How To Pick a Period Tracker
Our picks, depending on your goals
When you search “period tracker” in the App Store or Google Play you will find hundreds (really, hundreds) of results. Maybe this makes sense — more than 100 million people monitor their cycles on their phones. But let us be clear, not all menstrual trackers are created equal, especially if you have specific tracking goals in mind. Are these apps even accurate? And what about your data? We spent 15 hours testing popular (free) apps ourselves, talking to experts and reading scientific research to help you pick a menstrual tracker depending on your tracking goals.
Spot On is made by Planned Parenthood and is one of the most educational apps we tested. Health information is built into the app, and if you’re having a health issue the app can help you book an appointment at the nearest Planned Parenthood. The app also connects to a bot called “Roo” that’s specifically geared towards teens and will answer questions about bodies, sex and relationships.
Among the apps we tried, Spot On was the most LGTBQ+ friendly and gender-neutral in design. Actually, it doesn’t make any assumptions about your gender, sexual orientation or reproductive goals. It’s also not as obsessed with fertility as other apps we tested and you’ll only see fertility information if you opt in. Spot On lets you track in two main ways - either simply tracking your period or tracking your birth control and your period. In that sense, it’s great for people who want to stay on top of their cycle as well as their preferred birth control method.
Clue is used by over 12 million users in over 190 countries and is one of the most customizable apps we tested. The app asks you what your cycle tracking goals are as soon as you open the app (which we love), so you can tailor your tracking experience whether you want to know when your period is coming, avoid pregnancy, plan a pregnancy, or learn about your cycle patterns.
We also appreciated Clue’s dedication to being inclusive and gender-neutral in its language and design. Clue is outwardly obsessed with scientific research and is transparent about the fact that it doesn’t share your personal and sensitive health data with advertisers or marketers.
It’s important to note that studies have found that most predictions of the fertile window given by fertility apps are generated from user data, such as the date of last menstrual period and cycle length, or the assumption of a 28-day cycle with ovulation on day 14. If you are fertility focused and using an app to track fertile days, it's crucial to track both body temperature and the quality of your cervical fluid (à la the Fertility Awareness Method). Kindara does a good job prompting you to log both every day with a clear reminder when you open the app.
We also like that Kindara has a community built into the app where you can discuss everything fertility-related with other users. In clicking around the community, we found that members were mostly positive and informative, a big plus for an online fertility community. We also liked the ability to turn the predictive nature of Kindara off, especially for those practicing the Fertility Awareness Method.
If you want to track your menstrual cycle to either understand or become more aware of your cycle, but don’t want to be bogged down by a million features, CYCLES could work for you.
Most of all, we liked that it was relatively easy to use, with clear-cut visuals and relevant content to supplement tracking. The app also provides insight into what the different phases of your cycle mean depending on the current phase you’re in.
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert, told us that of the different menstrual tracking apps, Flo is the one she would recommend to patients to help give their doctors insights into how their cycle works. “I’d probably go with Flo because they’re used by a lot of people and they’re very innovative in the way that they may want to enhance their technology,” she told us. “They add different features all the time because they’ve been around for so long.”
Within the Flo app, we liked the built-in feature to turn your cycle information (including any accompanying physical or mental symptoms) into a readable document that medical professionals can use to help identify potential diseases in their early stages.
Who should use a period tracker?
For this guide, we talked to Daniel Epstein, an Assistant Professor in Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, and Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert. We also read several studies on why and how women track their menstrual cycles.
Studies show that there are mainly five reasons women track their menstrual cycles; to be aware of how their body is doing, to understand their body's reactions to different phases of their cycle, to be prepared, to become pregnant, or to inform conversations with healthcare providers. “Women should ideally have a sense of what their goals are when picking, and ask themselves what they're hoping to get out of a menstrual tracking,” said Epstein. "Someone wanting to be more aware of their body would likely have different feature preferences than someone looking to become pregnant. Beyond the obvious stuff like needing or not needing a pregnancy mode, that woman might want the ability to track other factors related to their health or their cycle like exercise, mood, or sleep.”
The thing is, many of the apps we tested try to support *all* the different goals a person might have and lack the nuance to support certain goals particularly well. For example, we tried to figure out our pick for people with irregular periods, but found that none of the apps currently tackle this particularly well. Some apps, like Clue and Flo, are working on this with pre-diagnostic features for conditions like PCOS, but these initiatives can not make definite health judgments currently. If you have irregular periods and have found an app that works well for you, we’d love to hear from you.
Epstein also noted that today’s apps do a better job of supporting pregnancy than young adulthood or menopause, with things like "pregnancy modes" being much more widespread than handling the cycle irregularities associated with menopause. “The better support for pregnancy correlates with who is designing and developing the apps themselves — people in their twenties, thirties or forties," said Epstein.
What about your data?
It’s well-documented that some menstrual tracking apps only take your privacy semi-seriously. If you’re really curious about how period tracking apps use your data, we recommend reading Consumer Reports’ recent examination of how these apps collect and disseminate data.
The TLDR; Your data matters. You should care about privacy when it comes to the personal information you give a health app; it could increase the interest rate you’re charged on loans, leave you vulnerable to workplace discrimination or affect your ability to obtain life insurance as well as how much you pay for that coverage.
We’ve tried to address how each app handles your data, but overall we recommend trying to use a period tracker without signing up for an account. This is helpful because your data is more likely to be stored locally on your phone, meaning the company can’t access it. Other precautionary measures to protect your health data:
- Use an alternative email address if you end up creating an account through these apps.
- If you don’t want to get targeted ads shown to you on social media, use your smartphone settings to limit ad tracking. On Apple phones, go to settings, scroll down to “privacy,” click on “advertising,” and turn on the “limit ad tracking” button. On an Android phone, go to “settings,” scroll down to Google, and click on “ads,” where you’ll find an option to opt out of ad personalization and reset your advertising ID.
- When you download a tracker, check for privacy controls that allow you to opt out of permissions to sell your data or share it with third parties.
Food for thought: Some apps want your data to share it with scientific researchers instead of ad companies like Facebook. The idea is to contribute to research in order to more deeply understand how menstrual cycles can differ, side effects from birth control, and better diagnostics around menstruation-related diseases. We think Clue is doing a particularly good job in this area.
What we didn't like
It’s worth mentioning two popular apps that we tested and would not recommend; Glow and Eve. These apps are owned by the same company (which was founded by five men), and overall, these apps feel spammy, girly, and frankly outdated in comparison to others we tested.
In 2016, Consumer Reports found huge security vulnerabilities in Glow, which the app’s developers have since fixed. That’s great, but we still wouldn’t use these apps given the plethora of options out there. They’re confusing to use (there’s so much going on!) and require an account, which we don’t love.
We also recommend staying away from MIA Fem and Maya, who are sharing deeply sensitive information (like when women last had sex) with Facebook.
Disclaimer: The above information is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
- Daniel A. Epstein, Nicole B. Lee, Jennifer H. Kang, Jessica Schroeder, Laura R. Pina, James Fogarty, Julie A. Kientz and Sean A. Munson, Examining Menstrual Tracking to Inform the Design of Personal Informatics Tools, ACM Digital Library, May 2017
- Megha Rajagopalan, Period Tracker Apps Used By Millions Of Women Are Sharing Incredibly Sensitive Data With Facebook, BuzzFeed News, September 9, 2018
- Donna Rosato, What Your Period Tracker App Knows About You, Consumer Reports, January 28, 2020
- Jerry Beilinson, Glow Pregnancy App Exposed Women to Privacy Threats, Consumer Reports, September 17 2020
- Natasha Singer, Period-Tracking Apps Say You May Have a Disorder. What if They’re Wrong?, New York Times, October 27, 2019
- Sarah Johnson, Lorrae Marriott & Michael Zinaman, Can apps and calendar methods predict ovulation with accuracy?, Current Medical Research and Opinion, September 2018