MOST girls and women take extra care to maintain proper hygiene when having their period, whether it is opting for extra bath time or making several trips to the bathroom to freshen up out of fear that they might have an odour.
This anxiety has created a market for scented pads and tampons.
While some women seem to be buying into the products, obstetrician/gynaecologist at ICON Medical Centre, Dr Keisha Buchanan, said these products could cause more harm than good.
“Modern pads and tampons are a vital part of women's health. They have increased convenience, lowered the chance of leakages and provide better hygiene. While these are encouraged, its scented versions are not recommended, as the additional chemicals can irritate the vagina,” Dr Buchanan advised.
She pointed out that pads and tampons are made using cotton, rayon, polypropylene, polyethene, moisturizer and perfumes, odour blockers, plastics, fibres that are bleached — a by-product of which is dioxin — and antibacterial agents that can throw off the pH balance and normal bacterial flora of the vagina.
“When this happens, it can trigger vaginal infections such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis can cause an odour until it is treated with antibiotics. The tampons can also trigger itching, rashes, swelling of the vagina due to their chemical irritation,” Dr Buchanan explained.
She said that the effects of using scented pads are similar to those of using tampons, except that it mostly causes irritation of the vulva area. This is generally accompanied by redness, rashes and swelling. Similar to the use of tampons, it can also trigger yeast infections.
“If irritation occurs, stop wearing the pad and observe to see if the symptoms resolve after 24 hours. If it is just a chemical reaction, the irritation and itching will stop. If it is a yeast infection, the itching and irritation will persist or even get worse until it is treated. If it is a chemical reaction that is sudden and severe, medical attention should be sought,” Dr Buchanan said.
The obstetrician/gynaecologist said that it is unnecessary for women to be investing in these pads and tampons, which have the potential to cause pain and discomfort, to treat with an issue that can be managed by following proper self-care guidelines.
“Women use scented pads and tampons as they feel they will prevent odours, but the best way to prevent odours is proper hygiene. This includes bathing twice per day or more often, as needed, during the menses; changing pads once they are partially or totally soaked; changing into clean underwear with each bath or shower; and using wipes to clean yourself when you go to the bathroom can keep you feeling fresh and help prevent odours,” Dr Buchanan instructed.
She said that if women are still experiencing unusual feminine odours, then they should see a gynaecologist because odours may be linked to infections like bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections such as trichomoniasis.
Dr Buchanan said that women should also avoid using scented pads and tampons following a miscarriage or childbirth, since this increases the possibility of infections as well as the potential to cover odours that could indicate the presence of infections that, if left untreated, could have adverse effects.
“The best pads and tampons for women to use are cotton, undyed, and unscented. There is an increased movement towards organic pads and tampons as these have more natural constituents, such as pure cotton, and the claim is that they have little or no exposure to dyes, chlorine bleach, pesticides, and other toxins,” Dr Buchanan advised.