Nanotechnology could revolutionize menstrual pads

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mashable.com

By Mashable/Evelyne Wareh

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A scientist has developed a menstrual pad that could be the beginning of a whole new world for women in India, and possibly everywhere.

The new pad material, made using nanotechnology, claims to be more absorptive and cheaper to make. But perhaps most notably, it’s free of toxic chemicals that can cause the deadly condition known as Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). That’s according to the findings of a study published in the September issue of Applied Materials Today. The new pad could be a game-changer everywhere, but it was developed specifically for the rural women of India. Just 7 percent use sanitary pads and the vast majority — 89 percent — use cloth, according to data from the international charity WaterAid.

Indian researcher Chandra Shekhar Sharma is looking to change this reality with the new pad. He and other researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad created the new material using nanofibers, hoping to make a cheaper and safer material. These fibers — which are much thinner and developed through a process called electrospinning — give the new pad a higher level of absorbency, the study reports. The study compared these fibers to those in various commercial pads, and could see they were significantly thinner.

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With higher absorbency, the pad can be rid of SAPs, or superabsorbent polymers, and other absorbency-offering chemicals that research has linked to TSS. The FDA says that products are regulated enough now to keep these chemicals out, but toxic shock syndrome still happens in the U.S. due to tampon or pad use while such regulations don’t exist in some other parts of the world.

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One of the best known recent cases of the disease is that of L.A. model Lauren Wasser, who reportedly contracted the illness four years ago after using a tampon and lost her leg as a result. Meanwhile, in India, pads of any sort are not very available and some women use materials like wool and ash, WaterAid data shows. In some rural areas, cultural practices like the banishing of women and girls to huts during menstruation can make the very natural experience a very stigmatized one. But even more urban Indians see the monthly experience as a social and cultural taboo.

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“In Indian society, it is considered as unhygienic and women are ritually unpure in this period,” Sharma wrote in an email to Mashable. “They are not allowed in kitchen and [are] kind of isolated. Even in so-called modern families, women do not enter into temple during menstruation cycle even now. These days are treated as an embarrassment.”

He said almost two thirds of Indian women are in rural areas where pads are not really used. And it’s hard to even talk about. “Forget about discussing it in public, even women do not discuss it at home to their close family members,” he wrote. Last year, a campaign called #HappyToBleed brought Indian women together in calling out discrimination against menstruation and its condemnation by some religious beliefs.

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The tide could be changing, and Sharma hopes the development of a new pad, without chemicals, could be a refreshing and even life-changing invention in India. With a safer make-up in general, it could also help women beyond the Asian nation. He said the stigmatization of menstruation is not confined to India.

“There is no major breakthrough in this product since its inception,” Sharma said. “The first [reason]… may be as it is still a subject of social taboo in general that discourages even a researcher to think about it.”

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