Allergic to sanitary napkins: why and what to do?
Sanitary napkins , also called menstrual pads, are the first protections that we are required to use as young women. Particularly easy to access (in terms of cost but also use and relationship to the body), sanitary napkins are often the first menstrual protection that our mothers place in our hands during our first period. And these are often the ones that we continue to use for all these reasons. However, it happens that we trigger an allergy to sanitary napkins: our skin turns red, becomes stinging, burns. What causes allergies, what products are involved, what brands to choose, should you change your menstrual protection? We answer all your questions in this article on sanitary napkin allergy.
Why can sanitary napkins cause allergies?
Due to their use, sanitary napkins are in contact for several hours with particularly fragile areas of our body , the genital mucosa and the anal mucosa. This is why they can be sources of inconvenience such as allergies or irritation.
Before you start: Irritations or allergies?
An allergy is a hypersensitivity of the human body to substances, generally harmless and present in the environment. These substances, called allergens, can be found in the air, in food or in surrounding objects. Furthermore, substances recognized as irritants can be likely to trigger allergies if exposed to them for a long time. If you are allergic, you will need to find the component that bothers you and remove it.
As for irritation, it can be due to an allergy but it can also be triggered by a sensitivity of your skin to a particular situation (rubbing of the towel on your skin, irritation due to bacteria from a towel changed too late, etc.). ). If you are sensitive to irritation from sanitary napkins, you may want to consider changing your means of protection instead.
Whether you suffer from allergies to sanitary napkins or irritation , you may encounter difficulties when wearing sanitary napkins
Potentially allergenic irritant components
By bringing your skin and mucous membranes into contact with various substances, sanitary napkins can cause allergies. This is all the more the case for certain irritating components more likely to trigger allergies:
- Perfumes: Many sanitary napkin manufacturers and brands add fragrance to their products. The goal ? Better sensoriality, giving the impression of being “fresh” and olfactory marketing. However, different perfumes are known to be allergens and pressing them against your vulva may not be ideal;
- Dioxins: Many manufacturers and brands of menstrual pads use dioxins. These substances aim to whiten cottons and fabrics in contact with the skin. The objective is purely marketing: we feel more comfortable with immaculate white products;
- Plastics: there are, on average, 2.4 g of plastics per napkin. They stiffen the towels, increase blood retention and thus prevent leaks. These materials are allergenic;
- Glues: in the glues used to assemble the sanitary napkin as well as in those used to hold the napkins on your underwear, there are solvents which prove to be irritants and allergens;
- Pesticides: in 2019, several studies showed the presence of pesticides in sanitary napkins (and tampons), such as glyphosate. Even though these pesticides were banned in France, they were found in sanitary napkins... these products are not particularly allergenic but are toxic.
Beyond the allergies that can be triggered by the irritating components of sanitary napkins, your skin/allergy problems can be triggered and aggravated by sanitary napkins.
Contact dermatitis, also called contact eczema, is an inflammatory reaction of the skin that occurs following contact with an irritant or allergenic substance. It can present in two main forms: irritative contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.
- Irritant contact dermatitis: occurs when the skin comes into contact with a substance that directly damages the skin barrier, causing an inflammatory reaction. Irritant compounds included in sanitary napkins may be the cause;
- Allergic contact dermatitis: This occurs when the skin develops an allergic reaction to a specific substance, called an allergen. The immune system overreacts to this allergen, causing skin inflammation. Common allergens are, for example, perfumes, included in sanitary napkins.
Other skin conditions
Other skin conditions can be made worse by wearing sanitary pads and touching them to the skin. In bulk:
- Psoriasis: This autoimmune disease causes skin cells to overproliferate, resulting in thick, red, scaly patches. Psoriasis can be painful and itchy;
- Keratosis pilaris: This benign skin condition causes small, rough bumps to appear on the skin, usually on the arms, thighs, and buttocks;
- Lichen planus: This inflammatory disease causes rashes, usually in the form of small bumps or patches.
Other sources of irritation
As we pointed out at the start of this part, sanitary napkins can be sources of irritation depending on the circumstances. Personal hygiene habits, weather conditions and clothing impact sanitary napkins and can increase the risk of irritation.
- Personal hygiene habits: excessive personal hygiene or the use of harsh cleansing products could destroy the natural bacterial flora, making the skin more susceptible to irritation. On the other hand, wearing sanitary napkins for too long can also cause irritation;
- Climatic conditions: in very humid or very hot regions, the use of sanitary napkins could potentially cause increased irritation due to excessive sweating, thus promoting bacterial proliferation;
- Clothing: Wearing tight clothing or materials that don't "breath" well can increase heat and humidity in the intimate area, potentially increasing the risk of irritation.
Focus on allergic reactions and irritations caused by sanitary napkins
Are you experiencing discomfort and wondering if you have an allergy to sanitary napkins? Here are the different symptoms that can alert you.
The most common symptoms
Allergy symptoms can vary depending on the substance you are allergic to. The most common are these:
- Redness: redness around the vulva and more broadly around your penis, but all around it, on your buttocks and your pubis. Overall, the entire part of your body in contact with the towel can be affected;
- Itching: If you feel itchy in the vulva and throughout the area of your body in contact with the sanitary napkin, you may have an allergy. Please note: poor hygiene and/or having kept your sanitary towel on for too long can be the cause of this itching;
- Burning: Like redness and itching, you may experience burning where the sanitary napkin contacts your body. Your skin stings, heats, burns;
- Rashes: Where the sanitary napkin comes into contact with your body, you may experience eczema breakouts or small red patches and pimples. They create itching;
- Swelling: A feeling of swelling may also be felt due to an allergic reaction. It may be accompanied by itching or pain;
- Peeling or dry skin: is your skin starting to peel or feeling very dry? It is also a symptom of allergies;
- Sensitivity or pain to the touch: The area of your crotch that is in contact with the sanitary napkin may also be painful to the touch if you are allergic to sanitary napkins. You can particularly feel it with the friction of your clothes.
Less common symptoms
More severe but less common symptoms may also be representative of allergic reactions to sanitary napkins . If you experience it, do not self-medicate or use creams before seeking advice from a medical professional. Consult a general practitioner or your gynecologist/midwife, this person will be able to prescribe something to alleviate these symptoms.
- Vesicles or blisters: in more severe cases, small fluid-filled blisters may appear;
- Oozing: If the blisters burst, they may ooze a clear fluid;
- Dark spots or discoloration: After the rash or irritation has subsided, dark spots or discoloration may remain on the skin;
- Cracks in the skin: In extreme cases, the skin can become so dry and irritated that it begins to crack;
- Secondary infections: If irritated or eroded skin is not properly treated, it can be vulnerable to bacterial or fungal infections.
Beyond local irritations: the repercussions on long-term health
Over the long term, irritation from sanitary napkin allergies can lead to greater and more serious health impacts. This is why it is important to turn to a doctor in case of complications.
- Risk of infections: scratched and bleeding pimples, cracks in the skin, burst blisters... not only is it not very pleasant but it can easily become infected! Especially in an area as exposed as your penis. You risk exposing yourself to pain but also developing secondary infections which may be more difficult and take longer to treat;
- Vaginal flora imbalance: Vaginal flora imbalance is a condition in which the normal levels of bacteria in the vagina are disrupted. Normal vaginal flora is made up of various types of bacteria that maintain a healthy environment. When there is an imbalance, certain bacteria can overgrow, which can lead to unpleasant symptoms.
- Vaginal yeast infection: Also known as vaginal candidiasis or yeast infection, is a common infection that can affect women. It is caused by the excessive proliferation of a type of yeast called Candida albicans, which may in particular be linked to the imbalance of the vaginal flora.
And menstrual toxic shock syndrome ? You may have heard of menstrual toxic shock syndrome, this infectious shock which, although very rare, can be fatal? You will be relieved to know that it has never occurred in menstruating people using sanitary napkins. Indeed, its occurrence is linked to the presence of immobilized blood inside the body (tampon and menstrual cup).
How to treat an allergic reaction to sanitary napkins?
Are you experiencing symptoms that make you think you have an allergic reaction to periodic pads? How to intervene effectively and should you consult a doctor?
If you feel itching, pain, burning sensations in and around your vulva while you are wearing a sanitary napkin: start by removing the sanitary napkin. It is possible that it is just saturated and that it is bothering you.
If you are at home, clean the area in the shower, using a gentle jet so as not to hurt yourself. You can take the opportunity to look at the area and assess the symptoms (eczema, redness, itching, swelling, etc.). If possible, change the brand of pad or sanitary protection afterwards.
If you're not home, take the time to clean the area as best you can with water and replace the sanitary napkin. Observe your sensations: was the change of towel enough to calm your discomfort? Otherwise, upon arrival home, change and wash yourself gently in the shower. If possible, change the brand of pad or sanitary protection afterwards.
⚡Attention: avoid putting creams of any kind on your irritation until you know what it is. The vaginal mucosa is particularly sensitive and a cream can worsen the imbalance in your vaginal flora.
💡Vulva care balms are interesting for soothing irritations or dryness for which you know the reason (after lovemaking, friction linked to sport or clothing that is too tight, dryness linked to pregnancy, etc.). Find our Vulva & Vagina collection with products dedicated to your intimate health: rebalancing intimate gel , Sexual Comfort routine or even cleansing and moisturizing intimate gel from Wumi.
Avoid using them as part of an allergic reaction.
See a doctor
Have you changed sanitary pad brands and still feel discomfort? Beyond itching, do you experience rashes, blisters or even cracks that don't seem to subside despite the end of your period and stopping using sanitary napkins? We recommend that you consult a doctor.
When to consult a doctor ?
If, despite the end of your period and stopping this range of sanitary napkins, the symptoms persist and bother you – and worse if you notice a worsening of the problems encountered, it is necessary to consult a doctor. The general practitioner and the gynecologist will be able to answer your questions and you should feel no shame in consulting for these problems. These can really get worse and become disabling on a daily basis.
Depending on the symptoms you are experiencing (itching, lesions, cracks, imbalance in vaginal flora or even vaginal mycosis), the healthcare professional will have several treatments to offer you. He will start with a physical examination and may take a mycobacteriological sample to identify the cause of the symptoms.
The possible treatments are:
- soothing cleansers specially designed for feminine intimate hygiene (notably having a neutral pH to avoid attacking it and unbalancing it);
- antifungals : These are medicines used to treat fungal infections, such as yeast infections (vaginal mycosis is part of candidiasis), fungal infections of the skin, nails, mucous membranes and other parts of the body. They work by targeting and killing the fungi causing the infection;
- antibacterials: these are medicines used to treat bacterial infections. In particular, they prevent infections;
- painkillers to relieve the pain caused by this itching.
Tips to avoid recurrence
To avoid a recurrence, here are our two tips:
- Change means of hygienic protection: if contact of your vulva with the sanitary napkin creates irritation or causes allergies on your vaginal mucosa, it will be interesting to opt for another means of hygienic protection. Tampons or a menstrual cup will limit this contact and prevent your vulva from being in contact with bacteria;
- Opt for other sanitary napkins, traditional or more natural: there are more and more references to sanitary napkins. You will find different brands, with black lists as long as your arm (no pesticides, no plastics, no bleaching agents, etc.). Depending on the products to which you seem to be allergic, you can continue to use sanitary napkins but you will have to be more demanding about their quality.
Protect yourself differently with these 5 alternatives to conventional sanitary napkins
If you have noticed that you are having health problems due to wearing conventional sanitary napkins, you may be interested in discovering other alternatives . We present to you 5 alternatives, disposable in natural materials or reusable.
Disposable protections made from natural and organic materials
Organic cotton sanitary napkins
To respond to the various recent controversies over the problematic composition of sanitary napkins (presence of pesticides, glue, etc.), several brands have developed by offering disposable hygienic protection with very clean compositions. They are made of organic cotton. The goal ? Remove all allergenic components that may cause problems while maintaining the practicality of disposable sanitary napkins. Fortunately, at Gapianne, we planned this! Find our organic sanitary napkins and panty liners from JHO .
In the same movement that saw the birth of disposable organic cotton sanitary napkins, companies have developed chemical-free sanitary tampons . These can be interesting if you are bothered by the friction of your vulva on dirty sanitary napkins.
Like menstrual cups, tampons can cause menstrual toxic shock syndrome if worn for too long (more than 8 hours). However, this has nothing to do with allergies and more with the bacteria that develops in the tampon.
More and more hygienic protections are now reusable. These are interesting for the purpose of protecting the environment and to better understand what you are putting into contact with your body.
Washable sanitary napkins
Washable and reusable sanitary napkins have the characteristic of being able to be attached to your underwear using pressure or Velcro. They are made from certified fabrics, most often organic cotton, to protect your body. They are thicker than disposable sanitary napkins and can therefore be more or less comfortable depending on your tastes. If you are sensitive to the chemicals in regular sanitary napkins, you may be interested in washable sanitary napkins.
⚡Caution: If you are particularly sensitive to chemicals, pay special attention to the detergent and products you use to wash your reusable sanitary napkins.
In recent years, menstrual panties have stolen the spotlight from sanitary napkins. We hear more and more about them and for good reason: they have the advantage of being comfortable and not slipping away, avoiding leaks, especially at night.
Concerning your allergies, menstrual panties have relatively few components and are often well labeled about the products they contain. This is the case for those from the French brand Smoon : we love their period panties made in France with non-toxic products for the body. Smoon also offers menstrual swimsuits , leggings or cycling shorts and even period panties for teenagers .
If you are sensitive to contact of your vulva with an environment that may become more humid throughout the day, menstrual panties may not be suitable for you.
⚡Caution: If you are particularly sensitive to chemicals, pay special attention to the detergent and products you use to wash your reusable sanitary napkins.
The menstrual cup, also called a “cup”, is a small silicone receptacle which is slipped into the vagina and collects the flow of blood using a suction cup phenomenon. It must then be emptied, in the toilet or in the shower, then rinsed before being reinserted. It won't suit you if you don't feel comfortable with the idea of putting your fingers in your vagina during your period and it takes several cycles to get used to it. The cup is very useful for visualizing the amount of blood you lose during your period.
The advantage of the menstrual cup is that it can be made from a single component: silicone. Therefore, the risks of developing allergies to the cup are very low. What's more, cleaning only requires sterilization in boiling water, without chemicals.
On this subject, find the medical silicone cup from Lunéale or that from JHO.
Choosing the right brand of sanitary napkins
When choosing your brand of sanitary napkins, the first thing to consider if you have developed allergies to sanitary napkins is 1) know the products you are sensitive to and 2) avoid them. The brand may be excellent and have the best reviews on the internet, but you may have an allergic reaction if you are allergic.
Secondly, here are several elements to take into account to limit the risks of allergy to sanitary napkins:
- Look at the labels: the fewer components there are in your sanitary napkins, the less risk you have of developing allergies;
- Avoid scented products: as perfumes are recognized allergens, they increase the risk of triggering allergies. Even more, they can trigger contact dermatitis. Also, do you really need perfume on your sanitary napkins?
- Favor natural components: looking for towels made of pure and organic cotton is the most interesting. Pure cotton is often less irritating than synthetic blends or towels containing plastics.
Do you want to stick to traditional sanitary napkins? Our 7 tips
Do you like the practicality, cost and ease of access of traditional sanitary napkins and you don't want to change them? Here are our 7 tips for continuing to use conventional sanitary napkins while limiting the risk of developing allergies.
- Choose unbleached products: the chlorine used to whiten some menstrual pads can leave residue that causes irritation. Look for towels that are bleached without chlorine or that don't use bleaching agents;
- Change towels regularly: Even if not completely saturated, change towels every 3 to 4 hours to reduce moisture and the risk of irritation;
- Maintain good hygiene: wash the intimate area with lukewarm water and avoid harsh or perfumed soaps. Also avoid sanitary wipes, which are often saturated with perfume. Dry gently without rubbing;
- Wear cotton or linen underwear: cotton and linen allow your skin to breathe, which can reduce the risk of irritation;
- Test before using a new brand: If you are considering changing brands or switching to another brand, try the new product for a day first to see how your skin reacts. If all is well, continue; otherwise, go back to your usual brand;
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps reduce the concentration of your urine, which can minimize irritation;
- Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight: Tight clothes can cause friction and prevent the skin from breathing.
Allergy to sanitary napkins can occur after several years, even though you have always used this means of periodic protection. Allergy or irritation, there are ways to find out, but the fact remains that it is annoying and a source of various health problems. You can opt for other alternatives or stick with conventional sanitary napkins, as long as you take care to choose your brand of sanitary protection carefully. Consider consulting a doctor to get his opinion and make an informed decision.
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Nous sommes 4 amies : Jen, Victoire, Anne et Marine. Comme les 34 millions de Françaises, nous avons rencontré différentes problématiques liées à notre intimité. C'est pourquoi nous avons créé Gapianne, une boutique qui propose les meilleures solutions bios, Made in France et non toxiques pour la santé ainsi que des ressources détaillées pour vous accompagner. On fait connaissance ?