Do you know what disposable sanitary pads are made of? Most likely, you've never thought about it. Menstruation is not a topic that is often discussed, but it is an important topic for every menstruating person out there.
If you use pads, you're having them pressed up against your body, specifically the skin around your vaginal area, for around 5 days every month. The skin around this area is highly permeable. Items that come in constant contact with your skin are absorbed into your bloodstream and distributed throughout your body.
Disposable sanitary pads contain certain stuff that you definitely don't want near your vagina. They cause undesirable side effects and are detrimental to your health. Many report heavier periods and worsened period cramps. Over time, they may even lead to major illnesses like cancer!
Sanitary pads are not naturally pure white. The fibres in pads are chlorine bleached to give them their clean and sterile appearance. This bleaching process creates dioxin, a highly toxic pollutant. You may think that the levels of dioxin in sanitary pads are quite low and do not pose any danger. However, dioxin accumulates in the fat stores of the body over time, and can stay there for up to 20 years. Exposure to dioxin can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, hormone dysfunction, endometriosis, and various forms of cancer.
Apart from cotton, rayon (synthetic fibre derived from wood pulp) is also used in your sanitary pads. Rayon is cheaper than cotton, and helps to enhance the absorption capacity of pads, but also contain dioxin from the bleaching process.
Conventionally grown cotton is heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, and these chemicals can stay on the cotton long after it has been harvested. Side effects of exposure include infertility, hormonal disruption, thyroid malfunction, diabetes, endometriosis and depression.
Sanitary pads often advertise themselves as 'leakproof', with an impermeable plastic layer at the bottom of pads which do not allow liquid or air to pass through. The plastic traps moisture and heat, creating an environment that promotes the growth of yeast and bacteria. It can also cause sensitive individuals to experience burning, chafing and soreness.
Scented sanitary pads with odour neutralizers and other artificial fragrances contain a combination of unknown chemicals, which can enter the bloodstream and cause side effects. On the surface, they also irritate the skin, causing allergies and reactions.
Growing up in Singapore, pads are usually the first menstrual product recommended to us during sex ed class or through our mothers. But it's not too late to try an alternative! Reusable cloth pads do not contain harmful chemicals, as they don't require bleaching or fragrances. They are usually made of cotton and not synthetics.
If you're squeamish about blood, here's a way to wash cloth pads without having to deal with the blood. Or you can start with small changes, like using cloth pantyliners instead of disposable liners on a day-to-day basis.
Menstrual cups are also a great alternative to disposable pads! If you've never used tampons before, don't worry, you can still switch to cups. The learning curve might be slightly steeper, but the benefits it brings are worth it. Other than being better for your health, they are also more comfortable and convenient. (Here are 13 reasons why you should try a menstrual cup!)