Do you know what goes inside your sanitary pad, and whether it is harmful for you? Hint: Most of it is.
Menstrual periods are a reality for all women, but not every woman has a comfortable and discomfort-free period. Indeed, most women who use sanitary pads complain of pad rashes, irritation while using the pad, and other problems.
Why do pads cause rashes, itching, inflammation and other discomfort? The problem lies with what lies beneath – literally, what goes into making the period pad.
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The problem with sanitary pad ingredients…
Brands manufacturing sanitary pads in India are not legally mandated to mention the full list of ingredients that go in the pad. Period pads are included under the category of ‘medical products’ in India, and are exempt from mentioning the list of ingredients in the product.
As a result, you will not find this list on the package – and hence, you don’t know what you are buying. Your decision to purchase a particular pack is based on factors such as a long association with the brand, preference for a particular kind of pad over another, price points, and so on.
Moreover, though the Government does have a set of quality standards that manufacturers must meet before obtaining manufacturing and retail licences, these standards have not been updated since the 1980s and most brands can pass their sanction quite easily. There is no independent testing of the pads on sale in India today, and as a result, one is not aware of whether the product they buy is harmful to them or not.
Over the years, consumers and certain NGOs have raised a hue and cry about the safety of certain ingredients and materials used in making sanitary pads in India. At best, consumers like yourself can only know if the pad contains a ‘special gel technology’ to lock moisture in, or whether it is ‘ultra thin’ to add to user comfort, or whether it has a cotton upper layer or not. There is no clarity on which materials constitute the rest of the pad, and whether they contain any substances that may cause allergies, infections, or even diseases of the reproductive system in the near future.
What the pad is composed of
Sanitary pads have the following structure: A covering layer, a distribution layer underneath it, an absorbent core at the centre, a back sheet to prevent leakage, and a back covering that has adhesive for the pad to adhere to the underwear.
Most ultra thin and super absorbent sanitary napkins found in India today contain SAPs, or Super Absorbent Polymers, in the absorbent core. These are either in gel or granule form and are held together in a permeable polyethylene and spun fabric layer. The uppermost layer often contains dioxins, which are found in the bleach that is used in the upper fabric.
However, dioxins may cause side effects such as ovarian cancer, reduced fertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and even affect the immune system, over years of regular use. SAPs, meanwhile, create a fertile ground for bacterial toxins to form – these are responsible for pad rashes, inflammation of the vulva and even TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome).
One might argue that period pads are not used for long hours – any pad is not recommended for use for over six hours at a time – and so, these risks may be exaggerated. However, it helps to remember that the tissues of the vulva and vagina are much more permeable than those of the rest of the skin.
The vaginal walls have thin mucous membranes, lymphatic vessels and blood vessels, which are directly affected by chemicals present in the sanitary pad. It takes only a few hours of exposure to harmful toxins and materials for infections and inflammation to occur.
Apart from dioxins and SAPs, fragrances added to the pad to reduce odour and certain petrochemicals may also irritate sensitive skin.
Does a safe pad exist?
Over the last decade, several smaller Indian companies have offered safer alternatives in terms of toxin-free, rash-free sanitary pads that do not cause infections and irritation upon use. On the contrary, they offer a safer period than the ones most women are used to. Having period pain, greasy skin and hair and other health concerns during the menstrual period are bad enough, without adding potentially hazardous menstrual hygiene products into the mix.
The safest pads are those that are composed almost entirely of cotton, and which have no fragrances or toxins anywhere in the pad. They can be used safely for up to six hours and must be discarded for a fresh one thereafter. Not only are they safe on the vulva and vagina, they also offer high comfort, rapid absorbency, zero chances of leakage and a safe way to dispose of the used pad as well.
You may also read: 6 Common Reasons Why Period is Shorter Than Normal