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Are sanitary pads safe to use?

December 21, 2020 13:55 IST
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In her lifetime, a woman might use 6,000 sanitary napkins and accumulation of dioxin in the body can cause serious health risks, warns gynaecologist Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj.

Are sanitary napkins really good for you?

Kindly note that the image has only been posted for representational purposes. Photograph: Kind courtesy

Menstruation or menses as it is routinely called is a fact of life.

It is a natural bodily process wherein blood and associated matter is released from the uterus through the vagina as a part of the menstrual cycle.

The monthly occurrence impacts billion plus girls, women, non-binary persons and transgender men of reproductive age.

Yet the right to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified, healthy way is denied to millions across the world.

Menstruation is a virtue and should not be belittled in any way.

Better personal hygiene products allow you to take charge of your bodily processes in a very empowering way and offer manifold advantages over the traditional ways of handling the monthly cycles.

Sanitary napkins are surely a woman's best friend. They work wonders in women's life by giving much needed freedom besides protecting them during the toughest days of the month.

Thanks to public health initiatives, women in India have slowly progressed from using rags to cloth pads and napkins.

Similarly, there is also continuous awareness on healthier alternatives like tampons and menstrual cups that are less popular than sanitary napkins, but equally effective and convenient to use.

While there are several risks associated with the use of sanitary pads, let's first look at the benefits:

1. Locks the odour

Bad odour is a common problem faced by most ladies during those difficult days of the month and sanitary napkins turn out to be a big saviour from the unwanted odour.

While ways to control the flow can be effective, sanitary pads are always a safe option when it comes to bad odour.

2. Safeguard against stained underwear

The idea of the pad is simple and ancient one, however, our current pads offer significant absorbent power.

Additionally, pads tend to cover a major portion of the underwear they are stuck on, therefore, are likely to avoid staining.

3. Hassle-free use

Unlike other menstrual hygiene products like tampons that need to be inserted into the vagina, pads are easy to use and dispose.

4. No fear of Toxic Shock Syndrome

While pads aren't associated with toxic shock syndrome, they can, still present risk for other infections if not changed at a reasonable rate.

Do not forget to change your pads every three to four hours unless they are meant for overnight use.

The longer you wait to change that soiled pad, the greater the risk of developing UTI, a rash or even a vaginal infection.

5. Safe for overnight use

The one big advantage offered by sanitary pads over other similar products is that they can be used safely for longer durations, which means they are the best choice for overnight use.

High-absorbency pads are considered far safer when it comes to their use for an extended period.

The risks of using sanitary napkins

Despite the many advantages, you also need to be aware of the risks associated with using sanitary napkin products to make informed choices.

1. Carcinogenic

Yes, you heard it right. The fibre in the absorbent pads can cause cervical cancer.

Of course, cancer is not something that you would just get right away. But the darker side is you are using pads every single month and though there are only low levels of exposure to chemical contaminants found in the materials of such pads.

Over time, the chemicals would accumulate inside our bodies and threaten our reproductive health.

Just the thought of having these cancer causing chemicals on our vagina is scary.

Sanitary pads are not purely made of cotton but certain amount of plastic materials are used.

Some chemicals like BPA (bisphenol A) and BPS (bisphenol S) in plastic can complicate embryonic development.

Prolonged use of these plasticisers can lead to organ damage.

2. They contain dangerous pesticides and herbicides

Sanitary pads are made of cotton and like other crops, pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on cotton crops that can definitely cause harm when they reach your bloodstream.

A potentially dangerous chemical known as Furan is present on the cotton and has the ability to stay until it is harvested.

The chemical is even linked to cancer in some experimental animals. In addition, thyroid malfunction, infertility and other health problems are linked with the use of herbicides and pesticides.

3. They contain Dioxin, an environmental pollutant

Cotton is not ultra-white by nature, sanitary pad companies use a chemical called dioxin to bleach the cotton.

A short-term exposure to dioxin is known to cause skin darkening and altered liver function.

In her lifetime, a woman might use 6,000 sanitary napkins and accumulation of dioxin in the body can cause serious health risks and diseases such as hormone dysfunction, immune system damage, diabetes, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cancer and others.

4. Infertility and birth defects

Every woman hates the smell of blood and it is quite understandable, which makes the companies to add odour neutralisers or deodorants to these pads.

However, the very same chemicals that neutralise the odour have the ability to cause complications to your baby's embryonic development.

Moreover, scented feminine hygiene products are not recommended as they can cause irritation and at times yeast infection which can lead to other health complications.

5. Possibility of bacterial growth and other infections

The synthetic materials used in sanitary pads can cause blockage of wetness, which encourage bacterial growth.

It is one of the reasons that some women to experience severe allergies and other infections.

Toxic shock syndrome is one of the serious side effect associated with the prolonged use of sanitary napkins and is due to an overgrowth of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in your vagina which causes dizziness, fever and diarrhoea.

The bacteria releases toxins that can actually cause a sudden drop in your blood pressure which is dangerous because the brain fails to get enough supply of blood.

Now that you know the advantages and the disadvantages that go with the use of sanitary pads every single month, itis time you take informed decisions and make this period better for your body!

Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj is a gynecologist, obstetrician and IVF Expert at Nurture IVF Centre, Delhi.

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