you.
The pros of pads:
- Ease of use: pads are super easy to use, simply unfurl and stick to your knickers to secure.
- Heavy period protection: pads are ideal for use overnight or for those with a particularly heavy flow. The larger surface area can absorb more fluid helping you to feel protected.
- Almost no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome: the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome due to wearing pads is extremely low. This makes it a great option if you are particularly prone to forgetting to change sanitary products frequently.
- No insertion: wearing a pad means that no insertion is required. This can be daunting for some people and so a pad may be a more comfortable and better option for them.
The cons of pads:
- Bulky/nappy-like feeling: some people complain that the pad feels bulky or like a nappy when worn. Some people also dislike the feeling of moisture on the pad. As pads are worn outside of the body they are more likely to be visible under certain clothing types.
- Restricts activity: pads are not appropriate for all activities, especially swimming for example. If you are undergoing strenuous activity or are going swimming a tampon may be the better option.
- Less secure: pads often shift out of place. This could cause them to become uncomfortable and could leak. Choosing pads with wings helps pads to stay in place.
- Underwear: you are not able to wear certain types of underwear when using pads. Thongs are a no-go.
Which Sanitary Product Should You Choose?
Choosing the right sanitary product for you is a personal thing. Tampons or pads? You could even use both depending on different circumstances.
Take a look at some of the times you may want to opt for either tampons or pads.
Use Tampons if…
- You are going swimming - tampons are one of the only sanitary products that will offer you protection during swimming, along with menstrual cups
- You are wearing tight fitting clothing and are worried about the visibility of a pad
- You are exercising - tampons are much less likely to move around during activity
Use Pads if…
- You often forget to change your tampon frequently - it can be extremely dangerous to leave a tampon in for long periods of time. Pads should also be changed frequently however you have a much lower risk of developing toxic shock syndrome
- You have a particularly heavy flow or want protection at night time - a night time pad can help to provide extra protection while you sleep
- You find tampons uncomfortable or difficult to use - tampons should be virtually undetectable when inserted correctly however it can take some getting used to so pads may be the way to go until you do
Are tampons safe? This is a question that often comes up and the answer is yes. Many people are worried about developing toxic shock syndrome if they use tampons but the reality is this is very rare. As long as tampons are inserted correctly and changed frequently there is no reason to question their safety.
Sanitary towels and pads are also safe to use.
When looking for period protection overnight, sanitary pads are often recommended. Many people ask if you can wear a tampon to bed and the answer is yes however, a sanitary pad may be more appropriate as you ideally don’t want to leave a tampon in any longer than 8 hours.
If you leave a tampon in overnight and do not change it within 8 hours you could be putting yourself at risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Comfort is key when it comes to your period. Cramps, mood swings and all the other symptoms are uncomfortable enough without having to deal with uncomfortable sanitary products too!
‘Are tampons comfortable?’ is one of the most common questions about period care. If worn correctly tampons should not be felt making them one of the most comfortable menstrual products available. Some people may have difficulty using tampons however meaning they are not inserted correctly. This can result in discomfort.
Sanitary pads on the other hand are known for having more issues with discomfort. They may come out of place (especially non-winged versions) and often thought of as bulky but sanitary pads are thinner than ever now. They use super absorbent materials to aid comfort and ensure protection is not compromised.
Sanitary products are essential however, in recent years their impact on the environment has been in the spotlight. A study by the Women's Environmental Network showed that the average woman will use over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime. Disposal of these menstrual products results in around 200,000 tonnes of waste every year. This is real cause for concern as menstrual products contain large amounts of plastic which can end up in our oceans.
Some sanitary pads contain up to 90% plastic. Tampons without applicators contain less plastic, however, those using applicators are often made out of plastic.
There are some environmentally friendly versions out there though! The &Sisters feminine care range uses 100% organic materials for their sanitary products; no plastic in sight. The cotton used to create the tampons and pads is sustainably grown without the use of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. It is purified using a chlorine-free process and their products are packaged in recyclable paper. Even their tampon applicators are made out of biodegradable cardboard to ensure their environmental impact is minimal.
Alternative Sanitary Products
Not convinced by either tampons or pads? There are a wide variety of alternative menstrual products you can try to find the perfect fit for you!
Menstrual cups are becoming more and more popular. Not only are many of them reusable, making them great for the environment, they are also comfortable and practical.
Menstrual cups are usually made out of flexible silicone or rubber and are designed to be inserted into your vagina in order to catch menstrual blood. They come in a range of sizes from small to large to account for different flow types.
The &Sisters Nüdie Period Cups are made from medical grade silicone and have a smooth finish for maximum comfort. They are 100% hypoallergenic and can be reused time and time again. Not only does this help the planet but it also helps to save you money on buying sanitary products.
The pros of menstrual cups:
- Better for the environment: simply empty, rinse and reuse
- Save money: no need to buy disposable period products every month
- Discreet: can be worn with anything without worrying about it being visible
- Exercise: you can exercise and swim whilst wearing a menstrual cup without worrying about it moving around or leaking
- Sex: you can wear a menstrual cup during sex
- Comfort: when inserted properly you won’t be able to feel the cup
- pH: they don’t disturb your vaginal pH making infection and irritation less likely
The cons of menstrual cups:
- Mess: in order to remove a menstrual cup you need to use your fingers. This can be messy if the cup is full. You will also need to thoroughly clean your cup between uses.
- Leaks: if the cup becomes full, it may overflow and result in leakages. By ensuring you choose the right size cup for your flow you can help to prevent this.
- Insertion: some people find menstrual cups difficult to insert however, they will come with instructions and after a few practices it should be second nature.
- IUD: for those with an IUD, a menstrual cup can pull on the strings and cause it to become dislodged therefore it is not the best option for those using the IUD method of contraception.
- Toxic Shock Syndrome: when not used properly there is a small risk of developing toxic shock syndrome. Ensure that you empty and thoroughly clean your menstrual cup frequently to prevent this.
- Latex: some menstrual cups may contain latex so make sure to check the label before use if you have a latex allergy.
Period pants are made from absorbent material that can hold as much blood as a couple of pads or tampons worth. This will depend on the manufacturer. They are made to look like normal pants but they have extra layers of material that absorbs the blood. They are a great option for those who don’t want to insert anything into their body and feel that pads aren’t secure enough for them.
The pros of period pants:
- Reusable: period pants can simply be thrown in the wash after use and worn again and again. This can help to save you money and it’s better for the environment.
- Secure: period pants offer full coverage protection helping you to feel less prone to leakages. They are not ideal for heavy flows however.
- Extra protection: many people choose to wear period pants on top of other sanitary products on heavy flow days or at night time to add an extra layer of protection.
- Choice of styles: you can buy period pants in a wide range of styles and colours so you can find the perfect fit for you.
The cons of period pants
- Cost: period pants are more expensive than regular underwear generally and you will need multiple pairs in order to accommodate for your whole period. This could result in a relatively large upfront cost but their reusable nature will help you to save money in the long run.
- Heavy Flow: period pants are not recommended for those with a heavy flow; they may be prone to leakages.
- Practicality: period pants still need to be changed on a regular basis so if you are on the go they might not be ideal as you will be unable to wash them right away and would have to carry them with you.
Reusable Sanitary Pads
Reusable sanitary pads are just like regular pads except they are generally made from cloth or fabric meaning they can be washed and reused.
The pros of reusable sanitary pads:
- Environmentally friendly: because they can be reused, they are less likely to end up in landfills and are therefore better for the environment.
- Cost-effective: by using a reusable pad you won’t have to buy disposable sanitary products every month helping you to save money.
- Breathable: the fabric material means they are more breathable than disposable pads.
- Flexible: they are generally thinner and more flexible than regular pads making them comfortable to wear and more discrete.
The cons of reusable sanitary pads:
- Initial cost: the initial cost of buying reusable pads is much higher than buying traditional sanitary products however you will recuperate this cost with continued use.
- Stains: reusable pads are prone to staining if not rinsed right away.
- On the go: reusable pads can be messy and impractical to change when out and about. They will need to be rinsed right away to avoid stains and you will have to carry a soiled pad around with you until it can be washed.
A period sponge is a small sponge that is inserted into the vagina like a tampon to absorb menstrual blood before it leaves the body. Only natural sea sponge tampons should be used. Some retailers sell synthetic versions however these are not good for the body.
The pros of period sponges:
- Reusable to a point: sea sponge tampons are reusable up to around 6 months if properly cared for. This helps to reduce your environmental impact and save you money.
- Less irritation: made from natural materials, period sponges are less likely to cause irritation or drying.
- Cost-effective: they are less expensive to purchase than many other reusable period products.
The cons of period sponges:
- Not sterile: they are not sterile therefore you could introduce bacteria into your body which could result in toxic shock syndrome if not changed and cleaned frequently
- Frequent changing: they hold less blood than many other sanitary products and will therefore need to be changed more (around every 3 hours)
- Mess: they need to be removed with your fingers so they can be quite messy and the sponge may rip or pull apart during removal
- Cleaning: they need to be thoroughly cleaned and dried before use so you may need a few sponges to get through the day and it may be hard to change them when out and about
Explore the full range of &Sisters period products to find the perfect option for you! We also offer a range of feminine care and hygiene products at affordable rates at our in-branch and online pharmacies.