The Evolution of Sanitary Napkins

By: Janavi Gupta


Sanitary Napkins are one of the most basic requirements of every female. However, they too have undergone a substantial amount of evolution in terms of how they looked, what material they were made of etc. They did not always appear in the form that we see them in today. Read ahead to know more!


Females use Sanitary Napkins during their menstrual cycle. Menstruation is a phenomenon by which the blood tissue lining of the uterus sheds every month expelling the unfertilized egg. It happens after a girl hits puberty and continues until menopause at the age of 50. Occurring in a periodic cycle, it takes place for 4-5 days every 26-28 days unless a sperm fertilizes the egg released by the fallopian tubes, that is, pregnancy occurs. Sanitary napkins are used to soak in all of this blood.

An image showing how sanitary napkins evolved over time


The earliest mention of the sanitary napkin is from the 10th century where a Greek woman is said to have thrown a menstrual cloth at an admirer to ward him off her. In the olden days, women used fur of rabbit or sheep, cotton, grass, ashes or any absorbent material that was easily available to absorb their menstrual blood. The first legitimate sanitary pad was made by nurses in France using wood pulp bandages. Being both extremely absorbent and cheap, it was perfect. This idea was soon borrowed by commercial manufacturers and behold! - The first-ever disposable pads were available for purchase in the market.


Even though sanitary napkins were now available in the markets, they were still way too expensive for a large group of women who resorted to the traditional methods. However, when they did become inexpensive, women were tabooed from openly asking for it from shopkeepers which restricted menstrual pads from being used by all. The sanitary napkin that is closest to the one that is found today was in the form of a cotton or wool fibrous rectangle covered with an absorbent liner. A specially made girdle or belt was worn undergarments which had loops through which the extended front and back of the liner fit. However, this was not able to keep the sanitary napkin in place thereby defeating its purpose.

This image shows the various products such as tampons, pads and menstrual cups available to women who are menstruating


In an attempt to solve this problem, an adhesive strip was placed on the bottom of the napkin which stuck itself to the underwear. This was quickly favored by women as it was both extremely comfortable and completely mess-free. Over the last couple of decades, the sanitary napkin industry has advanced by leaps and bounds. The days of bulky belts have long gone. With the advancement of the chemical industry, the invention of more absorbent materials has led to sanitary napkins that are more comfortable than they ever were. Wings underpads to hold it in place and scented pads, in order to reduce odor, has made it very popular. Various other products such as tampons, which are simply inserted into the vagina and menstrual cups which are a more environment-friendly option are also available to women today.


References:

[1] https://www.femmeinternational.org/the-history-of-the-sanitary-pad/

[2] Concise Biology for class 10 by Selina publications

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The Scientific Teen 2020.