The History of Feminine Hygiene Products

By Alyssa Rinetti 

In the early days, prior to period products becoming mainstream, individuals did not discuss such things having to do with menstruation because it was associated with various taboos. In fact, even later down the road, when modern menstrual technologies began to evolve, beliefs about periods being unsanitary and discussions of these concerns being inappropriate kept menstrual items out of the mainstream. Additionally, before 1985, the word "period" had never been uttered on American television, until recent years, of course! 

Nowadays, a countless number of period products, such as tampons, pads, and menstrual products, are available to the public without scrutiny. There are so many commercials on TV. That said, consider our society to have done a complete 180!  

How did society move from bandages and plant fibers to menstrual cups and modern tampons? Furthermore, as period technologies improve, what have they changed for the people who use them? Let's look back at how much period products really have advanced, and for the better! We'll start from the beginning... 

1800s to the 1900s: From Rags (Literally) to Riches 

Nearing the end of the century, worries about bacterial growth from insufficient cleaning of reusable products between wears formed a new menstrual "hygiene" market. Between 1854 and 1915, twenty patents were retracted for period products alone, one of the first products being a menstrual cup. Originally, period cups were made of aluminum or hard rubber, but now menstrual cups such as UltuCup are made of 100% medical grade silicone, which does not have any dyes, plastics, BPA, latex, rubber, or coloring agents! The evolution of menstrual cups, specifically, UltuCup, has made in recent years is genius. 

 

Additionally, rubber pants (literally bloomers or underwear lined with rubber) and Lister's towels (the first, rather, disposal pad made of gauze and cotton) were also patented and offered as options for women to choose from when their time of the month came! 

 

Starting in the 1870s, menstrual products were marketed door-to-door. It wasn't until the 1890s that such products began to appear in catalogs due to audiences' becoming more familiar with these menstrual product developments. 

 

1930s to the 1950s: The Start of Mainstream 

Most women throughout Europe, until the 1940s, still utilized homemade menstrual rags.  

The 1930s brought a wave of creativity to period products! How, may you ask? Well, here is where disposable tampons come into play! The idea of tampons was patented in 1933. Tampons were invented due to hygiene concerns about the closeness of pads to fecal bacteria. Until recently, tampons were generally regarded as a healthier alternative by the medical community.  

 

During the 1930s, it was found in medical and marketing interviews that most women did not return to pads upon learning how to insert tampons correctly. However, despite these findings, many communities were reluctant to welcome tampons completely because of moral concerns about virginity, masturbation, and their potential to act as contraception. It was because of these communities' beliefs that pads were still popular! 

 

1950s to the 1990s: Entering the Complete Modern Age 

Innovative changes to period products continued into the age of peace, love, and rock and roll. That's right-the 70's! The first beltless pads came out in 1972 and catered to women who had both heavy and light flows. In the 1980s, versions of modern maxi pads and pads with wings hit the market. On another note, tampons persisted and even increased in popularity! 

 

Despite tampons being very popular in the 1980s, a massive health concern about them made the news when over 5,000 cases of toxic shock syndrome were reported between 1979 and 1996. Most of the cases were linked to a specific tampon brand and explicit materials that are no longer on the market! While these health scares did not prevent women from using tampons overall, they brought to light a lack of government regulation over the security and design of menstrual products. This led to a predominant focus on more "naturalistic" options. 

 

One naturalistic option included that of a powder that could be inserted into the vagina, which was meant to balance the pH of period blood and stop bacterial growth.  

 

While these more creative measures didn't take off, menstrual cups, period sponges, and biodegradable options did take off in the 1970s as the second-wave feminist and environmentalist campaigns expanded.  

 

When these products hit the market, they were a huge success! Furthermore, it is no secret that the UltuCup menstrual cup is still a huge success in the period product market today, and it continues to thrive because UltuCup’s menstrual cup composition is safe for all individuals to utilize! 

 

Later down the road, as the feminist movement drove women to become satisfied and confident in their bodies, free bleeding was adopted by women who resented being instructed to suppress and feel ashamed of their periods (though it was still not entirely mainstream). 

 

2000s to the Present: Where is Our Society Now?  

Today, there is an overload of options for handling periods, from period panties to UltuCup menstrual cups, organic pads, tampons, and maxi-pads. 

 

As unease about the environmental impact of disposable items grows, multiple individuals are returning to organic methods, like the menstrual cups UltuCup offers.  UltuCup is super soft 100% Medical Grade Silicone. Free from BPA, latex, rubber, plastic, and other harmful materials. UltuCup is made in America and provides happy vaginas for all: Healthier periods, balanced pH, no dryness, and no TSS or bleached tampons here!

 

Period Products Continue to Evolve 

Given that our society has come a long way in terms of period product evolution, individuals with periods learn more about their options as menstrual products continue to be invented, and one can take health into their own hands and make the best decision for their bodies and lives! 

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