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Zero waste periods: the pros and cons of menstrual underwear (+ 6 brands to consider)

There are three main product types when it comes to having a zero waste period: menstrual cups, reusable pads, and period underwear. I’ve tried all three. I was a very early adopter of the menstrual cup, buying my first one back in 2003, but I was a definite latecomer to the period pants idea – I only got my first pair a couple of years ago.

Today I wanted to answer some questions about period underwear: do they work, how do you look after them, and what are the pros and cons compared to other products.

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about what this means at the bottom of the post.

If you’re just after a recommendation, I’ve only ever used and am very happy with Modibodi (this is an Australian site, or try Modibodi UK).

I’ve listed some good alternative brands at the end of the post, if you like to shop around.

Period underwear: how does it work

Period pants are reusable and leak-proof underwear which replaces the need for single-use period products (as well as incontinence products).

The gusset is made of layers of materials that resist stains, wick moisture and absorb liquid. It’s built into the underwear in a way that isn’t particularly noticeable – period underwear looks like regular underwear. You might be able to feel that the fabric is slightly thicker when holding a pair, but when you’re wearing them, you truly can’t feel a thing.

Most brands have products with varying absorbency to accommodate different flows. In the Modibodi range, I have light-moderate (absorbancy is 10ml which is 1-2 tampons or 2 teaspoons), moderate-heavy (absorbancy is 15ml, the equivalent of 2-3 tampons or 3 teaspoons) and the heavy-overnight (absorbancy is 20ml, the equivalent of 3-4 tampons or 4 teaspoons) range.

Other brands make even more absorbent options.

Compared to my overnight pad, the overnight pants are much thinner and far more comfortable.

How long you can wear them will depend on your flow, but in most cases they can last 8-10 hours and up to 24 hours (should you want to wear the same underwear for that long).

What does menstrual underwear feel like to wear?

The thing that really got me over the line to being a fan is how comfortable they are. I can only talk about Modibodi as its the only brand that I’ve ever worn, but they are super comfortable. The fabric is soft, the elastic doesn’t dig in, there’s no weird plastic crackling noises or awkward pad sensation – and there’s nothing to slip out of place.

They absorb moisture really well, and don’t feel wet or sticky. Because the gussets are black (even if you choose a light fabric or pattern) they don’t look much different when used to when they were clean, and they don’t stain.

(In comparison a lot of pads are white. Black is a good design choice, in my opinion.)

How do you look after period underwear?

Easy! They are machine washable, and you just pop them in the washing machine. Most brands suggest using a cold cycle. (I’ve also on occasion put my Modibodi pairs in the 30°C cycle and they were fine, but fabrics do tend to last longer when you follow the instructions.)

Prior to washing (and ideally as soon as possible after you’ve finished wearing them) just rinse them with cold water until the water runs clear. No need to soak, hurrah!

I tend to rinse and then pop in the washing machine ready to go (which is how sometimes they end up on a 30°C cycle.) I always line dry everything, so they go on the line. Dryers shorten the lifespan of your clothing.

How long does period underwear last?

You can expect your period underwear – if looked after properly – to last two to three years. I’m always one to push these things as far as possible, and two years in my original pairs are still fine and working well.

How many pairs do I need?

That depends if you’d like to use them on their own, or in conjunction with pads or a menstrual cup. I use a menstrual cup, so I use the menstrual underwear for when I’m expecting my period to start and I’m going to be far from home, for nights and for exercise (in conjunction with my cup – I have a heavy flow and it can fill up and leak) and on the last day or two.

I started out with two pairs along with my cup, and it did mean needing to launder them mid-cycle. If you’d like to use in conjunction with a cup, you can manage with two pairs but three or four would be better.

If you’d like to use them on their own, it’s going to depend on how often you’d like to launder them. I think you could get buy with five pairs if you’re organised, but you might prefer more. You can always use a pad if you get caught out with no clean laundry.

Pros and cons to menstrual underwear

Things I love about period underwear:

  • Compared with menstrual cups and pads, period underwear is the most fuss-free and straightforward option. Super easy to use, no skills required, and there’s nothing to go wrong.
  • There’s no special maintenance either – no boiling or soaking. Anything that can go in the washing machine is a win with me.
  • Reusable menstrual products are much cheaper over their lifetime than buying disposable products every month. For extra savings, I like that period underwear is a 2-in-1 option – a period product and underwear, too. With pads and cups you still need to provide your own underwear.

Things I like less about period underwear:

  • If you’re a dedicated minimalist, you might prefer the simplicity of a single menstrual cup rather than more stuff in your underwear drawer. This was why I originally resisted buying more pairs of menstrual underwear. But they are just so comfortable, I’ve decided they can have space in my drawer.
  • They are not plastic-free: all brands have polyester and/or other plastics in the gusset lining to make them waterproof. Because it’s a reusable product that I find useful I’m happy to compromise, but if you’re strictly plastic-free these might not be for you.
  • A silicone menstrual cup can last 5 to 10 years, whereas menstrual underwear lasts 2 to 3 years. So you’ll have to replace it more frequently.

Different period pants brands (and why you might choose one over another):

Period pants are a product that are becoming increasingly more mainstream, and I’m sure there will be more companies popping up over the years. I’ve not listed every company, but those with a notable point of difference to other brands.

AWWA (New Zealand) – A small range of undies with a couple of organic cotton options, and period proof swimwear. Sizes from XXS – 6XL. Ships worldwide.

W: awwathelabel.com

Flux Undies (UK) – A few different styles made from Tencel fabric (all in black). Ships worldwide.

W: fluxundies.com

Knix (Canada) – a good range of colours (with some patterned fabric) and styles. Fabric is polyester. Ships worldwide.

W: knix.com

Modibodi (Australia) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a small vegan range.

W: modibodi.com

Modibodi (UK) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a small vegan range.

W: modibodi.co.uk

Thinx (USA) – a very popular American brand with a great range of styles and colours. Thinx offers a large vegan range; they also have some organic cotton products. Ships worldwide.

W: shethinx.com

WUKA (UK) – have a small range made using sustainable fabrics. Their low flow and heavy flow underwear (only available in black) uses carbon neutral Lenzing modal fabric, and their medium flow underwear (in black and grey) is certified organic cotton. Ships worldwide.

W: wuka.co.uk

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you have any experiences – good or bad – with particular brands or products we’d love for you to share. Any great brands I’ve missed off the list? Any questions about how they work? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

This post contains some affiliate links. What this means is, if you click through a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and brands who are committed to sustainability and quality, because my priority is always you, the reader.

Using Oil as a Facial Moisturiser (+ A DIY Recipe for When Oil Alone is Not Enough)

I never thought I was a sucker for marketing. But when it came to beauty products, I used to spend a fortune buying products with names I didn’t understand (but sounded fancy) from department store beauty counters. You know those counters, the ones with the ladies wearing lab coats (oooh, how science-y!).

I thought those products were better for my skin. Plus they looked so luxurious, with all that (plasticky, single-use) packaging.

{Cringe.}

When I decided to go plastic-free, I realised that rather than trying to replace all of the products in my bathroom, it would be better for my sanity (and success rate) if I chose to simplify. Meaning, less products. I’ve talked about the switches I made and my natural skincare regime before, but today I wanted to focus on one aspect of that: moisturizer.

I used to buy an eye cream, a day cream, a night cream, and body lotion. Maybe after-sun in summer. It makes me laugh (or cry, perhaps) to tell you that, because I didn’t think I was a high-maintenance woman. Those marketing peeps got me good.

Rather than try to find 5 alternatives without packaging, I decided to go for one simple swap to replace all of them. Rather than using moisturiser, I switched to oil.

Using Oil as a Moisturiser

When I say I use oil as a moisturiser, I mean oil as a single ingredient. I do not mean oil-based products or oil blends that contain other chemicals.

The staple oil I use as moisturiser is sweet almond oil. It is easy to find in bulk, absorbs well, is a neutral colour and has a very mild fragrance.

I have also used jojoba oil, rosehip oil, olive oil, hemp seed oil, coconut oil and shea butter. Jojoba oil is thought to most closely mimic the skin’s natural sebum. Rosehip oil is great, and apparently has anti-aging properties but is more expensive. Olive and hemp seed oil have a slightly green colour and need to be thoroughly rubbed in to avoid a green tinge. Coconut oil and shea butter are more effort to apply (both are solid at room temperature).

One of the other properties that differs between oils is their ability to block pores. Oils are graded on their ability to block pores, known as their comedogenic rating. (A comedone is a plug of dirt, bacteria and oil that blocks a pore and causes a spot: usually a blackhead but sometimes a whitehead).

Ratings vary from 0 (will not clog pores at all) through to 5 (likely to clog pores).

Almond oil, jojoba oil and olive oil are all graded 2, which means they have a moderately low chance of clogging pores. Rosehip oil is rated 1; hemp seed oil and shea butter are non-comedogenic with a score of 0. Coconut oil has a score of 4, and some people who use coconut oil find they do break out in spots.

People with dry skin tend to have smaller pores, and are more suited to oils with a lower comedogenic rating (2 or below). I have dry skin and almond oil works fine for me.

Does using oil make your skin oily? Actually, no.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive. But our skin produces its own natural oil, called sebum. It is produced to lubricate, waterproof and protect the skin. The absolute worst thing we can do is use cleansers and chemicals to try to strip this oil from our skin. That just makes our skin react, and produce more sebum.

Using oil doesn’t strip this sebum, and doesn’t stimulate the skin to produce more. Some people do produce more sebum than others, but that is due to more active sebaceous glands.

Using oil as moisturiser will not make your skin oily.

Oil can make the skin shiny, at least until the oil is absorbed. If shiny-ness is something you care about, a simple face powder will sort that out.

Rather than make the skin oily, using oil can make your skin dry out, particularly if you are prone to dry skin, as I am. I’ve talked about this below, and what to do if this happens.

Tips for Using Oil as Moisturiser More Effectively

Although I say I use oil as a moisturiser, oil does not actually contain moisture. It works as a barrier on the skin, preventing moisture loss. For most of the year this is fine, but in winter, when heating, extra hot showers and exposure to cold winds causes my skin to dry out, the oil cannot add moisture back in.

In contrast, most moisturisers are oil blended with water and stabilised with emulsifier. When they are applied they add moisture to the skin, and the oil acts as a barrier to keep it there.

When I start to notice dry patches on my skin, applying oil alone does not hydrate my skin. It appears to work temporarily, but the dry skin returns. There are some things that I do to help hydrate my skin.

Apply Oil Before Showering

In winter I always apply oil to my face before showering. This provides a barrier to stop the hot water and steam drying out my skin.

Avoid Soap or Soap-Based Cleansers

I use soap on my face very rarely in winter, and do not use it on my body every day. Instead, I use water and oil. Oil cleansing is an age-old method of cleansing, working on the premise that like dissolves in like. Grease and dirt on the skin are replaced with clean oil. It is as simple as putting a small amount of oil on the skin, and then wiping off with a flannel.

Apply Oil After Showering, But Before the Skin is Completely Dry

When I get out of the shower, I blot my skin dry with a towel but I always apply oil to my face before my skin is completely dry. If it has already dried, then I splash water on my face before applying oil. It is harder to rub in as the oil and water don’t like each other, but it leaves my skin much more moisturised.

Drink More Water

This is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because in my world, I’m constantly realising that it is 4pm and the only thing I have drunk all day is coffee. But I do know that drinking water is good for the skin, and I definitely notice the difference when I drink more water.

When Oil Really Isn’t Enough

Last winter was particularly cold, and my skin got very dry. I didn’t know back then that oil alone wasn’t going to hydrate my skin. I’d apply more and more oil, slathering it on thicker and thicker, and my skin just got drier and drier.

Eventually I realised I needed something with a little more oomph.

I’ve messed around with a few DIY moisturisers and balms, but the one I come back to often is cold cream. Cold cream is a water-in-oil type of emulsion (whereas most moisturisers are oil-in-water emulsions). Being oil in water, it is soothing and cooling on the skin.

Cold cream can be used as a cleanser, make-up remover, face mask or moisturiser. I’m a big fan of products with multiple uses.

The recipe I use is based on a recipe by Aelius Galenus, a Greek who was born in 129AD. Definitely a recipe that has been handed down through generations!

Galen’s Cold Cream Recipe

INGREDIENTS:
75 ml rose water / distilled water / rain water
15 g beeswax (2 tablespoons)
90 ml olive oil / almond oil
4 drops rose geranium essential oil
Optional: 2 drops vitamin E (vitamin E is a natural preservative)

METHOD:
Heat the rose water in a bowl over a pan of hot water.

Place beeswax and olive oil in a separate bowl over a pan of hot water, and melt. Remove from the heat and pour the rosewater into the melted oil, using a whisk to mix together. (Please be careful as melted oils become very hot and can cause burns.)

As the mixture begins to cool, it will turn opaque. Add the essential oil (and vitamin E, if using) and pour into a glass jar. Use within 6 months.

NOTES: Vitamin E is a preservative, so omitting this might shorten the shelf life of the product. If you are vegan, two alternatives to beeswax are candelilla wax and carnauba wax, which are both palm oil free. They are harder than beeswax so half the amount (1tbsp rather than 2tbsp) if using these waxes.

This cold cream cleared up my dry skin patches within days. Whilst I still use oil as my main moisturiser, I now use cold cream as an extra boost in the winter months, particularly if I am going to be outside.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What is your skincare routine? Do you use oil as a moisturizer? Which is your favourite? Do you make your own moisturiser? Is there a brand that you buy and love? Any other thoughts or questions? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!