How To Ensure Your Period Underwear Is A Safe Buy

For those who menstruate, dealing with a monthly period can be a hassle. So whenever something goes on the market claiming to make periods easier to handle, there's a collective sigh and hope that, whatever it is, will make menstruating a little bit less troublesome. When period underwear hit the market, it offered that hope. Finally, people could kick bulky pads and uncomfortable tampons to the curb in favor of underwear specifically made to receive menstrual blood. It was supposed to offer a reprieve from other feminine hygiene products. But, for some companies, what they promised was a little too good to be true.

Recently, period-proof underwear brand Thinx settled a lawsuit for misrepresentation. Contrary to Thinx's claims that their period underwear is safe to wear, third-party testing found otherwise. It turns out that Thinx underwear contained migratory nanoparticles and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aren't environmentally safe, shift in soil, and affect water sources and wildlife. When it comes to human health, PFAS can affect fertility and immunity. 

The Thinx lawsuit tells us that we can't always take brands at their word, especially when we're talking about products that go on or in our bodies. Instead, we need to advocate for our health by being aware of what our products are made of and what substances to avoid. 

Make sure there's a third-party certification

When shopping for period underwear, make sure they're certified by someone other than the brand. After all, a third party was the one to reveal the PFAS in Thinx's products. You can do this by looking for OEKO-TEX and GOTS-certified labels, which proves that the garments have been inspected by a company that isn't on the brand's payroll.

"Look for third-party certifications instead of relying on just what [the brand is] saying," Ali Schwebel, CEO of Vibrant Body Co., a company that makes undergarments, tells Popsugar. "Unfortunately, because of the lack of regulation in the US, it can be difficult to break through the 'clean-washing,' so that is why third-party certifications can be so important."

It should be noted that, according to an email Thinx sent to The New York Times, the brand has registered its underwear as medical devices. What this means for consumers is that this classification with the Food and Drug Administration doesn't require that companies list all materials, nor do they need to be tested for safety to the same extent as some other products. If you want to confirm that the labels are official, log onto both OEKO-TEX and GOTS sites, plug in the label number, and see if it's legit.

Pay attention to the wording

No product is going to come right out and say that its fabrics contain PFAS, so it's up to you to keep an eye out for certain terminology. For example, products that are "waterproof" or "stain-resistant" tend to contain PFAS, medical toxicologist and co-medical director of the National Capital Poison Center, Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, tells Well+Good. "Even if a specific product is certified as being PFAS-free, these chemicals could still be unintentionally introduced into the underwear through the manufacturing or packaging process, given that PFAS are found so widely throughout the environment," says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. "It's important to remember that PFAS are everywhere and nearly impossible to avoid in our daily lives. We don't fully understand all the potential health effects of PFAS."

Because PFAS are pretty much inescapable, it really comes down to being aware of what substances are okay for your body and which aren't so you can limit your exposure to those that might be harmful. It's also important to realize that not all products are treated equally by the FDA, and some should get extra attention before being purchased. 

When you do decide on a pair of period underwear, you should absolutely wash them before wearing them since they're new. While you won't entirely rid the fabric of irritants, you will at least reduce the amount of chemicals, as per Time. Sometimes that's really the best thing you can do. Reduction is better than nothing at all.