With more and more healthy and organic tampon options on the rise, as well as the invention – and mass popularization – of the menstrual cup, another feminine hygiene product could be getting a facelift: pads!
To really appreciate just how far “sanitary pads” (as they were first called) have come, you have to look at the history of the pad.
Rags to Riches
In the 1800s, women stuffed their undergarments with cloths are woven flannel or fabric – hence the phrase, “on the rag.” These cloths were washed, hung to dry, and reused when the time came once again. But as the century turned, so did the concern that the “rag” was unhygienic, and alternative means of menses management were considered. Door-to-door salesmen began peddling rubber period pants to the ladies of the houses, as well as the very first menstrual cups, which were made of aluminum.
Lister’s Towels patented the first disposable sanitary pad, designed to attach to “doily belts” made of silk and elastic. If you think adhesive wings on a maxi pad is too bulky, imagine having to strap on a doily belt under your slip.
It was the nurses in WWI who first discovered that cellulose bandages absorbed blood better than cloth bandages while caring for wounded soldiers. Kotex released the first high-absorbency cellulose pad in 1918, and by the 1930s it became widely mass-marketed as women stepped up to work the jobs while their husbands were off fighting in WWII.
The U.S. Toxic Shock Syndrome Outbreak
1980 saw a number of otherwise healthy young women suddenly becoming sick – in just one year, a total of 1,365. The common factor was a brand of tampon newly out on the market that boasted better absorption than any other brand out there: Rely by Proctor and Gamble. At that time, tampons were not subject to medical testing. Ultimately, the brand was pulled from the market, and tampons began to include warning labels instructing proper use to avoid TSS.
Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare but life-threatening condition that arises from a bacterial infection inside the body. In this case, the breeding ground for bacteria was the synthetic Rely tampons. As it progresses, and it can progress rapidly, the condition causes sudden high fever, vomiting or diarrhea, seizures, headaches, and in severe cases renal failure and even death.
A Better Option
While tampons are convenient and discreet (and yes, you can swim in them), pads are the safer option. Not just in regards to the risk of TSS, though that is a factor, there is less chance of overnight leakage. Any woman who has ever woken up to her favorite sheets stained in the night knows how frustrating that is.
The lack of a need for insertion also makes pads a desirable alternative to tampons. Some women feel discomfort at having a foreign body inside them, and slippage can make tampon wearing uncomfortable. The environmental factor should also be considered – how many hundreds of thousands of tampons are flushed (always wrap your tampon and throw it away, by the way – never flush it) every year? How many plastic applicators are thrown away?
It stands to reason that as society’s preference for all-natural, all-organic products progresses over the years, our feminine hygiene products would need to meet that criteria as well. Very important as well is the need for sustainable or biodegradable products, made of 100 percent unbleached, unchlorinated – and even compostable cotton. Yes! You can compost your used natural, sustainable, organic pads!
Many more women are making the jump to “green” menstruation – no pink plastic footprint here.