Does Period Underwear Really Work? We Put Them To The Test

This article was originally published on March 24, 2016.

It’s recommended that you change your tampon every four to eight hours. But what if you’re stuck in wall-to-wall meetings and forget? Or you’re running a day’s worth of errands and lose track of time?

Sometimes it can feel like we’re chained to the bathroom during our periods. But leaks happen, even to the best of us. Factor in cramps and bodily aches, and the resulting feeling during periods — for me, at least — can best be described as saggy hot garbage pain.

Thankfully, period underwear has been gaining a lot of traction lately, and the option seemed pretty great to me at first glance. Still, I was skeptical. Could I really put my faith in specialty panties and bleed freely without leaking or feeling uncomfortable?

I decided to try out a few of the most popular models on various days of my period, from light days to heavy, and during various situations, from a work meeting to a yoga class to a first date. Full disclosure: I’m the proud owner of a ParaGard IUD, so my period occurs à la Mother Nature.

Click through to see how some of the most popular period panties fared under pressure.

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The situation: an important work meeting
The period status: a light day
The panties: Dear Kate Ada Hipster Full in black

On the day I decided to start my experiment, I had an immovable meeting with my boss, his boss, and about two dozen other semi-important people from around my company. Great timing. Other than my dignity and professional standing, what did I have to lose? That morning, I held my most professional dress, a tailored grey number worthy of Claire Underwood, in one hand. In the other, I held a pair of black, full coverage Dear Kate panties designed to hold up to three teaspoons of uterus overflow. They were sleek, and the padding was streamlined. The lace waistband implied more style than sanitary napkin.

Because the panties felt more or less like any other while I was wearing them, I basically forgot the danger I was in. Back home, I noted that the undies held up very well to my light, day one accumulation. But I was on the brink, and much more would have called for backup — which is exactly how Dear Kate underwear is advertised. The aim is to absorb breakthrough bleeding, light bladder leakage, and discharge, and to give added protection with your tampon, cup, or sponge.

The verdict: They’re stylish, streamlined, and work well for light days, but they won’t stand alone on medium or heavy days.
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The situation: stuck in bed with the flu
The period status: a heavy day
The panties: Thinx Hiphugger in nude

By my heavy day, I was knocked out by an indeterminate flu virus. I was feverish and bedridden, so I only hauled myself out from under the covers to go to the bathroom and open the door for soup delivery. Now, take a second to recall what happens to your pelvic floor muscles when you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose. Add your period into the mix, and you have a potential mess on your hands.

To arm myself, I wore the nude-colored Thinx hiphuggers under my pajamas. These are designed for days that require two tampons, and thanks to a Nyquil-induced midday nap, I pushed them to their limit. By the end of the day, I was impressed by the relatively dry feeling of the fabric and how, if you do “fill” the panties and they start to stain, they’re easily washable. Briefly rinse them, and all traces disappear from the nude seams and shell. And because they’re made of fabric vaguely recalling a swimsuit, they dry surprisingly fast, so you could alternate between two pairs.

The verdict: Yes. Yes. Yes. You’ll bleed as confident and freely as you would with a super plus tampon on a heavy day.
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The situation: yoga class
The period status: a light day
The panties: Dear Kate Ada Hipster Mini in pink

By the end of my cycle, I was more or less recovered, so I ventured out to a yoga class. After I put my mat down, I noticed an incredibly attractive yogi behind me with a front-row view of the potential disaster that could ensue, so I was a little self-conscious. Deep into a side bend, I checked for evidence of a leak, but thankfully, there was nothing to check.

Though they provide only a slight level of additional absorption beyond normal panties, the pink Dear Kate mini covered me perfectly on a barely-anything-but-more-than-nothing day. Unlike Thinx, which should be hand-washed, Dear Kates can be thrown right into your washing machine on the cold cycle. But I hand-washed them anyway, because I wanted to have them ready for the next day, just in case.

Side note: Dear Kate is now using the same technology in their line of yoga pants, cutting out panties altogether.

The verdict: If I could afford it, I’d make these my go-to daily panties, but they won’t catch your period flow all on their own.
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The situation: sleeping through the night (without a trip to the bathroom)
The period status: a heavy day
The panties: Lunapads MAIA Hipster Lunapanties in organic cotton royal stripe

When I’m in my bed for the night, I usually like to stay there. But during my period, this is not the safest policy for my gold-colored sheets. Enter: Lunapanties by Lunapads, a company that’s been in the reusable pad game since 1993. The brief comes with an additional fabric liner that slides into two bands sewn into the crotch. It’s like a little holster for a soft, cushy pantyliner without wings. The panties can be worn without the liner, however, and the underwear itself has thicker padding compared to normal panties.

Based on my experience, I would recommend using Lunapanties with the additional layer on a day where you’re wearing pants and not necessarily moving around too much, as it does have a tendency to move a little. (Thankfully, I was a relatively stationary sleeper that night.) That said, this fabric was probably the most comfortable of the bunch, and they were equally as absorbing as the Thinx Hiphuggers.

Lunapads is also way ahead of the game on storage, transport, and laundering, since they provide a range of patterned, leak-proof bags to store and carry your used underwear until you can wash them — since your coworkers probably won’t appreciate you using the sink in the kitchenette.

The verdict: These will effectively catch all your night effusions, but things could get tricky if you move around too much.
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The situation: a blind date
The period status: a medium day
The panties: Thinx Sport in nude

For the mother of all potentially cringeworthy tests, I wore skinny jeans and nude Thinx sport briefs, a slimmer style for medium days. I learned very quickly that the sign of a truly good first date is when you have enough fun to forget that you’re freely bleeding under your light wash denim. I definitely felt more relaxed on the date than I had on past dates during my period. I was confident that the undies had me covered, and I could go ahead and focus on getting to know the person in front of me.

I generally preferred the hiphugger model, which give a little bit more between-the-legs coverage, but these totally did the job. And due to the antimicrobial inner lining, I was neither itching, chafing, nor smelly. That said, if things go really well on a date, you may want to be prepared with a backup pair.

Extra bonus: Having worn period panties for two cycles by this point, even if I were to have an "accident," my period felt more normalized to me and less like a secret shame of which all traces must be disposed. Obviously, leaking is not anyone’s ideal outcome, but I felt it wouldn’t change the fact that I was hot and cool. I may not have been at peak date sexiness, but I felt leagues sexier than I have felt while wearing disposable menstrual products.

The verdict: I felt free and at ease, like I could be myself and things would flow as nature intended. All I really had to do was smile, laugh, and go with the moment. Oh, you meant the panties? They worked well, too.
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So does period underwear live up to the hype?

After my first trial run with period underwear, I still wasn’t sure how I felt. Was this really better than disposable options? I was happy to go through the effort of hand-washing in the name of science, but wouldn’t it become tiresome?

But once my next period came around, I knew I was hooked. The prospect of putting a dry wad of cotton inside myself and worrying about leaks seemed uncomfortable and inconvenient compared to going free in period specific panties. In reality, the best scenario is likely a combination of both period underwear and tampons, especially considering the fact that period underwear tends to run a little pricey. (Though the cost of tampons certainly adds up, too.)

The final verdict: Period panties don’t fully eliminate immutable aspects of having a period, but when deployed in the right circumstances, they can make you less of a slave to the ticking clock of tampons — and they just might make you feel pretty damn sexy, too.
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