In the past, the issue of sanitary protection during menstruation was not a priority at all and one had to resort to makeshift solutions. Since then, things have changed: let's discover the history of feminine hygiene and the different inventions that led to the modern solutions we know today.
Hygienic protection from prehistory to antiquity
In 1550 B.C., there is evidence of the use of menstrual protection. During the Antiquity, the techniques used are different according to the countries: for the Egyptian women, they will make a kind of tampon, with softened papyrus. In Ancient Greece, during their periods, women protected themselves as best they could: with pieces of cloth or small sticks rolled up with linen.
Protections in the Middle Ages
But with religion, in the Middle Ages, it became inconceivable that women could introduce anything into their vagina to protect themselves during their period. So they had period petticoats to wipe the flow that ran down their thighs. In the more affluent families, they had menstrual cloths, called "chauffoirs" and held in place by cloth belts... Most of their protection was "homemade". All this was very impractical.
Some historians even think that at that time menstruating people were forced to isolate themselves during their period, which is called the rite of menstrual seclusion. Many practiced a bit of free instinctive flow, which they were forced to do.
At that time, the knowledge of the menstrual cycle was also less (ovulation was only discovered in the 19th century). The lack of knowledge meant fear and mistrust: in the Middle Ages and all the beliefs in witches etc., menstrual discharge could be seen as evil, especially heavy periods or gynecological diseases (such as endometriosis). Others thought that menstruation was a sign of life and fertility.
The appearance of the first modern menstrual protection in the 20th century
It was at the end of the 19th century that sanitary belts appeared to retain strips of fabric. It is in particular the work of Louis Pasteur with the theory of germs, which contributed to show the importance of the 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 for users. With this invention, the towels are washable and reusable.
The first sanitary napkin in 1920
During the First World War, nurses experimented with the idea of absorbent cotton wrapped in gauze pads. Indeed, they realize that what is used to look after the wounds of the soldiers and in particular what absorbs their blood, would be also very useful to absorb the menstrual flow. These were the beginnings of disposable towels.
It is the company Kimberly Clark which will develop the first disposable cotton sanitary towel. They were held by belts at the size.
The Tampax disposable tampon in 1930
In the 1930s, the doctor Carl Cleveland Haas developed the first disposable tampons, which were marketed under the Tampax brand. At the beginning of this invention, certain myths persisted, many were persuaded that by using tampons, one was going to lose his virginity: it was thus still rather badly seen by the society to introduce something in its vagina.
Reusable sanitary protection in 1960
It is after the second world war that the tampon will really be democratized. From 1960 onwards, menstruating people could buy their disposable protection without worrying, and it became more and more practical. It is a true revolution. But in 1979, there were tragedies due to toxic shock syndrome and the use of tampons. This will not prevent the progression of this method, but rather reinforce the controls.
Even if the word seems to be gradually freed on the subject of the female cycle in the popular culture with the arrival of disposable sanitary protections, the brands continued to make reign the taboo around the menstruations for a long time: indeed, in the publicity, the blood was replaced by a blue liquid.
The panty liner in the 2000s
In the early 2000s, variations of the sanitary napkin appeared, with the panty liner, a lighter variant adapted to the low-cut underwear fashion of the moment (tanga, thong...).
Washable and reusable methods of classic protection are starting to appear timidly: cup, reusable pads...
In 2022, a wide range of sanitary protection for women
For some time now, there is a real awareness of the toxicity and dangerousness of some chemicals used in disposable protection. In particular, in 2018, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety published a report presenting the chemical substances found in most conventional pads and tampons. These substances, even in small doses, are important 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, it has obviously become our alternative of choice!
The advantages of the menstrual panties are numerous: when it is in organic cotton and Oeko-Tex, it is respectful of our health, of the environment, and super comfortable! Moreover, according to your flow, you can keep it up to 12 hours: 12 hours of comfort and peace, without risks of leakage nor bad smells! Indeed, our Elia panties are certified Oeko-Tex, organic, and Origine France Garantie, to guarantee you the best for your feminine hygiene.
The FAQ of the history of the sanitary protections
How did women do it before sanitary napkins?
Before the invention of sanitary napkins, they had makeshift solutions, such as rolled up strips of fabric to absorb menstrual blood loss.
How did women in the Middle Ages deal with menstruation?
In those days, they let their periods flow, and wiped what dripped down their thighs with their petticoats. The more affluent had the luxury of attaching a cloth with a strip of fabric to their belt.
Who invented sanitary napkins?
The Kimberly Clark company markets the first sanitary napkins, inspired by the nurses' home-made solutions during the First World War.
Who invented the tampon?
The modern tampon is born in the 30s, thanks to the American doctor Carl Cleveland Haas, inspired by a friend who absorbed the menstrual flow by putting a sponge in her vagina. Tampax will market it thereafter.