A person may experience a rash from wearing a pad during their period. Causes of pad rash include friction and an allergic reaction to the pad.

In this article, we discuss the most likely causes of pad rash. We also cover the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the rash.

There are several potential causes of a rash due to wearing a pad. They include friction, an allergic reaction to the pad’s materials, and irritation from heat and moisture.

Friction

Wearing a sanitary pad can cause friction from movement, resulting in a rash. According to the Center for Young Women’s Health, walking, running, and other forms of physical activity can cause the pad to move back and forward and contribute to a friction rash on the vulva.

A person can try wearing a smaller pad to help minimize its movement.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a term that healthcare professionals use to describe an allergic skin reaction. A person may develop pad rash from various materials or chemicals that come into contact with the vulva. A sanitary pad comprises several materials that can cause irritation, including adhesives and, in some cases, added fragrances.

People with sensitive skin may find that they react to certain types of sanitary towels due to the pad’s materials. In these cases, switching brands may help prevent future rashes.

Heat and moisture

The purpose of a sanitary pad is to trap and collect menstrual fluids as they exit the vagina. The trapped moisture and heat can irritate the vulva and cause a rash.

Several irritants relating to pads and underwear could cause a rash on the vulva. These include:

  • sweat
  • urine
  • adhesives in panty liners
  • nylon underwear

Infrequent pad changes

It is important that people change their sanitary pad regularly throughout the day. Allowing it to fill up and remain against the vulva can cause a rash to develop.

People should choose a pad that matches their period flow. If a person buys a pad for a heavy flow, but they only experience a light flow, they may think that they do not have to change the pad as often.

However, people should always change their pad every 3–4 hours, no matter how small the volume of their flow. Doing this is necessary to avoid odor from bacterial growth and prevent irritation.

Development of an infection

Infrequently changing a sanitary pad can lead to an infection and result in symptoms such as itching, swelling, and abnormal vaginal discharge. According to a 2018 study, poor sanitary pad hygiene could result in:

In some cases, it may be obvious that the rash is the result of wearing a sanitary pad — for instance, if the rash develops within a few hours of wearing the pad or recurs with use.

In an older case study from 2009, the doctor evaluated different aspects of the rash, including its appearance and location, to diagnose the person with pad rash.

The presence of other symptoms may indicate that an infection is present. For example, if a person has a vaginal yeast infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that they may have the following symptoms:

  • vaginal itchiness
  • pain during urination
  • pain during intercourse
  • abnormal discharge (which may be harder to see during menstruation)

The treatment of pad rash may vary depending on the exact cause.

In the case of contact dermatitis, the Center for Young Women’s Health recommend trying a different brand of sanitary pad. A person may even wish to consider alternatives, such as tampons or a menstrual cup. Others may find that using smaller pads helps reduce friction-related rashes.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, some treatments for contact dermatitis include:

  • antihistamines
  • steroid creams
  • topical antibiotics (if there is a bacterial infection)

Due to the location of the pad rash, a person should talk to their doctor before applying a topical cream or ointment to the area.

To relieve and soothe the irritation, a person could use a cold compress. Keeping the area clean could prevent the rash from getting worse.

Diaper rash most commonly occurs when contact with urine or fecal matter causes the skin to become inflamed and irritated.

A rash from a sanitary pad is similar to a diaper rash in that it can result from irritation. However, urine and feces are not the primary irritants of the vulva in pad rash.

Learn more about adult diaper rash here.

A person should see their doctor before applying ointments or creams to treat the rash. Certain medications, such as topical steroids, could be too harsh for a person to use on their genitals. Instead, a cold compress or warm bath may help alleviate symptoms without a need to visit the doctor.

If the rash does not improve within a few days after stopping wearing pads, it may require further treatment or could be infected.

A rash that occurs from contact with a sanitary pad should go away within 2–3 days, with or without treatment. If a rash is due to an infection, it should resolve after treatment.

If friction or contact rashes form, it is possible that they will form again if the person uses the same type of pad. The person may wish to consider using alternative sanitary products, such as a tampon or menstrual cup, to prevent future rashes.

It may not always be possible to prevent pad rash if a person is sensitive to the pad material or does a lot of physical activity, which increases pad friction.

The Center for Young Women’s Health recommend:

  • trying a different brand of pad
  • using a menstrual cup
  • using a tampon

A person should regularly change their sanitary pad. Keeping the area clean and dry may help prevent a rash from forming.

Skin can react to the materials in the pad, resulting in pad rash. Friction, excessive moisture, or not changing the pad frequently enough can also cause vulva irritation.

In some cases, a person may develop or already have an underlying infection that causes a rash to appear on the skin. A person should talk to their doctor about safe treatment options for their rash, though applying a cold compress and keeping the area clean and dry may help alleviate symptoms.

People may find that changing either the brand or size of the pad helps prevent rashes from recurring.