Evolution of Menstrual Products- How Did It All Begin?
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The menzie madness has been here since the beginning of time, where options were limited, and people who menstruate had to make do, which wasn’t that much! The best period underwear was definitely not on the list.
But now, the evolution of knowledge and technology has led to the evolution of menstrual products.
The global menstrual products market is projected to grow up to $27.7 billion by 2025. Yikes! This figure makes you think about where it all started, how far it has come, and what women of the past used.
Let’s find out!
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Ancient Times and Menstruation
Before we get on to the nifty inventions of the 1800s and so on, aren’t you curious about how our ancient sisters handled their time of the month? From the start, there was also a lot of religious shame around periods, as they were considered ‘dirty.’ Most of the time, women were left to handle it by themselves – often in hiding!
They were sure creative and really paved the way for the period products later on.
These women made homemade pads/rags from woven cotton, which was an absorbent material. They also used to make the pads with sheep’s wool, which wasn’t as effective but did the job anyway.
However, the woolen pads held a strong odor of blood and were thicker than cotton pads. Both these makeshift pads used to be attached to their clothes during their periods.
Grecian women also used homemade rags. However, there are claims that they also used lightweight wood to make old-fashioned tampon shapes! These smart women would wrap pieces of lint around the wooden plugs to create a tampon-like object.
Although it’s been argued that this was probably a method of birth control, I’m truly impressed and believe that Grecian women actually thought about tampons before anyone else did!
Egyptians were one of the first individuals to use papyrus for various things. It is a material that is made from the stem of a water plant and was used for making sheets, baskets, mats, paper, sandals, and rope.
It is claimed that Egyptian women also made a tampon-like device out of softened papyrus and used it to manage their periods.
Equatorial African women used to use rolls of grass or grass mats to manage their periods, while 17th Century Europe also made use of homemade pads made from oil silk, cotton fibers, and waste, wood, and linen.
How Did Women Deal with Periods in 1800 to 1900s?
For most of this century, women had to DIY it.
They used to use woven flannel or fabric to make little homemade cloths to use during their periods. While this used to work, people were concerned about the bacteria growth and cleanliness since these cloths had to be reused month after month, and cleaning was probably not the best.
This was when the menstrual product market began.
Between 1854 and 1915, there were 20 patents on the first menstrual cup, Lister’s towels, and rubber underwear, and many more. The first cups were often made of hard rubber or aluminum, not the comfortable silicone we know now!
These products were available for women to purchase in the 1890s through catalogues. Other menstrual products were also elastic belt that you had to attach to a pad and another antiseptic pad.
Now, that sounds complicated! It really makes us appreciate our current luxuries.
There were many menstrual hygiene products around. However, there was still such a taboo around having a period that it made women scared and anxious to even get what they needed. This led to various failed product launches.
Let’s Have a Look at Later Years
It was truly weird how women were constantly shamed for having a period, which is a totally natural human process. However, the menstrual product market still bloomed. Thankfully, advancements didn’t stop, and individuals kept finding better ways to handle their flow.
Let’s have a deeper look into each decade.
Most of the period products that came from this era are mostly because of smart WW1 nurses who discovered that cellulose was a way better material than normal fabric or cloth to absorb large amounts of blood.
Then came the Kotex sanitary napkin, which was made from war bandages. These napkins were a hit among all women and were by far the most effective method to handle their flow.
In the 1930s, there was another increase of inventions in menzie products. It was at this time that came the tampon. In 1933, Tampax first made its debut with its patented modern disposable tampons.
Tampons were becoming increasingly popular and were considered a better option because there was less exposure to bacteria. However, there was still the issue of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Most women loved the idea of tampons and left out using pads after learning how to properly use a tampon. However, many societies didn’t want to accept tampons as a period product because of the stigma around virginity, masturbation, and that it could be used as a form of birth control (which is not possible).
Since this was a problem, pad sales started to go up.
Mary Kenner, an African American woman, invented the first sanitary belt in 1956. This had glue to keep the pad in place and a sanitary belt with moisture-proof material. Unfortunately, her clever invention was dismissed for thirty years due to racial discrimination.
When it was finally released, though, women found it to be very useful. Hats out to you, Mary!
These decades were for improving menzie products.
In 1972, beltless pads were introduced, known as the pads we have now. It came out in versions such as mini pads, light flow, and heavy flow. Maxi pads and pads with wings came on the market in the 1980s.
In these times, tampons’ popularity grew despite moral problems. However, the 90s saw about 5000 cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome, which sent the women into a bout of worry. Most of these cases were connected to one specific tampon brand, and thankfully, they weren’t available anymore.
Since the government didn’t have much oversight over the product’s composition and protection, people started looking at natural/organic products.
Leona Chalmers worked on the period cup in 1956, which included making the cup out of softer materials for comfort. This is similar to the ones we use today.
At some point, a powder concept was even played with. Yep, it’s a powder that can be inserted into the vagina to lower the pH of period blood in an effort to reduce bacterial growth. Luckily, this was never approved! Because WHAT?!
In 1967, Gladys Ruppel had a patent for a protective petticoat, which was half-slip and had a moisture-proof material to prevent the blood from getting on the outer clothes. This led the way for the creation of period underwear.
Eco-conscious period products, such as the cup, became more common in the 1970s because of the environmental and feminist movements.
Y2K and Now
I bet you are really grateful for the period products we got. I know I am!
Standard tampons and pads have also been reinvented, as some brands provide organic materials which are better for you and the environment. There are menstrual cups, period underwear, or reusable pads. Sometimes, you need help choosing between modern period products!
Women were always expected to be hygienic and feminine, but somehow having a period does not fit in that category. Marketers used to use strategies that were based on this fear. However, this has all changed.
Advertisements now take a positive tone, making period products a normal thing which encourages one’s power to control how they want to take care of their bodies.
Period underwear, for example, is being advertised freely. For example, back in 2020, ModiBodi released an advert with shots of period blood to normalize the stigma of a period. And we love this!
You also get women who choose to free bleed. These women chose not to be conformed to choosing a product and were forced to be ashamed of their period as the feminist movement moved them into accepting their bodies even more.
The history of menstrual products has really had a really big influence on women’s wellness. This evolution was necessary to pave the way for women and people with Aunty Flo to have a comfortable monthly experience and the ability to buy these products with no shame.
The road to dissolving the taboo is still long, but let’s hope that it’s done before another 5000 years have passed!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a sea sponge an effective period product?
Also known as a period sponge is a real or synthetic sea sponge that works like a tampon without a string (eyebrows are already rising). It is sustainable and very absorbent, but it’s not the safest thing on the period market.
Sea sponges were used by ancient women and also by 19th-century women for a while. The sponge was placed in a net with a string for easy insertion and removal. These sponges did not need so much cleaning as napkins/rags did. However, it’s not that safe to use. Boiling them in water does reduce the risk, but there’s not enough evidence to prove if it’s safe enough!
What are the latest trends in menstrual products?
There are various eco-friendly menstrual products out on the market recently. Menstrual cups, which are super sustainable, can be used for many years and do not have a high risk of causing TSS.
There are also period discs, which are an insertable alternative period product that gives you protection from your menzie, lets you have mess-free sex (whaaaaat?!), and even can reduce your cramps. This is still lesser known than the other period products, but it seems really promising!
Period underwear is also making a comeback. This underwear has various layers that protect you and your clothes from stains and that wetness feeling. The trends show that consumers now choose to make eco-conscious choices and make once-off purchases on reusable products.