Periods may still be a taboo topic in India but a team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (IIT-H) is using nanotechnology to make you a better sanitary pad.
After working for two years, researchers from IIT-H’s department of chemical engineering, led by Chandra Shekhar Sharma, have developed a material made of a cellulose-based nanofibre that can be used to make sanitary pads between 30% and 60% more absorbent.
Nanofibers are 200 times smaller in diameter than microfibers such as rayon and viscose, which are usually used to make pads. They’re also much smoother in composition, resulting in a thinner and softer product that doesn’t need to be changed as often as regular pads, and making them a lesser expensive option.
That’s a big breakthrough in a country where millions of women don’t use sanitary pads or tampons at all due to their relatively high costs and the taboos attached to discussing menstrual hygiene. This is particularly a problem in rural markets where the most preferred are cloth pads, an uncomfortable option that often forces young girls to skip school while on their periods for fear of staining their clothes or being unable to change pads.
But Sharma and his team want to change that with pads that can last longer.
“We aim to produce these pads with more absorption capacity so even in high discharge conditions, only a single pad will be sufficient. So, overall, for a complete menstruation cycle which lasts for five to six days, this will be economical,” he said.
Fighting the side-effects
Most sanitary pads and even diapers are produced with super-absorbent polymers (SAPs) and other chemicals that are used to make them more absorbent. But SAPs can be deadly. In the 1980s, the use of SAPs was restricted in tampons after the chemicals were thought to cause toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal illness that results when tampons are left unchanged for a long period of time.
“(Ordinary pads) can cause rashes and even irritation because of the chemicals present that don’t react well to moist conditions (as during menstruation),” said Shital Yadav, a researcher who worked on the project. According to the research, pads made with nanofibers and fewer chemicals would reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome and other health issues.
The IIT sanitary pad is also good news for the environment. Usually dumped in landfills, most sanitary napkins can take between 500 and 800 years to decompose because of the presence of SAPs, which Sharma and his team were keen to avoid.
“We are completely eliminating the use SAPs that are non-biodegradable,” Sharma said.
While it could take another two years before the pads are ready to be stocked in stores, Sharma and his team are already on track to expand the project at IIT-H’s incubator, taking women one step closer to a better, more bearable period.