Foil vs. Breathable – The eternal Battle

Since this subject comes up a lot in discussions on forums and other places and I’m getting a bit tired of typing the same things over and over, I thought it would be a good idea to take the time and summarize my thoughts on the matter based on my own experiences, online discussions, talks with people in the medical care business and consultations regarding my own incontinence issues.

As you may know if you have even read one of my diaper product reviews, I’m mostly agnostic when it comes to those things. I’m primarily concerned with the practical issues and wearing comfort and don’t get lost in the technical details or the semi-religious debates over which is better. Yet it can’t be denied that both sides have their Pros and Cons which can be quite objectively measured and gauged. For diapers with a foil backing those would be:

Pro

  • There’s an overall better stability and shape retention, especially when getting wet.
  • The impenetrable surface protects better against accidental contamination when stuff diffuses through the padding outwards.
  • Conversely, the impenetrable surface offers better protection against smells and vapors.

Con

  • Potentially more skin irritation due to the chemical composition of the foil (softening agents, colors) and moisture accumulating (stick with me and read my comment further down).
  • Often more difficult to get a good fit since positioning and repositioning the adhesive tapes may damage the surface.
  • Crinkly noises from the foil can be a giveaway even if otherwise your diaper under your clothes is “invisible”.

For breathable surfaces the points are essentially reversed, but let’s spell it out clearly, regardless:

Pro

  • Theoretically better skin response when more air can come through.
  • Easier positioning if and when velcro style tapes are used, that can be opened and re-fastened almost indefinitely.
  • Aside from friction noises of e.g. your clothes rubbing against the diaper there should be no suspicious sounds.

Con

  • The tissue surface will give way to gravity and weight as the diaper fills up, thus making the product lose its initial shape.
  • Liquids and smells have it much easier to get out.

While that about covers the facts, some things require a closer look. Inevitably there is a difference between a theoretical spec and its practical implementation. A fitting analogy would be that a good motor built on a bad chassis with an unsuitable gearbox, insufficient wheels and poor aerodynamics still makes for a bad car. This is no different for incontinence. Let’s begin with that breathable stuff.

In my opinion this is hopelessly overrated. It feels like kind of the latest fad in medical care that everything needs to get as much air as possible. For some things like healing wounds or drying out fungae on your skin this makes sense, for other things perhaps not so much, including diapers. The other day I was even jokingly mentioning on a forum that they wouldn’t let patients lie around naked in their beds without covers just because of that. ;-)

When it comes to diapers therefore my take on the matter is: Each his own. I’ve worn foil diapers even when it was 36 degrees C this summer and had no issues. So far my skin shows no signs of being extremely sensitive to anything and quite logically any sweat that there was would just go into the absorbent pad as well. You may just need to change that one time more throughout the day. And of course myself being plagued by bowel incontinence, foil surfaces get extra points for keeping the stench contained.

The other thing I want to point out is the shape issue. Manufacturers don’t like to hear it, but inevitably every breathable/ cotton feel (CF) diaper will begin to sag. It’s merely matter of at which point and that’s what makes all the difference. Products that barely hold their form after having put them on are just bad, ones that can get you through the day without sliding down your bum can be just fine. In any case, wearing an extra cover to stabilize them and compensate for their inability to keep liquid and smell in, is usually a good idea.

Finally, while I can only give you my personal impressions, there are a few observations I have made over time. One of the reasons why I believe many people sort of hate on CF diapers is that they shift a few problems toward us as users of the products. Additionally one tends to feel patronized not only by companies “improving” their products (when the old ones were just fine or even better), but also from sales and medical personnel. At least I’m always terrified by how little those people know about the actual aspects of wearing your daily protection and quote textbook knowledge or marketing materials, trying to sell you stuff that may possibly not solve your problem in the best way possible.

I’m sure most of you are just as confused as in the beginning, but more than anything else, this should be taken as food for thought, not ultimate advise. In the end this is just your typical “your mileage may vary” thing and though I hope I have made my position clear, yours may be entirely different.

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