Most of us will never understand what generations of menstruating people before us had to endure. Bulky, uncomfortable pads, belts that held them in place, and even wooden tampons.
You read that right.
When we open our new boxes of organic cotton tampons each month, it never occurs to us that these haven’t been available for very long. In fact, tampons as we know them today are relatively new, having only become mainstream in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
It goes without saying we were having periods long before then, so what were the methods of “flow control” that gave birth (pun intended) to the modern day tampon?
Let’s look at why tampons were invented and how the ones we use today compare.
Although there are records of ancient cultures using methods to catch their flow that are similar to tampons, most menstruating people chose to use external methods of absorption.
Even though tampons were technically available by the 1930’s, using them wasn’t popular, and there was concern that a tampon could damage the hymen of a virgin.
The most popular methods of period care from the 1930’s to the 1950’s was the sanitary napkin, which is now the modern day menstrual pad.
Sanitary napkins were not originally disposable, but were reused month to month. They were also not made with an adhesive backing, which meant you needed a sanitary pad belt. These belts were made from nylon and fit around your waist, with a strap in the front and the back to clip to your sanitary napkin.
Thankfully, our great-grands and grands wanted better, more comfortable protection.
The First Tampons
Early records indicate that Egyptians used papyrus to fashion tampons, and other cultures used small pieces of wood covered in cotton to absorb their flow (ouch).
If the thought of inserting a stick into your most sensitive area makes you cringe, thank the goddesses that came before you for the innovations you have today.
In the early 1920’s, a rudimentary tampon was developed, based on medical devices already in use to help stop blood flow. These tampons were not comfortable, and leaked often, making pads a better solution.
Earl Haas’s Tampon
By the 1930’s, we were having less children, which meant we were having more periods. The need for period care products that were comfortable and gave an alternative to bulky pads and belts was in high demand.
Earle Haas, a doctor, entrepreneur, and a clearly devoted husband, invented the disposable tampon with applicator after learning from a female friend that she frequently used a bit of sponge inserted into her vagina to absorb her flow instead of a pad and belt.
Dr. Haas decided to use a type of absorbent cotton for his product. He developed a tightly bound strip of cotton fabric that had an attached string for easy removal. This strip of fabric could be inserted into the vagina and was made to expand to catch period flow.
However, Haas’s most important invention was likely the applicator. Many menstruating people in this time period were uncomfortable touching their private areas, so the applicator gave them the option to insert a tampon without touching themselves.
Even today, some cultural beliefs and traditions don’t allow a menstruating person to touch their genitals for tampon insertion, making the applicator a vital part of Haas’s invention.
Tampons Take Off
Haas’s tampon was the market favorite for over a decade before other inventors took the opportunity to build on Haas’s tampon and attempt to make it better.
Applicator Free Tampons
In the 1940’s two German doctors partnered together to invent an applicator free tampon that could expand in multiple directions, protecting against leaks and providing better protection. These tampons were smaller, more dense, and featured a concave bottom that allowed a user to press on for tampon insertion.
These tampons are still available today, and are popular options for cutting down on environmental waste.
Super Absorbency Tampons
Before the 1970’s, tampons were only available in one size, making it necessary to buy numerous boxes for coverage.
In the 1970’s, Procter & Gamble developed the first ever “ultra absorbent” tampon called Rely. These tampons were highly absorbent and made with a blend of polyester and carboxymethyl cellulose. These materials, however, were susceptible to more germ-like development, which became linked to higher occurrences of toxic shock syndrome.
By 1980, Rely was taken off the market.
That didn’t stop companies from developing higher absorbency tampons, but the high absorbency tampons we have today are made from safer materials, like organic cotton.
We’re also fortunate that we have more information about toxic shock syndrome, what actually causes it, and how to safeguard against it by changing your tampon every four to six hours.
Today’s tampons are safer and more absorbent, but there are still ingredients in tampons that your body (and the environment) don’t like.
In fact, when leading tampon brands were tested, at least eight toxic ingredients were discovered across brands that experts say shouldn’t be there:
- Carbon disulfide
- Methylene chloride.
- Methyl ethyl ketone
- Ethyl acetate
- M,p Xylene
Experts aren’t sure why the remaining chemicals are found in tampons but suspect that they may be results of included fragrances or as a result of the manufacturing process of the tampons themselves.
In addition to being harmful to your body, many tampons aren’t good for the environment either. If you’re using tampons that have non-biodegradable applicators, they’ll end up in a landfill where they can become a toxic environmental concern.
Thankfully, we’ve got options that are safe for both your body and Mother Earth.
The Rael Difference
Rael believes everyone deserves access to the period care items that are safe, highest quality, environmentally conscious, and effective.
We developed our line of period care items with you in mind. Our tampons are made from the purest, certified organic cotton that is gentle on your body and conforms to you to help give you the highest level of protection available.
Here’s what you’ll get in a Rael tampon:
- Different levels of protection, based on your needs each day of your period. From regular to super +, we’ve got you covered.
- Responsibly sourced, organic Texas cotton. Safety for your body and safety for the environment equals complete peace of mind.
- Applicator choices. Whether you’re a plastic applicator princess or a plant-based babe, our applicators are BPA free, biodegradable, and won’t harm your body or the environment.
Just as important as the ingredients we include in our tampons are the ingredients we keep out.
In addition to that long list of chemicals above, here’s what else you’ll never find in a Rael tampon:
- Bleach. We don’t bleach our tampons, so you’ll never have to worry about exposure to chemicals that are used in the bleaching process.
- Harsh chemicals that can irritate your most sensitive areas (like fragrance). Fragrance doesn’t belong in a tampon, and it can cause irritation and itching that will leave you uncomfortable.
- Carcinogens. We’ll never put anything in our tampons that is a known carcinogen, so you can wear our tampons knowing they won’t harm your body.
The Rael difference is peace of mind and ultimate comfort in products that help you have a holistic and drama-free period.
Modern Day Period Care
Today, we aren’t limited to just tampons and pads for period care. There are new products available to help you handle your flow that might be a better fit for your lifestyle.
The Menstrual Cup
Although the menstrual cup was originally developed in the 1930’s, the product was never popular, mostly because it didn’t work, constantly leaked, and was made with less than comfortable ingredients.
Today’s menstrual cups are incredibly more comfortable, made of safe, hygienic silicone parts, and able to hold your flow for up to twelve hours of continuous wear. With the cup, you can literally go all day without thinking about your period.
The cup is reusable every month and able to last up to ten years with proper care. It’s the easy, cost-saving, and environmentally friendly way to have your period.
Period panties are underwear that fit just like your regular underwear, but have layers of absorbent material that help catch your flow. Rael’s period underwear are made to be incredibly thin, seamless, and as absorbent as three tampons.
You can wear period underwear alone, or as added protection on your heavier days. With both reusable and disposable options, it’s completely up to you how you vibe with your period each day.
Tampons have come a long way, and we are eternally grateful for the advancements. Rael takes period care technology several steps further, ensuring that your period care items are the safest for your body and the environment.
Feel empowered by your period, with luxurious, holistic period care from Rael.
The History Of Menstrual Hygiene | SimpleHealth
Feminine Hygiene Products | Smithsonian Institute
What's In Your Tampon? | Women's Voices.org