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healthy bytes: pads vs. tampons

CC Image by imjustkimmie via Flickr

How do you decide? Mostly, it comes down to a habit, a pattern or on the basis of advice from our mothers, sisters, our geographiclocation or a myriad of other things. There really isn’t any one right choice or combination but there are clear advantages and disadvantages. Since we all use them (apart from a few outliers perhaps) it might be worth to know what is happening down there.

The background story
Remember all those ads for body washes, soaps and face creams proclaiming theirs had the best pH balance? There are even “feminine products” to restore your pH balance, as our prudey aunts might say, down there.  pH, which means “potential of hydrogen,” is a measure of a substance’s acidity ranging from 1 – 14. The baseline pH is 7, which is approximately the pH of water. Anything greater than 7 is considered alkaline and anything lower than 7 is acidic. Our blood pH is said to be optimal between 7.36-7.45 (the upper end of that scale being extremely healthy) but this is affected by nutrition, exercise and the amount of oxygen entering and circulating throughout the body.

Why are pH levels important for vaginal health? Well, normal vaginal pH ranges from 3.5-4.5 (acidic) and during periods blood increases this pH because it is naturally more alkaline. This is probably the only area of your body you want to keep at an acidic pH because an unbalanced vaginal pH level can lead to infections, discharge and general discomfort. In essence, if the pH level is raised above the 4.5 mark it creates the perfect environment for pathogenic bacteria to grow and spread. Things that commonly affect vaginal pH are periods, sex, antibiotics and other strong medications.

According to Dr. Mache Seibel, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Massachusetts and Founder of HealthRock, ‘When pH becomes elevated, the vaginal environment shifts in favor of the pathogenic bacteria. This can allow unwanted bacteria to cause odor, irritation, and possibly infection. Elevated pH is one of the key factors doctors look for when diagnosing vaginal infections. Maintaining vaginal pH within the healthy range can help reduce risk of infections.’

Tampons 101
Many gynaecologists will tell you to use the lowest absorbency tampon to meet your needs, this might mean that at the start of your period you would need slims and in the middle regular – but this is based on your cycle entirely. This will also be more comfortable and reduce the chances of leakage i.e. less need for the granny undies. There have been recent studies done to suggest that tampons can be better than pads at helping to maintain a healthy pH level and there is even a brand in the US, RepHresh, that claims to do just that.

However, tampons have been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), but this is such a rarity that only about half of the cases of TSS are actually attributable to tampon usage; the remainder occur in men, children and women who are not menstruating. TSS is also treatable with early detection.

I remember when I was a tween finding out about my period for the first time. There was this myth that only girls who had sex could use tampons so I didn’t even think about it until much later and when I realised I had been told a big fib I was pretty annoyed! Pads, however, can be more comfortable and if they have wings reduce chances of leakage. In recent years they have definitely improved on reducing odour, staying in place and being slimmer but many women still associate them with odorous nappies. One school of thought on pads is that they create a condensation and a warm environment, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Pros of Pads:

  • Good to use if you have cramps.
  • No risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
  • Good for nighttime use.

Cons of Pads:

  • Can be bulky and sometimes feel like nappies.
  • Need a trashcan for disposal and can be smelly.
  • Potentially create a bacterial environment.

Pros of tampons:

  • Some women think that tampons feel more hygienic than pads.
  • Smaller and easier to carry.
  • Can be used for swimming.
  • Might assist in healthy vaginal pH levels.

Cons of tampons:

  • (Small) risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
  • They can be uncomfortable the first few times you use them.
  • They can overflow and stain your panties.

In the end, whatever your preference, changing them regularly and general hygiene is important for keeping it fresh and healthy!

(Image credit: 1.)

3 thoughts on “healthy bytes: pads vs. tampons

  1. Pingback: Menstrual Cups: The Third Option | Opinion | Lip Magazine

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