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Menstrual Products

By , MD, PhD

Menstruation represents periodical discharge from the uterus occurring in women from puberty to menopause. Sales within the feminine supplies market are essentially driven by the needs of menstruating women, whose numbers are dictated by changes or growth of the population. Plenty of effort has been put to establish legislation in order to make feminine products safer, as well as to specify ingredients on the package.

There are two principal types of menstrual products: those that give external protection and those for internal protection. External protection from pads and party-liners absorb the menstrual flow after it leaves the body, whereas internal protection (such as tampons) are inserted into the vagina to absorb the menstrual flow before it leaves the body. Menstrual products are more commonly divided on disposable and reusable items.

Disposable menstrual items

Sanitary napkins (menstrual pads) are rectangular hygiene absorbent products that are preferred by women on light-flow days or when spotting is present. The absorbent pad is the most important component of a sanitary napkin, which is made of wood pulp mixed with super absorbent polymers for enhancing fluid holding capacity. There is a trend to make the pads that are thinner and less bulky, but with the same level of protection.

Tampons absorb the menstrual fluid inside the body (vagina) after it has left the uterus, thus offering very discreet protection. They are mainly composed of rayon or cotton cellulosic absorbent material, or a mixture of these fibers. They can be used throughout the reproductive age starting with the first menstrual bleeding (menarche) of young girls until the last menstrual bleeding or menopause.

Menstrual cups have been around as long as tampons, but not as widely used. They are inserted into the vagina where they collect blood and can be safely worn up to 12 hours, which is why they are preferred by some women as a tampon alternative. They are primarily made of silicone or latex and can last up to 10 years (depending on the brand).

A significant proportion of women who are using a tampon for their menstruation (particularly tampons that are designed to be super absorbent) are prone to develop toxic shock syndrome. It is a rare, albeit life-threatening bacterial infection caused by certain types of bacteria – namely Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes.

Reusable menstrual items

Menstrual cups are small, flexible items worn inside the vagina that capture the menstrual fluids during menstruation. There are several brands of menstrual cups that are shaped like a large cervical cap and made from various materials (namely rubber or silicone in reusable versions). These items can last up to 10 years or longer and come in two sizes – before vaginal childbirth size and after vaginal childbirth size.

Cloth pads are used both as a primary product, and also to supplement or interchange with products for internal protection. They can be made from flannel, terrycloth and cotton (often organic) and some women can even sew their own pads. They can be soaked in cold water with vinegar or other natural disinfectants, rinsed out, and then subsequently washed in the regular laundry.

Sea sponges that naturally grow in the oceans are good synthetic-free option for women. Such natural sea sponge tampons are worn inside the vagina just like a regular tampon to absorb menstrual flow (often with a floss tied around to act like a tampon string). Unlike a tampon, sea sponge can be reused, although proper disinfection is needed between cycles and uses.

Padded panties contain washable absorbent pads, which are economical and preferred alternative for allergies to synthetic materials used in disposable pads. A draw sheet, towel or blanket can be placed between legs at night in order to absorb menstrual flow. Their advantage is that they can be removed when necessary, leaving the original clean sheet on the bed.

Sources

  1. uknowledge.uky.edu/.../viewcontent.cgi
  2. scholarworks.rit.edu/.../viewcontent.cgi
  3. www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/.../Toxic_shock_syndrome
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2784630/
  5. Ferin M, Jewelewicz R, Warren MP. The Menstrual Cycle: Physiology, Reproductive Disorders, and Infertility. Oxford University Press, 1993; pp. 4-24

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 11, 2015

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