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An Overview on Sanitary Napkins

Written by: Anuradha Barman, S D Asagekar & Pooja Katkar

Menstrual hygiene products are designed to receive, absorb and to retain menstrual fluid at different conditions of rest and activity, observe Anuradha Barman, Dr S D Asagekar and Pooja Katkar.


The first disposable sanitary napkin, made of cotton and gauge, was put together in 1896. It was successfully commercialised in the United States of America in 1921. As availability of material shrank, there was need to find a material which is easily available and cost-effective. Later, wood pulp was incorporated since it is an absorbent material from soft wood.


The plastic revolution changed the entire nature of the sanitary napkin. Sanitary pads began to be made of Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) as an absorbent material, with Polyethylene (PE) for back cover. This made it waterproof. The polypropylene top sheet kept it dry. Today's sanitary pads are almost entirely from plastic material. Only a few materials are natural.


2. Potential problems of sanitary napkins:

2.1 Hygiene risk

Improvisation led to introducing SAP to increase absorbency, they began to be made of Polyropelene (PP)-based perforated top sheet and polyethylene sheet as barrier. This improved its functionality. These products seem innocuous but they may be laced with dioxins, petrochemicals, GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) and fragrances. When these chemicals come in contact with sensitive skin, tissue may get irritated. Dioxins are carcinogenic in nature hence the risk of cancer increases even at very low levels of exposure. Additives such as fragrances, deodorants, absorbency agents, urea and formaldehyde enhance the properties but can cause allergies and skin reactions.


2.2 Disposability:

Polymers in sanitary pads are non-biodegradable material. This may create many serious problems.


Sanitary pads are made of SAP. When these pads are flushed, they block sewage lines as these chemicals absorb all the water in the sewage line.


Disposed used sanitary pads cause occupational hazards for waste pickers who use their bare hands to sort out garbage. This is a health hazard. The common practice is to incinerate used sanitary pads. This releases dioxins and furans, creating an environmental hazard.


2.3 Affordability

In developing countries, the price of sanitary pads is often prohibitive for most of the population. About 70 per cent of Indian women still cannot afford sanitary pads and use unhygienic rags. In a 2012 study by Cheryl Nakata and Kelly Weidner on diffusion and adaptation of sanitary pads to the target group, it was found that working status, education, type of home and monthly household incomes influence the usage of sanitary napkins. The reason behind its cost is the fact that most of the material used is imported from developed places. This ultimately increases the cost of the product.

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