Choosing period products

Period products absorb or collect the blood that is released during your period.

Period pads

Period pads are strips of padding that have a sticky side you attach to your pants to hold them in place. One side of the pad is made of an absorbent material that soaks up the blood.

Many people use pads when they first start their period because they're easy to use. They come in many sizes and absorbencies, so you can change them depending on how heavy or light your period is.

Pantyliners are a smaller and thinner type of pad that can be used on days when your period is very light. You should change pads or liners around every 4 to 6 hours, depending on your period. You can’t flush pads or liners down the toilet, so just wrap them up and put them in the bin.

Reusable period pads are also available which you can wash and reuse instead of throwing away.

Tampons

Tampons are small tubes of cotton wool that you insert into your vagina to absorb the blood before it comes out of your body. There's a string at one end which you pull to remove.

Tampons come with instructions that explain how to use them. Some come with applicators and other types you can put in yourself. If the tampon is inserted correctly, you shouldn't be able to feel it. If you can feel it or it hurts, it might not be inserted properly.

Your vagina holds the tampon firmly in place and it expands inside you as it soaks up the blood. There are different levels of absorbency. The packaging will tell you if the tampon is for light, medium or heavy periods. It's important to choose the right one for you. You can change the absorbency throughout your period if you need to, depending on how heavy your period is.

You should change your tampon regularly – around every 4 to 6 hours depending on your flow. Always remember to change your tampon in the morning if you choose to wear one overnight. Don’t forget to remove your tampon when your period ends.

If you develop an unpleasant discharge and think you have forgotten to remove a tampon, speak to a doctor as soon as possible. There’s a rare risk of tampon-related toxic shock syndrome.

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups are made from medical-grade silicone, and are around 2 inches in size. You put the cup inside your vagina and the cup collects the blood rather than absorbing it.

Unlike periods pads and tampons, which you throw away after they've been used, menstrual cups can be washed and used again. Some people choose to use them because they're reusable. This makes it a cheaper and more environmentally-friendly option. It can also collect more blood than a tampon.

It's important to make sure you empty your menstrual cup based on the manufacturer's instructions and wash your hands, and your menstrual cup, before each use. This is to reduce any risk of toxic shock syndrome.

Period pants

Periods pants are designed to be worn during your period like everyday pants. They absorb menstrual blood like other period products. They’re environmentally friendly as they can be washed and used again.

You’ll need to have quite a few pairs so that you’ve got enough to get you through your period. You’ll also need access to a washing machine so that you can wash them once you’ve used them.

There are different absorbencies depending on how heavy your bleeding is. Some people use them as their only period product. Others use them with other period products to help feel more confident, for example if they have heavy bleeding. Like other period products, they can take a bit of getting used to and they need to be changed about every 4 to 6 hours, depending on your period.

They can be expensive but there are lots of different places to get them from, so you can compare prices.

Accessing period products

Period products can be pricey – some more than others.

You can get period products for free in Scotland in a range of places. You can contact your local council to find out where you can access free products in your area or you can use the PickupMyPeriod app.  By law, councils and education providers now have to make these products available for free for anyone who needs them.

Further information about free period products

Sometimes it can feel embarrassing asking for period products – but remember, periods are normal. You’re entitled to ask for the help that you need to experience good menstrual health and wellbeing.

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS)

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a very rare condition that’s caused when bacteria gets into the body and releases harmful toxins.  It can happen when you use tampons or menstrual cups if they’re not changed regularly enough

This is why you should:

  • wash your hands before changing your tampon or menstrual cup
  • wash your menstrual cup before each use
  • change your tampon or menstrual cup regularly – around every 4 to 6 hours depending on your period
  • remember to change your tampon or empty your menstrual cup when you wake up if you have chosen to use the product overnight

TSS is rare but it can be life-threatening so it must be diagnosed and treated quickly.

Urgent advice: Phone 111 if:

You're using tampons or a menstrual cup, and you have:

  • a high temperature
  • flu-like symptoms
  • sickness, or feeling sick
  • a skin rash
  • diarrhoea
  • dizziness or fainting
  • difficulty breathing
  • confusion

Preventing TSS

You can help to prevent TSS when using tampons or a menstrual cup by:

  • using tampons with an absorbency suitable for your period
  • washing your hands before and after use
  • wash your menstrual cup before each use
  • changing your product regularly – follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • making sure you only have 1 tampon in your vagina at a time
  • stop using tampons or your menstrual cup when your period has ended

If you’ve previously been diagnosed with TSS, do not use a tampon or menstrual cup. Use alternative period products such as pants or pads.

Last updated:
16 August 2022