Period Panties: The Underrated Underwear Essentials You Didn’t Know You Needed
Pads and tampons might reign among the most popular types of menstrual products, but, in 2021, we women have plenty of other options—one of the latest options for period care are “period panties.'' They can provide more comfort and cause less of an ecological impact than disposable pads and tampons. While menstrual underwear may have been previously unheard of, they are becoming a more efficient option for women everywhere. Period panties are now available and accessible through various e-commerce platforms and exclusive distribution deals with plenty of options to choose from, including swimwear and activewear styles. But are most women ready to embrace this pro-sustainability trend?
What are period panties and how do they work?
There are many benefits to trading in disposable products for panties that are absorbent, washable and reusable. “We are no longer restricted by having to change throughout the day, or miss out on activities to which we once would have had to say “no.”. We can now swim, ride horses and attend school without the anxiety of periods arriving unexpectedly or leaking, or having to go to the bathroom to change,” explains UAE resident Natalie Hobbs, who in 2018 became the official Middle East distributor of Australian menstrual underwear brand Modibodi. “Most women are wearing their Modibodi for between 8 and 10 hours,” she says, adding that menstrual underwear is far more comfortable than wearing pads – especially during the hot summer months.
Let’s break it down for the skeptics
A period panty is usually lined with a moisture-wicking, odor-resistant top layer and an absorbent middle layer that can contain light to heavy flows – up to 20ml, or two tampons worth. The bottom layer is waterproof, which helps prevent leaks. After usage, you rinse the underwear in cold water before washing it in the machine. Some women wear period panties throughout their cycles, while others wear them only on lighter days, or overnight. Whatever the frequency, fans of period panties claim they are convenient, comfortable and extremely easy to use.
Future Market Insights estimated that the global period panties market will grow at 15.8 percent by 2030. The concept has been making headway in the West, but has had a slower uptake in other parts of the world due to skepticism and cultural taboos. Pads remain most prevalent, and social stigmas surrounding tampons persist in some communities. “I expected I’d have my work cut out for me, but was up for the challenge,” says Hobbs, who was hopeful that the positive experiences of her customers would help attract more buyers.
A sustainable alternative to pads and tampons
The eco-friendly aspects of period panties are a strong selling point of making the big switch. “Pads, predominantly made of plastic, take more than 500 years to decompose – so the pads we’ve used growing up will far outlive even our great-great-great-grandchildren,” Hobbs explains. “When women become aware of the environmental impact of pads and tampons, and discover that period-proof underwear exists, most are excited to give it a go.”
Such was the case with Dubai-based Shirien Yunus, who holds a master’s degree in public health, and converted to using menstrual underwear this year. “I had heard about them from several friends and was intrigued from the very start. I loved the idea of the environmental impact,” she says. “They have been life-changing for me because I’m no longer worried about what I wear at that time of the month. Before, there were all kinds of clothing I avoided. After investing in enough period panties, a lot of the inconvenience of my period is gone, especially the stress of the first few days.”
Stigma surrounding menstrual underwear
An Instagram poll of 270 women in or from the Middle East revealed that 32% currently use or have tried using menstrual underwear, while 68% wouldn’t consider it, calling it “gross” and “unclean.” Some expressed discomfort at the thought of rinsing the underwear after wearing it – though Modibodi’s designs are lined with black padding for a luxe, discreet touch.
Yunus believes that this hesitancy may be due to misconceptions about cleanliness. “In the past, women used rags and simply cleaned them, whereas in modern times disposable pads and tampons became the ‘revolutionary’ feminine hygiene. Perhaps ‘disposable’ is mistakenly seen as cleaner,” she explains.
Delivering to the demand
Nonetheless, the popularity of period panties is on the rise, with more brands entering global markets, giving women plenty of options and easier accessibility to try the growing trend. Marks & Spencer now sells high-absorbency period panties, and ASOS, which offers worldwide delivery, stocks menstrual underwear from brands like Dorina and Thinx.
Hobbs says that Modibodi’s growth over the past three years has been “phenomenal,” with sales increasing 200% year over year. The brand also recently began shipping to Bahrain, Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Although in some cases, cultural censorship obstacles prevent coverage in regional mainstream media, brand awareness is spreading through word-of-mouth, social media influencers, podcasts and events, as well as through educational initiatives.
Like other aspects of sexual health and wellness, the benefits of reusable, sustainable period products should be taught to teens, believes Hobbs. “Some teachers are now including information about period-proof underwear when talking to students at school about puberty, and there are now hundreds of girls in the UAE who may never use a pad or tampon. For every girl that does this, some 11,000 to 16,000 fewer single-use products will be manufactured and disposed of,” she explains. “If all schools were to include information about reusable period products, I believe we would see a huge move away from disposable products and that would potentially make make a significant difference.”
Although popularity for this new, sustainable, efficient, hygienic and safe option is slow in some markets, it’s safe to say that many of these cultural and sanitary concerns have been debunked. With plenty of convenient benefits, period panties have made their mark.