Alternative menstrual hygiene products


Last week, I wrote about the ongoing situation related to period poverty in Sri Lanka, with many girls not going to school during their periods because they cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins – the most commonly used hygiene product. 

This is because the prices of pads have increased due to the ongoing economic and forex crisis in the country. In this article, you will find alternative menstrual hygiene products that can help women with their menstrual hygiene management, allowing them to participate in daily activities, and especially, allowing girls to attend school regularly. 


What is menstrual hygiene management?


The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme 2012 defines menstrual hygiene management as follows: “Women and adolescent girls are using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. They understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear.”


Sanitary napkins


Sanitary napkins have been around commercially for over a hundred years, and are probably the most commonly used menstrual hygiene products in the world. The nature of these pads is that they can only be used once and need to be disposed of. Hence, the lifetime cost of a packet or two used each month adds up, and with the ongoing economic crisis, it is no surprise that families are struggling to afford sanitary napkins. At the same time, because of the wastage, pads are not really environmentally friendly.




These are products that need to be inserted into the vaginal canal. While this can be useful to many girls and women, they can also rack up a significant lifetime cost, especially considering it is only safe to wear a tampon for up to four hours, after which one can run the risk of experiencing toxic shock syndrome. For schoolgirls, it might be difficult to dispose of used tampons in school easily every four hours. 


Reusable/cloth sanitary napkin


These are similar to pads. However, they are made of cloth and are made to be washed and reused. One can have a couple of these and cycle between them during one period. These can be used for up to two to five years, which means the cost of usage is significantly low, and there is also not a big impact on the environment. 

The downside is that it is important to find cloth pads made of good material so that it won’t easily chafe the skin, and it needs to be washed properly to avoid bacterial build-up that could lead to infections. Nevertheless, this could be a good cost-effective solution for many who cannot afford to buy pads monthly.


Period cup


Made of silicone or latex, these ‘cups’ are folded and inserted into the vaginal canal to ‘catch’ the menses. They are supposed to be comfortable and can be worn for up to 12 hours depending on the flow. Menstrual cups are of course highly environmentally friendly. Note: these need to be sterilised (boiled in water) after the period ends. 


Period underwear


Period underwear is made of special absorbent material that prevents leakage onto clothing. If you remember last week’s article, it mentioned that 23-40% of girls miss one or two days of school due to being fearful of staining their uniforms. Considering this statistic, this is a great option for girls to avoid any mishaps.

This is a great option for every woman out there, as I’m sure each one of us have worried about this at some point. The only downside is that period underwear may be harder to come by as they are relatively new to the market. Further, purchasing costs are most likely to be high, although period underwear is reusable, which could therefore make it a cost-efficient purchase in the long run.


What alternative period product are you planning to try after this? In your capacity, how do you think you can help the girls out there whose parents cannot afford sanitary products at the moment?