Recent innovations in the world of pads and tampons

Recent menstrual care innovations include eco-friendly materials, smart tampons, and inclusive designs.

November 7, 2023
Recent innovations in the world of pads and tampons

Menstrual pads and tampons have been the go-to products for decades. However, recent innovations in this field have significantly shifted how people experience their periods. From eco-friendly materials to smart technology, manufacturers are constantly seeking new ways to improve these products' performance, comfort, and sustainability.

In recent years, there has been a growing demand for menstrual supplies that are environmentally sustainable and free of harmful chemicals. This has led to the emergence of new materials like bamboo, organic cotton, and biodegradable polymers that offer an eco-friendly alternative to traditional pads and tampons. Additionally, innovative designs have made these supplies more comfortable and discreet, with features like thinner profiles and curved shapes that conform to the body's natural contours.

Two thin brown cardboard boxes containing pad held by a hand.


Another exciting innovation in this field is the use of smart technology to monitor menstruation and predict cycles. Some companies have developed wearable devices that track menstrual flow and provide personalized insights into hormonal changes and fertility. These devices can help people better understand their bodies and manage their periods more effectively.

Five tampons are depicted on the upper right corner, a box with a green fluid-filled cylinder with DAME written on it on the left, and a storage bag with a zipper and DAME written on it on the bottom right corner. 


Furthermore, menstrual supplies are now being designed with inclusivity in mind, catering to the diverse needs of menstruating individuals. This includes products for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, as well as those who require larger sizes or different absorbency levels.

In the section below, we dive into how menstrual care has been developed over time. 

Pads and Tampons

The use of menstrual pads and tampons dates back centuries. In ancient times, disposable pads were made from various materials such as wool, grass, or even animal skins, while tampons were made from softened papyrus or other absorbent materials.

In the late 19th century, the first commercial pads were introduced, consisting of cotton wool or similar materials wrapped in gauze. Adhesive strips were added to pads in the early 20th century, making them more convenient to use. Tampons also became more widely available during this time, although they were initially met with some resistance due to cultural taboos surrounding menstruation.

Throughout the 20th century, both pads and tampons continued to evolve, with new materials and technologies being developed for greater comfort and absorption. Today, there are a variety of options available on the market, including reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups.

Sustainable menstrual care and supplies

Not only do deep-rooted taboos, myths, and misinformation create the illusion that menstruation is inherently shameful, unpleasant, and weird, but in many developing countries, menstruators often lack access to hygienic sanitary materials and basic facilities. 

A case study by UNICEF from Burkina Faso revealed that school-aged menstruators often have no safe or private place at school to change their menstrual materials, resulting in an estimated one in 10 African menstruators missing school during their periods. In India, a report by Plan India and AC Nielsen revealed that 88 percent of menstruators use old fabric, rags, or sand to manage their flow because they cannot access or afford commercial sanitary pads. Despite the many challenges, there are economic opportunities in menstrual hygiene and sustainable menstrual care.

Biodegradable or reusable - two options for sustainable menstrual care.

Biodegradable menstrual products are a sustainable and eco-friendly option for menstruation. These products are made from materials that can naturally break down over time, reducing the environmental impact of disposable menstrual products.

One common material used in biodegradable menstrual products is organic cotton. Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, making it a safer and more sustainable alternative to conventional cotton. Biodegradable pads and tampons made from organic cotton are also free from harmful chemicals and synthetic fragrances, which can cause irritation and allergies. Another material used in biodegradable menstrual products is bamboo. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that requires less water and pesticides than cotton, making it a more sustainable option. Biodegradable pads and tampons made from bamboo are also super absorbent, breathable, and gentle on the skin.

Biodegradable menstrual products are typically designed to be compostable, meaning they can decompose naturally within a few months under the right conditions. This means that they will not contribute to landfill waste and reduce the carbon footprint compared to conventional menstrual products. While biodegradable menstrual products are a step towards sustainability, it's important to note that they still require proper disposal. They should be disposed of in a compost bin rather than thrown away in the trash. Additionally, it’s important to look for products that are certified by trusted organizations, like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), to ensure their sustainability claims are legitimate.

Reusable menstrual products are an eco-friendly and sustainable option for managing menstruation. These products are designed to be washed and reused, reducing the amount of waste generated by disposable menstrual products.

An effective reusable option is cloth pads. Cloth pads are made from soft, absorbent materials such as organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp, and can be washed and reused multiple times. They come in a variety of sizes and designs to suit different needs and preferences. Cloth pads are comfortable, breathable, and gentle on the skin, and can be a great alternative for those who find disposable pads irritating. 

Reusable period underwear is also becoming increasingly popular. These are specially designed underwear that has built-in absorbent layers to collect menstrual blood. They come in a variety of styles and sizes and can be washed and reused like regular underwear. Period underwear can be a convenient and comfortable option for light to moderate flow days.

Using reusable menstrual supplies has many benefits beyond sustainability. For one thing, they are often more comfortable than disposable products and can be tailored to individual preferences. Additionally, reusable supplies can be cost-effective in the long run, as they don't need to be replaced as often as disposable supplies.

Big companies have been paying attention to sustainable menstrual care, like Always and Tampax – both owned by Procter & Gamble – launching their organic cotton menstrual care products in 2019. Procter & Gamble even bought the organic period brand This Is L back in 2019. Bodyform revealed its line of period pants in February 2021. 

Aisle is a company based in Canada that provides information about the materials used in their reusable menstrual products and shares details about the conditions in their suppliers' factories. 

Free Periods Canada refrains from endorsing any of these products but rather wishes to provide the information so the readers can easily look them up. 

A box with &SISTERS written on it and 6 coloured tampons sticking out.


Biodegradable pads and tampons

Biodegradable pads and tampons are menstrual products that are designed to break down naturally over time, without causing harm to the environment. These products are typically made from materials like organic cotton or bamboo, which are biodegradable and renewable.

One example of a biodegradable pad is the GladRags Organic Day Pad. This pad is made from organic cotton and can be washed and reused multiple times, making it a more sustainable option than disposable pads.

Another example is the Natracare Organic Cotton Tampon. These tampons are made from 100% organic cotton and are free from synthetic materials and chemicals. They are also biodegradable and compostable, making them an eco-friendly alternative to traditional tampons.

Overall, choosing biodegradable menstrual products is a great way to reduce your environmental impact while still taking care of your personal hygiene needs.

Sea sponge tampons

They're natural tampons. Sea sponge has been lauded by most skin experts for being your skin's best exfoliating buddy. But unlike a regular tampon, it has to wet first to soften before inserting-and, they're reusable. It not only lowers the probability of infections that industry-made tampons are synonymous with but also eliminates the risk of TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome). Some makers of this product also claim that they help reduce menstrual inflammation. 

Two yellow sponges on a white cloth.


Period underwear

Period underwear is a type of underwear designed to be worn during menstruation. Unlike traditional underwear, period underwear has a built-in absorbent layer that helps prevent leaking and provides protection against stains. Some types of period underwear are also designed to provide additional support and comfort during menstruation.

There are several different types of period underwear available on the market, ranging from basic styles with minimal absorbency to more advanced options designed to handle heavier flows. Many brands also offer period underwear in a variety of styles and sizes to suit different body types and preferences.

Period underwear can be a convenient alternative to traditional menstrual products like pads and tampons, particularly for individuals who prefer not to use these products or who experience discomfort while using them. However, it's important to note that period underwear should be changed regularly throughout the day, just like any other menstrual product, to ensure maximum comfort and effectiveness.

A pink period underwear with black lining on a white background. 

Image: Period Underwear

Smart tampons

Smart tampons are a relatively new type of feminine hygiene product that uses technology to track and monitor menstrual health. These tampons are equipped with sensors that measure factors such as blood flow, pH levels, and temperature, providing women with valuable insights into their menstrual cycle.

The data collected by these tampons can be synced with a smartphone app, where it can be analyzed and used to generate personalized insights and recommendations for the user. For example, the app may suggest adjustments to diet or exercise routines based on changes in hormone levels or recommend when to schedule a doctor's appointment based on any irregularities detected.

While smart tampons are still relatively innovative, they have the potential to provide menstruators with greater control over their menstrual health and better manage conditions such as endometriosis or PCOS. However, it is important to note that the effectiveness and accuracy of these devices have not yet been fully established, and more research is needed to assess their safety and efficacy.

Reusable Pads

Reusable pads, also known as cloth menstrual pads, are an alternative to disposable menstrual products. They are made from soft, absorbent materials such as cotton, bamboo, or hemp, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different body types and menstrual flows.

Reusable pads can be washed and reused multiple times, making them an eco-friendly and cost-effective option for managing menstruation. They are also free from the harmful chemicals found in some disposable products, making them a safer and healthier choice for many women.

To use a reusable pad, simply place it against your underwear with the absorbent side facing up. The wings of the pad should be wrapped around the sides of your underwear and fastened securely with snaps or hooks. After use, rinse the pad in cold water to remove any stains before washing it with your regular laundry.

12 reusable pads of different colors stacked on top of each other.

Image: Reusable Pads

Menstrual product development from around the world

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) helps women in Rwanda jump-start locally-owned franchises to manufacture affordable, eco-friendly menstrual pads. Made from local, absorbent, and affordable banana fiber. Pads are produced sustainably at an industrial scale with local farmers and manufacturing teams, first by producing banana fluff in a central location and then assembling the pads in a decentralized network around the country. This distribution system includes training community health workers on how to provide education to both boys and girls about puberty and menstrual hygiene and enables them to become distributors and sole proprietors who earn extra income by selling pads.

Gender neutrality- Trans-affirming menstrual underwear is an important product development. WUKA has recently launched a line of boxer shorts for all people who menstruate, making sure that menstrual supplies are inclusive. 

Empowering Women Period (EWP), a Seattle-based organization run by Shana Greene and Village Volunteers distributes pads to Kenya, India, and other countries, and has developed a method for producing biodegradable sanitary pads. Every manufacturing facility within the organization is also owned and operated by women in need, who receive a steady income and health insurance for producing the pads.

In conclusion, the recent innovations in pads and tampons have brought about significant improvements in terms of comfort, convenience, and environmental sustainability. These innovations include the use of organic and biodegradable materials, applicators designed for ease of use, and innovative shapes and designs that offer better protection against leaks.

Overall, these advancements have made periods less burdensome and more manageable for menstruators, while also promoting sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of menstrual products.



Original article written by: Mushfika Anjum on March 30th, 2023.

Revised and updated by: Niki Oveisi on October 27th, 2023.

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