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A sanitary pad can be thought of as a soft material of absorptive quality worn mainly by females in their underwear during bleeding (after birth) or during menstruation. Ladies sometimes wear sanitary napkins when they undergo abortion or experience miscarriages. These pads are generally put on by women or young girls above 12 to absorb blood flow from their vagina.


Sanitary napkins range from a variety of similar names, which either mean the same or a bit different depending on the quality and/or era of manufacture. These names include sanitary pads, sanitary towels, maxi pads, feminine care pads, tampons, catamenial pads, feminine napkin, feminine pads, feminine hygienic products, and biodegradable pads, etc.

However, the name sanitary napkins, sanitary pads or simply “pads” are generally used by 90% of women globally. It is also interesting to know that pads are rarely used verbally by most of these ladies or their users possibly because of the culture the women find themselves in. In some parts of the world, menstruating women are forbidden to undertake some activities (like entering the kitchen) or better still allowed to enter some important assembly as they are considered unclean. Some ladies are shy to call these products pads probably because of the pain and discomfort they usually experience during their flow. The period of menstruation has become a dilemma for most women up to the point that even married women are apprehensive to tell their spouses. So they devise nicknames for pads and menstruation as they converse with their peers. This is commonly seen with the African ladies.

Other reasons why ladies are shy to talk about their menstruation can be dropped in the comment box below.

A brief history of sanitary pads

It has been noticed some two to three decades ago that ladies in the developing nations living in rural areas used white pieces of cloths called napkins (normally used as underwear for babies ) as pads for themselves and their daughters who are just experiencing puberty. These white pieces of cloths were used by these women and after usage, they were washed and dried for future use. Ladies at that time had little or no access to industrial pads and the few ones present were quite costly for these ladies. So they had no choice but to rely on these sanitary napkins as their pads.

As time went by, in the late 20th and early 21st century, the cost of industrial sanitary napkins became affordable and due to modernization, many young ladies embraced these products. Notwithstanding, this new age ladies were more prone to serious pain and discomfort normally called cramps as well as other illnesses such as cervical cancer and cancer of the uterus as compared to their counterparts decades ago who relied on white pieces of cloths as pads. All things being equal, the quality and absorbent property of these recent cheap sanitary napkins were questioned.

It was realized that most ladies’ sanitary pads were poorly manufactured. Main materials used to produce these products were simply abandoned papers that were being recycled, bleached with dangerous chemicals like chlorine so that they appear white, some odor neutralizers added and artificial fragrances secured with artificial colors, propylene glycol (PEG), polyethylene (PET), polyesters, adhesives as other components. These cause cervical cancer, cancer of the uterus, hormone disruption, dryness, birth defects and infertility on its users. Some female tampon users were also seen suffering from Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) as these products create a conducive niche for staphylococci bacteria.

Consequently, some few ladies who treasure their health but can’t afford high-quality pads, keep on using cloths, white napkins and sometimes husks as their pads despite their low hygienic properties.

Taking all these into consideration, companies have undergone extensive research and development as far as ladies’ sanitary napkins are concerned. These include the manufacture of high-quality sanitary pads with a superabsorbent polymer (SAP) which transforms into a gel substance when moist (in contact with water). The majority of the high-quality feminine hygienic products are 100% cotton with some being organic cotton, replacing those containing viscose, cellulose wood fluff pulp, and rayon. It is interesting to know that organic cotton pads are biodegradable. Biodegradable organic pads are free of dioxins (from bleaching chlorine), deodorants, rayon, polyesters, fragrance, dyes and irritations and they can be decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms thus avoiding pollution, a process known as biodegradation. These high profile feminine hygienic pads go a long way to limit or put an end on many of the abnormalities, pain and discomfort ladies face as they use low-quality pads. Even so, one limitation these high-quality pads pose is their high purchase price.

Eras of Sanitary napkins

The Rags Age

Deepening into history, it was known that ladies of the late 19th and 20th centuries used rags, cotton and sheep’s wool as sanitary pads to cater for their menstrual flow. Women who couldn’t afford these pads relied on grass, rabbit furs, knitted pads to absorb their menstrual flow.

The Kotex Age

Not after the first world war, the first disposable pad was discovered by French Nurses as they realized that cellulose was a better absorbent of blood compared to cloth bandages. Thus, the first cellulose Kotex sanitary napkin was sold in 1918.

The Kotex age reigned for about two decades ( 1918 – 1940), giving rise to the Tampons.

The Tampons Age.

Scientists in the likes of Dr. Mary Barton ( An English Physician) exposed the health benefits of a new menstrual flow absorbent called the Tampons. The tampons were positively known for causing little or no abrasions and boil on the vulva when compared to the then sanitary pads. However, tampons lose their popularity due to some following reasons: leaving them for too long may cause infection, moral concerns like virginity, masturbation and its ability to act like contraception, the emergence of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) that affected approximately 5000 cases as reported between 1979 – 1996.

By 1972, there were the beltless pads that inspired ladies with heavy flow, light flow as well as the likes of mini-pads.

Modern Age pads

In the last two decades, many industries have improved on the quality of ladies’ sanitary napkins. The new production of “scented pads” reduces odor during menstruation. Most recent pads are manufactured of high quality and different levels of absorbent materials to take care of a variety of flows as well as irregular flow, of which many are well-designed. These qualities make pads more practical and comfortable during usage. Some pads containing wings also keep them fixed place in the underwear. Other developments of recent pads are biodegradable organic pads made mainly of cotton which not only frees many ladies from the nightmare of menstruation but also protects the earth from plastic pollution.

Despite these qualities, recent developed sanitary napkins are overpriced and are mainly purchased in developed countries and mostly the rich in less developed nations.


To recapitulate, ladies’ pads have undergone several developmental changes from the nature of rags and cloths to white napkins and tampons with some improved qualities. And as time went by with the recent rise in technology and health diseases like cancer and infertility ladies faced while using sanitary napkins, there came more improved quality feminine hygienic products and these abnormalities were greatly challenged.