Find out all about the history of sanitary protection!

In the past, the question of hygienic protection during periods was not at all a priority, and we had to resort to makeshift solutions. Since then, things have changed: let's discover the history of feminine hygiene and the various inventions that led to the modern solutions we know today.


Hygienic protection from prehistory to antiquity

Evidence of the use of sanitary protection dates back to 1550 BC. During Antiquity, the techniques used varied from country to country: Egyptian women made a kind of tampon from softened papyrus. In Ancient Greece, during their periods, women protected themselves as best they could: with scraps of cloth or small linen-wrapped sticks.

Protection in the Middle Ages

But with religion in the Middle Ages, it became inconceivable that women could insert anything into their vagina to protect themselves during periods. So they wore petticoats from periods to wipe the flow down their thighs. Wealthier families had cloths for periods, called chauffoirs, held in place by cloth belts... Most of their protection was "homemade". It was all very impractical.

Some historians even believe that menstruating women were forced to isolate themselves during their periods period, a rite known as menstrual seclusion. Many also practised instinctive free flow.

At the time, knowledge of the menstrual cycle was also limited (ovulation was only discovered in the 19th century). Unfamiliarity meant fear and mistrust: in the Middle Ages, with all the beliefs in witches etc., menstrual discharge could be seen as evil, especially heavy periods or gynecological diseases (such as endometriosis). Others believed that periods was a sign of life and fertility.

The appearance of the first modern menstrual protection products in the 20th century

Sanitary belts were first used at the end of the 19th century to hold back strips of fabric. It was Louis Pasteur's work on germ theory, in particular, that helped demonstrate the importance of intimate hygiene. During the Industrial Revolution, the cotton spinning machine made fabric much more accessible to everyone. Sanitary belts were a much more absorbent and comfortable method of absorption for users. With this invention, towels became washable and reusable.

The first sanitary towel in 1920

It was during the First World War that nurses experimented with lthe idea of absorbent cotton wrapped in gauze compresses. They realized that what was used to treat soldiers' wounds, and in particular what absorbed their blood, would also be very useful for absorbing menstrual flow. lThese were the beginnings of disposable towels.

Kimberly Clark developed the first disposable cotton sanitary towel. They were held in place by waist belts.

The Tampax disposable tampon in 1930

In the 1930s, physician Carl Cleveland Haas developed the first disposable tampons marketed under the Tampax brand name. In the early days of this invention, certain myths persisted, with many people convinced that using tampons would lose your virginity So it was still rather frowned upon by society to insert anything into her vagina.

Reusable sanitary pads in 1960

It was only after the Second World War that tampons were truly democratized. From 1960 onwards, menstruating women could buy their own disposable pads, which were becoming increasingly practical. It was a real revolution. But in 1979, there were tragedies due to toxic shock syndrome and the use of tampons. This didn't stop the use of this method, but rather strengthened controls.

Even though the advent of disposable sanitary protection gradually liberated people from the subject of the female cycle in popular culture, brands continued to uphold the taboo surrounding menstruation for a long time: in advertising, blood was replaced by a blue liquid.

Panty liners in the 2000s

In the early 2000s, variations on the sanitary napkin appeared, with the panty liner, a lighter variant adapted to the low-cut undergarment fashion of the moment (tanga, thong...).
Washable and reusable methods of conventional protection are starting to appear timidly: cup, reusable pads...

In 2022, a wide range of sanitary products for women

For some time now, there has been a real awareness of the toxicity and dangerousness of certain chemicals used in disposable pads. In particular, in 2018, the Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l'alimentation, de l'environnement et du travail published a report outlining the chemical substances found in most conventional pads and tampons. These substances, even in small doses, are major endocrine disruptors and have carcinogenic effects. As a result, several alternatives have been democratized: the cup, washable pads and menstrual panties. The composition of the latter is much healthier, and at Elia, this has naturally become our alternative of choice!

The advantages of the period pants are numerous: when they're made from organic cotton and Oeko-Tex, they're respectful of our health and the environment, and super comfortable! What's more, depending on your flow, you can keep them on for up to 12 hours: 12 hours of comfort and peace of mind, with no risk of leaks or unpleasant odors! In fact, our Elia panties are certified Oeko-Tex, organic and Origine France Garantie, guaranteeing you the very best in feminine hygiene.


FAQs on the history of sanitary pads

What did women do before sanitary towels?

Before sanitary towels were invented, they had makeshift solutions, such as rolled-up strips of cloth to absorb menstrual blood loss.

How did women in the Middle Ages deal with periods ?

In those days, they let s'menstruation flow, and wiped what ran down their thighs with their petticoat. The more affluent had the luxury of attaching a cloth with a strip of fabric to their belt.

Who invented sanitary towels?

Kimberly Clark markets the first sanitary pads, inspired by the home-made solutions used by nurses during the First World War.

Who invented the tampon?

The modern tampon was born in the 1930s, thanks to American physician Carl Cleveland Haas, inspired by a friend who absorbed menstrual flow by putting a sponge in her vagina. Tampax would later market it.

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