The first mentions of the menstrual pad were seen around the 10th century when Hypatia, a Greek Alexandrian philosopher was said to have hurled one of her used menstrual rags at a gentleman caller when she did not wish to be called upon. During this time women would also make tampons out of lint wrapped around small pieces of wood or use materials like moss, animal skins and grass.
Most women in the early 1700s would simply use old rags as pads, similar to what they would use as nappies for their babies and would simply wash and re-use them. This is also thought to be where the very flattering term ‘on your rags’ came from. Women who lived on farms would often use sheepskin as a menstrual aid and would boil it clean with each use. For women who travelled they would make a pile of cheesecloth sacks that they would stuff with flattened cotton – the used cotton would be thrown away and new cotton would be inserted into the re-usable cloth sack.
1896This was the year that the first commercial sanitary pads went on sale. They were made by Johnson & Johnson and were called ‘Lister’s Towels’. They weren’t well received by the public and failed to sell because women were horrified at the thought of purchasing the towels and thereby declaring to the public that they were menstruating.
During this era women were still using rags and cotton, mostly using products designed for babies nappies. They would pin folded fabric with flat cotton padding to their underwear and wash and re-use them. Sanitary aprons and bloomers, made thick fabric were available for women to prevent their clothes from staining. These garments weren’t for absorption, they were to protect their clothing from inevitable leaks.
Curads by Kotex are put on the market when French nurses in the First World War figured out that Curad bandages were much more absorbent than their homemade menstrual rags and started using them as pads. Curads had to be worn with a re-usable sanitary belt and drug store owners used to sell the products by placing a money box next to the Curads display, so women could slip inside the store and discreetly purchase their products without having to ask for them.
The first commercial applicator tampon with a handy cord for removal was invented in 1929 by Dr Earle Haas. He chose the name Tampax as the brand name for this product and by 1936 his product was on the market.
The 1930s saw the invention and production of the first reusable menstrual cup, however after a few years of disposable products many women resisted what felt like a backwards step in the menstrual aid product arena. Reusable products were seen as old-fashioned and it was much more modern to dispose of ones menstrual aids. The ‘mooncup’ would have a resurgence in the 50s but again failed to sell. Various versions of the mooncup will be available from the 70s onwards but will never really gained the same popularity as tampons and pads.
Tampons were very popular by the 1950s and a company called Pursettes started to make tampons that didn’t have applicators. This was the first time that women’s sanitary products were marketed in fashionable ways with Pursettes being packaged in a black carrying case and marketed to trendy women.
Kotex begins to individually wrap pads for increased hygiene and convenience while travelling.
It was around this time that most companies started selling pads with adhesive backing which put an end to the need for belts, pins and other cumbersome attachment methods. Most companies experimented with different shapes and designs and it was during this ear that ‘winged’ pads were first seen on the market. Cloth menstrual pads also made a comeback during this time and their popularity increased throughout the next few decades as they saved both money and the environment.
It was in 1978 that Proctor and Gamble created an extra absorbent tampon. It was made from a new material that expanded when it was inserted to create a cup shape. It wasn’t until the early 80s that health professionals realised that this material was contributing to hundreds of cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome which led to several deaths and prompted much stricter product approval methods for women’s hygiene products.
The 1980s saw a shift in advertising for pads and tampons. There was a huge focus on women being ‘active’ during their periods with lots of ads showing women playing sport and running. There was also a bizarre trend of using blue liquid to show the absorption level of products and ads would show a tampon in a cup of blue liquid or the same blue liquid being poured on a sanitary pad.
Aside from occasional developments in new materials, sanitary pads and tampons didn’t change much post 1970 except to get more discreet. In the 90s the focus of menstruation aids was invisibility. Applicator tampons got smaller, pads got thinner and brands started using packaging to hide their products.
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