Take a moment to appreciate the fact that you can order your sanitary products without ever feeling shame. There was a time when uttering the word “period” on national television was uncouth. Not only that, but when pads went mainstream and were sold in drugstores, drugstore owners used to put a cash box next to the products for women to discreetly purchase the products without anyone knowing. But now you can go to the grocery store and find a whole section dedicated specifically for female sanitary products, or easily order them at the comfort of your home.
Take a moment to appreciate that.
The journey has not been an easy one. Female sanitary products were seen as a shield against female “uncleanliness”, thanks to chauvinistic taboos and beliefs. From using grass and moss as absorbents in the 1700s to sustainable organic pads and menstrual cups, the journey can only get better.
There were no advanced sanitary technologies in the 10th century. So women used to create their own sanitary products. Some would stuff their undergarments with grass or use sheepskin lined with cotton. In others, moss was the only available product to use. Tampons were made out of lint wrapped around small pieces of wood. It was all organic. Sheepskin would be boiled and reused again after drying.
First forward to the 18th century and most women would simply use old clothing or just normal baby nappies as menstrual rags. For women who did not have enough rags, they would use sheepskin and line it with cotton. They would boil them clean after every use. When travelling, they would make a pile of cheesecloth sacks and line them with cotton which would be thrown away with every use.
However, there were concerns about bacterial growth from inadequate cleaning of reusable products. This century saw the introduction of commercialized female sanitary products, with products marketed door to door and on catalogues. The first commercialized sanitary product was “Lister’s Towels” created by Johnson and Johnson in 1896. With taboos pertaining to menstruation still prevalent, the product dwindled into thin air as women were afraid of purchasing them and declaring to the world they were on their periods.
This is also the period which saw the introduction of the “Ladies Elastic Doily Belt,” and the “Antiseptic and Absorbent Pad.” By 1915, twenty patents were taken out for menstrual products, including the first menstrual cups thanks to improved technologies.
The early sanitary products were not as effective as today’s. There would be inevitable leaks especially when using rags and nappies. The sanitary aprons and bloomers were introduced during this time to mitigate that problem. It was basically an apron lined with thick fabric to prevent clothes from staining.
Thanks to the first World War, nurses began noticing that the cellulose used in injury bandages known as curads was a better absorbent than rags. In came cellulose Kotex sanitary napkins, made from surplus high-absorption war bandages. These were first sold in 1918. This product was widely marketed and catapulted the modern innovations of sanitary products. Before the napkins, the curads were worn with a reusable sanitary belt discreetly bought from drugstores. The success of the sanitary napkins was due to the fact that women in the military were encouraged to toughen up and use sanitary products to continue working even when on their periods.
In 1929, the first commercialized tampon was introduced. Dr Earle Haas was the first one to create a commercial applicator tampon with a handy cord for removal, and the product hit the market by 1936.
This decade saw the introduction of reusable menstrual cups, but these were met with resistance as women felt they were a backward step back into the days of rags and reusable sheepskin. This was especially after the introduction of disposable pads and tampons. Various versions of the cups would continue to be introduced but they did not have as much success as disposable pads and tampons. Until global warming and environmental concerns became a thing.
Pursettes made sanitary products fashionable. They were the first to create Tampons without applicators and packaged them in a black carrying case marketed to trendy women.
By the 1970s, pads were mainstream. This era saw the eradication of the sanitary belts and other cumbersome attachment methods with pads coming with adhesive ready to be attached on undergarments. It was also during this time that winged pads were first introduced into the market. Reusable menstrual clothes also made a comeback as they saved on money and the environment at the same time.
Proctor and Gamble created an extra absorbent tampon that expanded into a cup shape when inserted. However, it became the main cause of toxic shock syndrome in women and its sale was terminated. It also led to more strict laws for approval of women’s hygiene products.
The extraction method for periods was introduced in 1971 out of research for safe abortion. A doctor would use suction to remove all the content of the uterus during periods shortening them from 5 days to a few minutes. It did not go mainstream partly because it was seen as an encouragement for early safe abortions and also because it was costly since a doctor would have to perform the procedure.
After the 1970s, the focus was largely on ensuring that women’s lives were not disrupted during their periods. Most of the products were improved upon to become lighter, more absorbent, and companies made attractive packaging to hide the products. The focus of menstruation aids was mainly invisibility. It still is and has always been.
As of 2000, tampons were the most widely used sanitary products with over 80% women saying they had used them before.
Because of the environmental concerns and increasing health problems from chemicals used in the production of sanitary products, more and more women are returning to the reusable organic methods like menstrual cups and reusable organic pads. As people with periods learn more about our options, we are able to take our health into our own hands, making the best decisions for our own bodies and lives.
At TamponTribe, we’re committed to walking with you in this journey for a healthy life and a sustainable planet for our future generations. Buy organic, buy reusable.