Period pads offer women one of many options for managing their monthly menstrual flow. While feminine pads serve a useful purpose, some women develop a rash when using them. Sanitary pads often contain fragrances, synthetic materials and chemicals that can irritate the sensitive external genital (vulvar) skin in some women, leading to a rash that might be accompanied by burning or itchiness. Excessive moisture exposure of the vulvar skin can also provoke these symptoms. Changing or rotating the types of period products you use and following your doctor's advice typically leads to relatively quick resolution of the rash and usually prevents future episodes.
Consult With Your Healthcare Provider
It's important to consult with your healthcare provider if you develop a vulvar rash because this can be a symptom of many different conditions. What might seem like pad-related rash could be caused by a vaginal yeast infection, genital herpes, syphilis, eczema, psoriasis or another skin condition. It's particularly important to see your healthcare provider if you experience other signs or symptoms in addition to a rash, such as fever, chills, genital ulcers, or abdominal or pelvic pain.
Change or Rotate Period Products
Once you've determined that your rash is likely caused by the sanitary pads you're using, changing or rotating the period products you use is the next step. Some trial-and-error might be needed to find the best product or combination of products for you. Choosing unscented pads is generally a recommended first step. Many women opt for unbleached, organic cotton pads that contain no chemical additives. Reusable cloth pads, menstrual cups, and unscented or organic tampons are other options. Many women find using a combination of products -- depending on your activities and daily flow -- works best.
Stay Clean and Dry
It's important to keep your vulva clean during your period, especially if you've developed a pad-related rash. Rinse the area with plain warm water. Avoid using soap, feminine wipes or deodorants, and douching. A washcloth isn't necessary but if you prefer to use one, use a cloth made of soft fabric that's been laundered with fragrance-free detergent and without fabric conditioner or bleach.
Changing your pad -- whatever type you use -- when it becomes wet helps prevent irritation caused by prolonged exposure to moisture. Applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly helps soothe your vulvar skin and protects it from the effects of moisture exposure. Wearing breathable or moisture-wicking fabrics serves the same purpose, as does temporarily avoiding wearing skinny jeans or other tight-fitting pants.
Soothe Your Discomfort
Applying a cool compress to your vulva can help ease rash-related pain, burning and/or itchiness. Sitting in a few inches of lukewarm bath water -- without anything added -- or using a sitz bath can also help alleviate your discomfort. Applying a low-dose, over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment to your vulva can reduce inflammation, but check with your healthcare provider to be sure it's appropriate for you.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as she advises, or if your rash persists, spreads or worsens.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.