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Back To The Future: Sanitary Pads

Perfume, perfect shape, a high absorption level; today’s sanitary pads have a number of comfort improving qualities. It all started, however, with a sheet of cotton. How did the sanitary pad develop over time?

Before the industrial revolution

In the old times, women were very creative when it came to dealing with their periods. Roman women used wool, in South-East Asia they used grass and animal fur. Paper was the most used product in Japan; it had to be changed twelve times a day. Of course, cotton sheets and rags were popular too.

The beginning of the twentieth century

Both the world wars and the industrial revolution made a lot of innovation possible for sanitary products. Nurses in the First World War looked for a way to handle all the blood from the wounded. They discovered that cellucotton, a material that was developed before the war by the company Kimberley-Clark, was perfect for this. After the war, the fabric was sold as a disposable sanitary pad. The Kotex brand was born.


After the US, the disposable sanitary pads also came to Europe. The layers of fabric wouldn’t stay in the right position though, which severely limited the freedom of movement for women during their menstruation. Constructions with belts and ropes were invented to keep the pad in place.

Images: magazine adds for Kotex in the fifties


It turned out that nothing worked better to keep the pad in its position than a sticky strip on the bottom of the pad. This strip was first introduced in 1969 by Stayfree MiniPads. The well-known brand Libresse also claims this revolutionary invention. In the sixties, absorption powers and comfort were improved as well with a dry topcoat.

Images: magazine adds for  in the seventies and eighties


With the pads being absorbing and staying in place, producers focused on comfort. The new pads fitted to the shape of the body and were a little thicker in the middle. Perfect for wearing tight jeans. Sanitary pads became thinner and the absorption level improved even more.


Separately packed pads were invented, handy to carry around in a purse. Libresse introduced the first sanitary pad with so-called wings, sticky strips on the sides that prevent leaking and keep the sanitary pad in the right place.


Now sanitary pads are only three millimeters thin and have an enormous absorption level. There are varieties for different times of the day, different types of underwear and the heaviness of your period. Plastic layers, various zones, caring skin products, anatomic shapes and breathing fabric: you name it, they’ve got it. Also the consciousness that sanitary pads aren’t sustainable is growing. Normal sanitary pads contain plastic and cause a big amount of waste. Alternatives like washable pads and menstrual cup are slowly gaining popularity.

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Shen Schol

Shen Schol

nice to meet you, happy face

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