Menstrual pads have been mentioned in history as early as the 10th century in Ancient Greece, where a woman is said to have thrown one of her used menstrual rags at an admirer in an attempt to get rid of him.
The very first disposable pads were thought up by nurses, looking for new methods to stop excessive bleeding, particularly on the battlefield. The first pads were made from wood pulp bandages by nurses in France. It was very absorbent, and cheap enough to throw away afterwards. Commercial manufacturers borrowed this idea and the first disposable pads were available for purchase came as early as 1888 – called the Southball pad. In America, Johnson & Johnson developed their own version in 1896 called Lister’s Towel: Sanitary Towel’s for Ladies.
The problem was, women did not feel comfortable asking for this product, so in the early 1920s, the name was changed to Nupak, a name that did not describe the product.
The earliest disposable pads were generally in the form of a cotton wool or similar fibrous rectangle covered with an absorbent liner. The liner ends were extended front and back so as to fit through loops in a special girdle or belt worn beneath undergarments. This design was notorious for slipping either forward or back of the intended position.
Over the last twenty years, the sanitary pad industry has advanced by leaps and bounds. Gone are the days of bulky belts and diaper-like thickness. With the invention of more absorbent materials and better designs, pads are more comfortable and practical than ever. The invention of ‘wings’ keeps pads in place in the underwear, and the invention of ‘scented pads’ reduces odor.
Sanitary pads are the most widely used form of menstrual management, but they are still overpriced, particularly in developing countries.