During menstruation, a woman mostly depends on sanitary pads. Without causing any discomfort, they have the capability to absorb the heaviest of flows and hence, have literally been a blessing for women. But are these sanitary pads safe to use? Onlymyhealth reached out to Dr. Aruna Kalra, Senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram to find the answer. A major part of the female community uses sanitary pads but they do not know about the risks associated with them and most importantly, how to use them correctly to minimize the risks. Thus, this article is a must-read for women.
Are sanitary pads harmful?
"Mostly, sanitary pads are safe to use, however, few ongoing studies have reported the incidence of genital cancer with the usage of sanitary pads that use absorptive agents like dioxin and super-absorbent polymers because the nature of the dioxin (present in sanitary pads) to get accumulated in the body can cause cervical cancer or ovarian cancer. One should change sanitary pads every 3-4 hours even if she is not menstruating heavily," says Dr. Aruna Kalra.
Sanitary pads contain some ingredients that may be harmful to the body. Some of them are:
Dioxin: Dioxin is a chemical that is used to bleach sanitary pads. Dioxin can be very harmful to the body and may poses many health dangers.
Pesticides: The cotton used for making sanitary pads often contains some pesticides which would have been sprayed on it by the farmers during cultivation.
Artificial Perfumes: Artificial Perfumes are chemicals that are not safe.
Health Dangers of using Sanitary Pads
Sanitary pads can cause the following Health Dangers:
- Cancer in the ovaries
- Hormonal dysfunction
- Vaginal allergies
- Inflammation in the pelvic region
- Damaged immune system
- Malfunctioning of the thyroid
- Ailments related to the endometrium
Side effects of using sanitary pads
Sanitary Pads Contain Bleach
Did you know that these menstrual pads are bleached before they reach you? Cotton is never purely white but it has a tint of yellow. However, the pads that we use are shiny white, so how’s that possible? White colour is associated with cleanliness and most of us believe that if something is white, it is cleaner. The same thought is behind pads as women believe that crystal white pads are clean and so they have that sense of safety that they are using something clean.
But this white colour is obtained by bleaching the cotton! Yes, it is bleached with dioxin(a chemical that is very dangerous). This is also a potent environmental pollutant. A lot of companies have started to advertise their products as low in dioxin but even reduced exposure to this chemical can cause liver dysfunction and darkening of the skin. On average, a woman uses about 6-7 thousand pads in her lifetime. Now, imagine the amount of dioxin that might have entered her body. Can you estimate the concentration and the damage it can cause? Dioxin is linked to immune problems, pelvic inflammatory diseases, hormonal dysfunction, diabetes and ovarian cancer, in the worst case.
Sanitary Pads Can Cause Cancer!
Yes, it is found that using pads can cause genital cancer. This doesn’t mean that using pads once in a while would also bring you at risk of cancer but those who are using these every month need to be worried. This is mainly with pads that have chemicals in them. Thus, your sensitive vaginal area is exposed to these chemicals that can easily enter the body and cause damage. Some of these are cancerous and may even hamper the reproductive health of the woman. Another aspect is that the fiber used in pads for better absorption can cause cervical cancer. Pure cotton pads aren’t that absorbing as fiber pads and therefore companies use fiber to increase the absorption rate. Anything that is made to absorb better contains cellulose gel which has dioxin and it is highly dangerous.
They may have herbicides and pesticides
Not because they are administered with these but because cotton material is highly likely to have these. As we all know, sanitary napkins are made of cotton and cotton is a crop. The crops are given herbicides and pesticides to keep them away from pests but this could also affect the cotton and that may enter your body through the bloodstream. Also, another dangerous chemical named ‘Furan’ is present on the cotton which may get inside the body. This chemical along with other herbicides and pesticides that are sprayed on cotton are found to cause cancer and infertility, thyroid malfunction and numerous other health issues.
Sanitary pads can cause infertility
Most pads contain deodorants or odour neutralisers to control the smell of blood. It is something that women want and manufacturers shouldn’t be blamed as women themselves cannot withstand the issue. But the risk with scented pads is that they can attack your fertility and may even put the baby’s life in danger. The chemicals in scents are linked to causing birth defects and negative impact on the embryonic development. This is why experts advise avoiding scented feminine hygiene products. Apart from causing skin irritation, they also increase the risk of vaginal yeast infection and other infections.
Sanitary Pads Can Cause Toxic Shock Syndrome
Prolonged use of menstrual pads can lead to bacterial overgrowth in the vagina. Staphylococcus aureus is the bacteria that may enter your vagina and cause toxic shock syndrome. Fever, diarrhoea and dizziness are the initial symptoms of toxic shock syndrome. This bacteria can release toxins in the body that may affect your blood pressure and blood circulation to the brain. Besides, most affordable sanitary pads are made of synthetic material that encourages bacterial growth. If you experience itching, irritation and infections after using pads, it might be because of bacterial overgrowth. Never ignore this as it can lead to severe consequences in the future. A lot of women ignore the symptoms thinking that it is normal but now you know how disastrous it can be to keep using pads even after experiencing these issues.
Precautions to be taken
Dr. Aruna Kalra has suggested some precautions that one should keep in mind while using sanitary pads:
- Change your pad frequently. It would be better to change them at least every 5-6 hours
- Maintain proper perineal hygiene and use organic intimate hygiene products to keep the area clean
- You must drink enough water during your periods to prevent urinary tract infections. Most women avoid water consumption in order to avoid frequent trips to the loo
- Clean your underclothes regularly and dry them(preferably in sunlight) properly so that no moisture remains
Some Hygiene Tips To Negate The Dangers of Using a Sanitary Pad
Apart from taking the aforesaid precautions while on your periods, you should also consider these hygiene tips to promote vaginal health and keep related problems at bay.
- Maintain proper hygiene and keep your vaginal area clean
- Avoid using public washrooms, if needed, use a toilet seat spray to disinfect the seat and then use
- Maintain alertness for any rashes/itching around your vaginal area
- Clean the reusable pads properly
- Wear comfortable and clean underwear of breathable fabric
- Choose only one sanitation method at a time
- Practice frequent changing of pads
- Discard your sanitary pads properly or it may become a breeding ground for infections.
Sanitary pads are the most affordable menstrual hygiene products. These are also easily available and therefore a large part of women use these during periods. However, we cannot neglect the side effects of using sanitary pads. Those who cannot adopt other measures must keep intimate hygiene precautions in mind. Vaginal health is as important as others and therefore, maintaining vaginal hygiene is imperative.
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