Sanitary pads are one of the most frequently chosen period products and even though they are being replaced by other environment-friendly alternatives like menstrual cups, period underwear, reusable menstrual pads among others, they are still widely used by women across the world. Certain studies in the past have suggested that using sanitary pads could put one at risk of many diseases which may include cancer. This happens because the pads are given a clean and smooth appearance through bleaching, a process which uses certain chemicals harmful to women’s health. Phthalate is one of such chemicals that is used to soften and improve the flexibility and durability of plastics. They have been known as endocrine disruptors, and its long-term exposure has been linked to breast cancer, decreased fertility, obesity and asthma, according to studies. (Also read: Menstrual hygiene mistakes women commonly make)
Experts say that it is important for one to change sanitary pads frequently and find more feasible solutions like menstrual cup to limit the exposure to harmful chemicals.
“Sanitary pads are being used for decades. There are recent media reports about harmful chemicals used in the manufacture of them. Irrespective of these reports, one needs to understand that when one uses a sanitary pad it is important to change it every four hours and pad usage for a long duration can cause chafing of the skin. Besides, disposal of the same is not eco-friendly at all. Hence, if feasible and acceptable, menstrual cups seem to be a logical solution. For the economically deprived, if the cups are made available to women it seems a viable logical solution. For young girls and women not comfortable with the insertion of a cup, they can choose sanitary pads,” says Dr Gayathri D Kamath, Senior Consultant – Obstetrics and Gynecology, Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore.
What are the other harmful effects of sanitary pads for women’s health?
There are many chemicals that are used to give sanitary pads a clean and smooth appearance which could be harmful to women’s health.
“Sanitary pads have fibers that are chlorine bleached to give them a clean and sterile appearance. This bleaching process creates dioxin, a highly toxic pollutant that can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, hormone dysfunction, endometriosis, and even cancer. Conventionally grown cotton used for the pad contains pesticides and herbicides which stay on the cotton long after it has been harvested. Side effects of exposure include infertility, diabetes, and endometriosis. Sanitary pads are known to be leakproof with a plastic layer at the bottom of pads which does not allow liquid or air to pass through. Plastic is known to trap moisture and heat and create a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria. It can also cause burning, chafing, and soreness,” says Dr Sushruta Mokadam, consultant obstetrician at Motherhood Hospital, Kharadi, Pune.
What’s the safer alternative to sanitary pads
“Period panties are comfortable and you will not have to worry anymore as they can be a good alternative to sanitary pads. Menstrual cups are made of medical-grade silicone and are completely safe to use. It will be imperative for you to change the cup 1 in a day. Remember that the cup is soft, reusable, and needs to be placed inside the vagina. The cup should be emptied thoroughly, washed properly, and dry fully before using it,” says Dr Mokadam.