Pad Rash: Soothing Hacks for an Irritating Problem

Pad rash (contact dermatitis of the vulva area) is a common problem that many women experience while menstruating. The skin irritation occurs when the sensitive vulva area comes in contact with the materials, chemicals, or moisture of a sanitary pad. Pad rash can cause itching, burning, redness, bumps and swelling of the tissue. It can be annoying and irritating as well as affecting hygiene and increasing the risk of infection. 


What are other names for pad rash?

Pad rash is also called contact dermatitis, period rash, sanitary pad rash, maxi pad  rash, napkin rash, vulvitis and intertrigo rash. It is caused because the pad is irritating the skin.


What does pad rash look like?

Color - the skin of the area may look different than normal. It could be pink or red or dotted. Because the area has a darker color than most of the skin on the rest of the body a change in skin color may not be noticeable. The darker the skin color the harder it may be to visibly detect a rash.


Itching - the area may have subtle to intense itching that may vary in intensity at times. If changing the sanitary pad does not completely remedy the itching you may have pad rash in the area.


Swelling - the area, or parts of the area, may have swelling.


Tenderness - because the skin is irritated, may have micro-openings and may be swollen, the area may be tender.


Bumps - the area may have small bumps or raised areas from the pad rash.


5 elements the contribute to pad rash:

  1. Having a period causes menstrual fluid to flow on to the skin. Unlike after urination, this fluid is not dried off from the skin immediately. After urination, any wet areas are quickly dried off ensuring the skin does not have moisture on it for an extended period of time.
  2. External products that capture and absorb the period fluid stay wet or damp and are now held against the skin for a prolonged length of time. 
  3. The chemicals in feminine hygiene products can be irritating to the sensitive vulvar skin.
  4. The friction of the pad materials can cause irritation to the area. This situation can occur with everyday walking and movement and can become more significant with running, jogging and other forms of physical exercise.
  5. The materials the sanitary pad is made from may cause an allergic reaction.

These elements can be further exacerbated in 3 ways. 

  1.  Attempting to “help” the rash with over cleaning the area with products or over-rubbing, causing further irritation, chafing or micro tears in the skin. 
  2.  Avoiding thoroughly cleaning because of pain and sensitivity in the area.
  3. Using speciality products that instead of nurturing and supporting the area, cause increased irritation, which is often followed by the person then using even more of the product to try to get rid of the increased problem the product caused.



Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and treat pad rash!


 Here are some tips to help avoid this unpleasant condition:

- Choose unscented pads that are made of natural or hypoallergenic materials. Some pads may contain fragrances, adhesives, or gels that can trigger an allergic reaction or skin irritation. Organic cotton pads or reusable cloth pads that are more breathable and gentler on the skin are available and becoming more popular.


- Change pads frequently. Wearing pads creates a warm and moist environment that promotes bacterial and fungal growth, irritation and inflammation. Pads should ideally be changed every 3 to 4 hours, depending on flow and specific make-up of the pad. Pads that pull fluid away from the skin are preferable to pads where the fluid sits in the top layers of the pad construction. Some overnight pads are specifically designed to pull fluid into the pad. Bacterial growth in the blood-body fluid medium occurs continually and exponentially. The longer it is allowed to develop, the increased possibility of having pad rash as well as an infection. Even if the flow is light, it is important to change the pad frequently. 


A large study found that there was a strong association between unhygienic menstrual management practices and the prevalence of lower reproductive tract infections. 


- Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear during your period. Tight or synthetic underwear can trap heat and moisture, which can worsen pad rash. 


- Cleanse the vulva area gently. Use a mild soap that is pH balanced or that preferably has clean, organic, non-endocrine disrupting ingredients. Avoid using harsh or scented products that can disrupt the natural balance of the skin. Rinse the area well with warm water and gently pat dry with a soft towel. 


- Using skin protectants and healing ointments. For some women these can be very helpful and help protect and nurture sensitive skin. For other women adding more moisture to the area is counterproductive. Often users do not realize that the skin needs to be clean and dry before using products that will help provide a moisture barrier or help heal irritated tissue. Skin products that are used on regular skin like topical steroids, calamine etc are too harsh to use on the sensitive skin of the genitals. If you believe a stronger product is indicated for your rash, it is important to consult with a provider. 


- Seek medical attention if needed. If the pad rash does not improve within a few days, or if you develop signs of infection such as fever, foul-smelling discharge, or increased pain, you should see your provider. You may need antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat an infection. Fungus and yeast grow in warm, moist and dark environments. During your period is an ideal time for a sub-threshold yeast infection to become worse.


 - Take care with your diet. Often when women are menstruating, they tend to eat more sugar and “junk” food. These dietary choices often will cause further skin irritation as well as feeding fungus and yeast. Try to eat and drink the foods and beverages that nourish your body and support your skin even during your period. Not eating high carbohydrates all month and then “splurging” on items that suddenly increase your blood sugar can significantly increase the problem. 


- Period Underwear has become more popular over the last 10 years. Although the underwear may absorb 14 hours worth of flow, it is important to remember that the bacteria is reproducing exponentially from the second it leaves the body. Bacteria now have a warm, protected, blood-fluid medium to grow. Although the blood flow may be “trapped” in the material, the bacteria is not and will continue to grow, reproduce and expand until the period underwear is changed.


Pad Rash - Hacks, Causes, Prevention, and Remedies


Experiment: wearing the pad for a few days when you are not having a period is an excellent way to determine if the specific pad is causing the issue. If you experience elements of the pad rash even though you are not having a period it is not the best product for you. If you do not have issues it does not necessarily mean the pad is not contributing to pad rash. When moisture and bloody-fluid are added to the maxi pad it may be enough to cause pad rash with that product.


Size: pads come in different sizes just like women come in different sizes. Experiment with different sized pads to discover what works better for you to help minimize friction.


Change the size to match the activity. A pad larger than the one you wear during the day may be better to use overnight. When participating in exercise, changing your pad to a smaller one for the exercise period may help decrease the friction and chaffing. When exercising there will be sweat as well as menstrual fluid. This makes it even more important to change the pad after the exercise and wash and dry the skin thoroughly. 


Brands: there are significant differences in sanitary napkin brands. One brand may cause pad rash while another brand may be fine for you. 


Fragrances: although it is a great marketing angle, having fragrances in pads increases the likelihood of skin reactions. When fluid contacts the material, chemicals in the material may have increased potency to negatively affect the skin.


Washing non-disposable pads: Non-disposable pads that are environmentally friendly are becoming more popular. If you are having any irritation from their use check that your laundry detergent is free from skin irritating chemicals. Softeners and dryer sheets can also coat the cloth pad in chemicals that can irritate the skin.


How do I know if I have pad rash?

One of the easiest ways to determine if you have pad rash, or something else, is to discern if you only have the rash during your period or is it throughout the month?


There are other conditions that cause similar symptoms to pad rash. 


If these symptoms are present a visit to your provider may be indicated:

  • Abnormal discharge that is different in color, thickness or has a foul odor
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain during urination
  • Pain in the abdominal or kidney area
  • Persistent vaginal itchiness
  • A fever accompanying the rash.

What to know?

Sometimes women have a chronic infection that only gives them symptoms during their period when there are other limited time elements that contribute to the problem becoming worse. It is important to be aware of this possibility. If the pad rash does not go away, or improve, despite the efforts to keep the area clean, dry and without irritation from the pad or friction, you may have a chronic infection and a health provider should be consulted.


Pad rash can be uncomfortable and annoying but with a few simple steps pad rash can be prevented and addressed so there is one less problem to worry about.



 

The Green Forest Lady recommends Boo Boo Balm to help prevent pad rash and Booty Balm to help treat pad rash.

The organic ingredients in Boo Boo Balm help protect the sensitive skin prone to pad rash.
Coconut (Cocos Nucifera) Oil*, Shea (Butyrospermum Parkii) Butter*, Apricot (Prunus Armeniaca) Oil*, Comfrey Leaf (Symphytum Officinale)*, Plantain Leaf (Plantago Major)*, White Oak Bark (Quercus Alba)*, Calendula Flowers (Calendula Officinalis)*, Chickweed (Stelleria Media)*, Goldenrod (Solidago Gigantea)*, Yarrow Flowers (Achillea Millefolium)*, Lavender Flowers (Lavandula)*, Beeswax (Cera Alba)*, Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
*Indicates Organic Ingredients

The organic ingredients in Booty Balm help soothe and nurture the irritated skin of pad rash.
Olive (Olea Europaea) Oil*, Coconut (Cocos Nucifera) Oil*, Beeswax (Cera Alba)*, Chickweed (Stellaria Media)*, Shea (Bytryrospermum Parkii) Butter*, Calendula Flowers (Calendula Officinalis)*, Nettle Leaf (Urtica Dioica)*, Yarrow Flowers (Achillea Millefolium)*, Arrowroot Powder (Maranta Arundinacea)*, Raspberry Seed (Rubus Idaeus) Oil*, Tocopherols (Vitamin E)*, Calendula (Calendula Offinalis) Extract*, Myrrh (Commiphora Myrrha) Oil*, Lavender (Lavandula) Oil*
*Indicates Organic Ingredients

Skin, when properly supported, heals quickly. If the area is kept dry and clean without increased friction or irritation from a pad, the rash should heal within 2-3 days. The fastest way to get rid of pad rash is to stop doing what is causing it.

It may be. Because pads extend to the buttock area, cause friction, and are also moist in that area it can cause a butt rash, butt crack rash, anal rash or butt cheek rash. Rashes in these areas are also called intertrigo rash. A rash that occurs in the folds of the skin is called an intertrigo rash. Because friction and moisture can be higher between the buttock cheeks during a period, “pad rash” can extend to these areas.

Pad rash on buttocks is common.

Because the vulva skin is sensitive, cold compresses are advised rather than cold pacs or ice pacs which may be cold enough to burn the sensitive and thinner genital skin.

A cold compress can be made by running cold water over a piece of cloth. Place the cold cloth on the irritated area. Body heat will increase the temperature of the cloth to ambient temperature fairly quickly.

A cold compress can also be made by saturating a piece of cloth with water, ringing out the excess, placing it in a plastic bag and then placing it in the freezer for 1-24 hours. The “frozen” cloth can then be placed on the irritated area. The cloth will feel very cold, and hopefully provide relief, but it will warm up quickly which limits its ability to cause a cold burn like a cold pac or an ice pack can.

Treating the cause of the pad rash is the most important step. Once the cause(s) have been identified and eliminated the pad rash, and the pain associated with it, should disappear. It is never a good idea to mask pain rather than treating a problem.

It might be. The increased moisture and friction in the area may be causing a rash. Sometimes women wear “old” underwear during their periods which may have thigh elastics that are now too tight or are exposed because the cloth is no longer covering the elastic. Sometimes the inner thigh skin reaction is to the exposed underwear elastic rather than to the hygiene products. A pad rash on the inner thigh if fairly common.

Vulvitis is defined as inflammation of the vulva area. It can be a symptom of many conditions including pad rash.

Prevention is the best tip in dealing with pad rash. The idea that your skin will get used to a particular pad, detergent, moisture, bacteria or friction is counter to taking good care of yourself throughout the month. It is worth taking small steps to prevent pad rash to make your period as comfortable as possible.

Please see this article for a more extensive list cons of using Vaseline on rashes. Because petroleum jelly's are occlusive they hold moisture and heat against the skin. This can cause an exacerbation of a rash.

The Green Forest Lady recommends Boo Boo Balm to help prevent pad rash and Booty Balm to help treat pad rash.

Please see this article for a more extensive list cons of using Bag Balm on rashes.

The National Institutes of Health has determined Bag Balm is toxic if swallowed.

Hazards information at the National Institutes of Health gives the 8-Hydroxyquinoline Sulfate compound a
Danger rating that it is toxic if swallowed,
Warning rating that it may cause an allergic skin reaction,
Danger rating that it can cause serious eye damage,
Danger warning that it may damage an unborn child

Because of micro tears that can be present in the vulva area, especially if a rash is present, Bag Balm is not recommended to treat Pad Rash.

The Green Forest Lady recommends Boo Boo Balm to help prevent pad rash and Booty Balm to help treat pad rash.

Yes!

Menstrual pad rash is fairly common.

Yes!

Even when you are not on your period, you may have an allergic reaction to the pad.

Heat & moisture can also be present in the area, and made worse by the pad, which can lead to irritation & pad rash.

Yes!

Blisters are not a common form of menstrual pad rash, but they do occur. Although blisters are usually caused from friction, like the back of the heal when wearing new shoes, they can also occur as a combination of friction and an allergic reaction to a period pad.

Pad bumps are small raised areas caused by irritation that are not fluid filled.

Often sores from pads are caused when the blisters burst leaving open sores in the area.

Yes!

Sores are not a common form of maxi pad rash, but they do occur. Sores from sanitary pads are usually caused from friction and an allergic or sensitivity reaction to the menstrual pad.

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