Sanitary Pad: History, Types, Benefits, and Dangers

Sanitary Pads

The sanitary pad is no doubt the most widely used type of menstrual management in the world today. It is very easy to use, easy to access, and very straightforward.

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Today, the pads we use are a combination of mostly synthetic, and bleached material, but have you ever wondered what they were like about fifty years ago? And when exactly they were invented? Let us look at the history of menstrual pads.

The history of sanitary pads

Menstrual pads didn’t show up in the 21st century. They have been mentioned as far back in history as the 10th century in Ancient Greece, where it was recorded that a Greek woman had thrown one of the menstrual rags she had used at an admirer to get rid of him.

Before the invention of what we know as the disposable sanitary pad, most women made use of rags, cotton wool, or sheep’s wool in their undergarment to soak up the flow of menstrual blood. Rabbit fur, Knitted pads, and even grass were used by women at some point to handle their menstrual flow.

The first disposable pads ever invented were created up by nurses in search of new methods to curb excessive bleeding, especially on the battlefield. The earliest pads were crafted from wood pulp bandages by French nurses.

It was really absorbent and affordable enough to throw away after use. It wasn’t too long before commercial manufacturers decided to borrow this idea and the first set of disposable pads were made available for the public to buy as early as 1888 – known as the Southball pad. In 1896, the America company, Johnson & Johnson created their version named Lister’s Towel: Sanitary Towel’s for Ladies.

The challenge at the time was that women were not comfortable asking for such a product because of its name, so in the early parts of the 1920s, it was renamed Nupak, a rare name that did had no linking to what the product was, nor even attempted to describe the product.

Despite sanitary pads being available in commercial quantity during this time, they were too expensive for a lot of women, so they had no choice but to continue with the use of more traditional methods.

As soon are they were made more affordable, women were given a chance to put money in a box so that they did not have any need of speaking to the clerk.

Once they put the money in the right place, they could take a box of Kotex sanitary pads from the counter all by themselves. Women still had to wait several years before disposable menstrual pads became commonplace.

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Of course, the earliest disposable pads were nothing like what we have now. They were generally in the form of rectangular cotton wool or a fibrous rectangle neatly covered with an absorbent liner similar to cotton wool.

The ends of the coating were extended front and back so that they could fit through loops in a special belt or girdle that is worn beneath undergarments. While the design wasn’t a bad idea, it was notorious for either slipping forward or back of the planned position.

Later, there was the need to keep the pad in place, so an adhesive strip was attached on the bottom of the sanitary pass so it could seat well on the saddle of the panties, and this became a loved method by women. The belted sanitary pads only lasted till the early parts of the 1980s, sweet goodbye.

Over the last three decades, the sanitary pad industry has grown and advanced by incredible leaps and bounds.

The days of diaper-like thickness and bulky belts are over forever. With the creation of better designs and of course, more absorbent materials, pads have become more comfortable and practical than ever.

Pads can now be kept in place with the invention of ‘wings,’ and with the design of ‘scented pads,’ nobody had to worry about so much odor.

Although sanitary pads remain the most widely used type of menstrual management, they are still overpriced in different parts of the world.

Women from developing countries are beginning to think up says to make sanitary pads more affordable and accessible to young girls.

Why should I use a sanitary pad?

  • Unlike other methods of menstrual engagement, sanitary pads are more comfortable and do not require any form of insertion into the vagina canal.
  • You do not have to worry about itchiness
  • Toxic shock syndrome is a condition common with tampon and wool users because of their method of usage. This makes sanitary pads safer for use.
  • They come in different thickness and length, so every woman can find one she’s comfortable with.
  • Because sanitary pads have the disposable variety, you do not have to wear them for too long. This helps you feel fresh and clean with every change.

Types of sanitary pads

Most people in the 21st century only know about disposable sanitary pads. However, there is the reusable option which is more affordable but not considered as hygienic as the disposable one.

Most reliable sanitary pads are made of soft cotton fabrics that absorb the menstrual blood readily. Reusable pads are washed after each use so that they can be used again.

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You can guess already that for every upside, there just might be a few downsides. Below are the risks associated with the use of sanitary pads.

Risks of using a sanitary pad

1. Sanitary pads can cause cancer

Don’t be shocked at this information, but know that you don’t get cancer from using pads right away.

You have to use sanitary pads every month for at least three days, and for each of these times, you are exposed to chemical contaminants found in the product. These carcinogenic chemicals collect inside our bodies over time and become a threat to reproductive health.

2. Sanitary pads contain herbicides and pesticides

We all are aware that sanitary pads are made with cotton. Just like other crops on this planet, cotton crops get sprayed with herbicides and pesticides that can unquestionably cause harm to humans when they get into your bloodstream.

Furan, which is known to be a potentially dangerous chemical, remains on the cotton and will stick to it until it’s harvested for use.

Imagine having such a chemical contaminant like furan inside your body. Furan has even been linked to cancer in individual experimental animals. Pesticides and Herbicides are connected to infertility, thyroid malfunction, and several other health issues.

3. They contain dioxins and environmental pollutants

Cotton is white, but not naturally ultra – white. Because most females typically prefer something that feels soft and is purely white just for the feeling of putting on something fresh and clean, most sanitary pad companies make use of a chemical known as dioxin to bleach the cotton.

This means that we are unconsciously paying a very high price for being neat freaks. The argument of such companies may be that the pads only contain low levels of dioxin.

Based on studies, very short-term exposure to dioxin may lead to skin darkening and an altered liver function.

A single woman might use up to 6,000 sanitary pads in her lifetime, and when there is an accumulation of dioxin in the body, it can lead to serious health risks and diseases like ovarian cancer, immune system damage, hormone dysfunction, diabetes, pelvic inflammatory disease, and many others.

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4. They can cause infertility and congenital disabilities

Not every woman can stand the smell of menstrual blood. For this reason, your sanitary pads have odor neutralizers or deodorants. It’s quite understandable.

However, most sanitary pad companies use some chemicals in the making of scented pads that can lead to complications on your child’s embryonic growth and development.

Also, we do not recommend the use of use scented feminine hygiene products as they can bring about skin and internal irritation.

They are known to cause a yeast infection, which can progress into other medical complications.

With all the above in mind, it is best to look out for better and safer menstrual engagement options. But until one is invented, our dear sanitary pads remain a comfortable and widely used option.

If you would like to tell us what you think about sanitary pads or share the best options known to you, please do so by leaving a comment below.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.