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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Pads?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An allergic reaction to sanitary pads would likely cause symptoms similar to an allergic reaction to anything else, including itching, redness, swelling, or skin irritation. Most often, these symptoms would occur in the genital region, although some severe reactions may cause symptoms over a broader area. Signs of a severe reaction, although rare, would include severe swelling and trouble breathing.

It is relatively rare that a woman would have an allergic reaction to pads. When it does occur, it is most commonly linked to feminine pads that contain added fragrances. Sometimes, a reaction may occur in response to the chemicals used to make the pads absorbent. The first sign of a reaction is often vaginal itching and irritation, and this may be followed by redness or irritation. Women experiencing these symptoms while using pads should switch to a different item and contact a healthcare professional.

More severe allergic reactions may lead to breathing problems, wheezing, or severe swelling. Anyone with these symptoms should seek medication attention immediately, since this type of reaction could cause severe complications or even death.

Women who think they may be allergic should first check the product package. If there are scents or fragrances in the product, the best course of action is to switch to a variety without them. When there are not added fragrances, switching to another brand may resolve the problem, since different manufacturers may use different additives or chemicals. Once the offending pads are removed, symptoms should subside relatively quickly. If irritation or itching persists, another condition may be to blame.

There are alternatives on the market for women who prefer to reduce the risk of developing an allergic reaction to pads. Real cotton pads are available, many of which are organic, and they come in a wide range of colors and absorbency. They are also reusable and environmentally friendly, so these pads may cost less long-term. Feminine cups, which are placed inside of the vagina to catch liquid, are also sold, and many women find them to be highly effective.

This type of allergic reaction can cause many of the same symptoms as other conditions. Itching, redness, and general irritation could also signal a vaginal infection. Using scented products makes getting an infection more likely, so if switching products doesn't relieve the symptoms, a visit to a medical professional is in order for additional testing. Hives, although commonly caused by an allergic reaction, may look similar to genital warts and should also be checked by a medical professional.

Scented vs. Unscented Pads 

Many people prefer scented pads because they can mask the smell of menstrual blood. As a result, people who use unscented pads often worry about their body odor. 

Fortunately, scented pads are not the only way to eliminate menstrual-related body odor. In reality, these fragrances are more of a cosmetic preference than a necessity. 

As long as you bathe regularly and change your pads often, unscented pads can be just as effective as scented ones. 

How To Treat Allergic Reactions to Pads 

While rarely life-threatening, allergic reactions to pads can cause a lot of discomfort. 

Here are a few ways you can manage your symptoms when dealing with an allergic reaction: 

  • Switch to unscented pads or use a different menstrual product altogether. 
  • Apply an over-the-counter rash cream to the affected areas. 
  • Wash the vulva with warm water. Do not use perfumed soap in or near the vagina. 
  • Try to avoid scratching the rash-affected areas, as this will only worsen the skin irritation. 
  • Avoid wearing skinny jeans or any other tight garments around the groin. 

For severe allergic reactions, more intensive treatment may be necessary. If your allergic reaction is severe or does not improve, seek medical attention as soon as possible. 

Other Possible Causes of Rashes 

Allergic reactions are not the only cause of rashes on the vulva. If your allergic reaction symptoms do not improve after changing menstrual products, another condition may be the cause. 

Here are a few common causes of rashes in the genital area. If you are at all uncertain about the cause of your symptoms, it may be time to visit a gynecologist. 

Yeast Infections 

These fungal infections can cause itching, a burning sensation in the vagina, and excessive vaginal discharge. Yeast infections are very common but easy to treat with medication. 

People who are pregnant, have weakened immune systems, or have diabetes are at a higher risk of yeast infections. 

STIs/STDs 

A few different STIs/STDs can cause symptoms similar to an allergic reaction. These include: 

  • Pubic lice 
  • Genital herpes 
  • Genital warts 
  • Syphilis 

People who have been sexually active and are experiencing symptoms of these infections should consider STD testing

Poor Menstrual Hygiene 

Poor menstrual hygiene can often cause rashes on the vulva. 

Bathing regularly and changing menstrual pads often will help reduce the risk of rashes. Wearing loose underwear and pants can also prevent bacteria and sweat from building up in menstrual pads. 

The vagina is self-cleaning, so douches or other vaginal-cleaning products are unnecessary and can do more harm than good. Gently rinsing the vulva with warm water is enough to keep it clean. 

Psoriasis 

Psoriasis is a skin condition that can cause bumpy, red, and itchy patches of skin. It is not an STI, and it is not contagious. 

People with psoriasis will experience these rashes on all parts of their bodies, including their genitals. So if you have psoriasis, it may be the cause of the rashes in your vaginal area. 

Toxic Shock Syndrome 

People who use tampons or menstrual cups should be wary of toxic shock syndrome, a rare condition that causes symptoms similar to an allergic reaction. 

Toxic shock syndrome comes from staph bacteria building up in the body and creating dangerous toxins. Frequently changing tampons and washing menstrual cups are the best ways to reduce the risk of this life-threatening condition. 

Can Other Menstrual Products Cause Allergic Reactions? 

Pads are not the only menstrual products that can cause allergic reactions, so be cautious when switching from pads to another menstrual product. 

Tampons frequently cause allergic reactions. Like pads, they can contain many ingredients that irritate the skin. However, fragrance-free tampons are less likely to cause these reactions. 

Menstrual cups can trigger allergic reactions, too. These products typically have silicone material, and cheaper ones can also have rubber or latex in their ingredients. So if you are allergic to any of the materials in menstrual cups, those could also cause an allergic reaction. 

Anything can be an allergy trigger, so finding the right menstrual products for your needs may require some trial and error. If you are having trouble finding menstrual pads that don’t cause allergic reactions, consider seeking advice from your gynecologist.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1003581 — On Jul 26, 2020

I suffer from stress incontinence and have to wear pads for leaks. I have been using shop's own liners for a while now but recently stared itching in my lady bits. I do buy the sensitive form, but am still itching. Any suggestions please?

By anon994409 — On Feb 07, 2016

I have been having this problem for a very long time now. At the end of my period I tend to get really itchy and irritated on my lady bits. When I don't wear a pad for a couple hours the symptoms go away. I am just realizing I'm allergic to pads. Even tampons are bothersome. I don't know why it has just occurred to me that is the problem. I just always thought the extra moisture from my cycle irritated my skin (and yes I wash and keep the area clean as possible) That's not the case tho, I am finding out. Hmm, now that I know this not sure what to do. By the way: what the hell is the point of adding scent to a pad? I don't see how it is supposed to make anything smell more pleasant.

By vbellomy — On Jul 23, 2014

It has taken me two months to realize that Kotex pads are causing me to itch and burn. I had already noticed that the pads are falling apart soon after I began wearing them. I decided to see if anyone else is complaining about this and found that others are experiencing the same problem. Aloe and Vitamin E are now being added to the unscented pads. I have used Kotex pads and tampons for years but now having to find an alternative due to this issue.

By KristiL — On Feb 14, 2014

This happened to me twice over the course of two cycles after I tried the new Always Infinity pads. It took me a while to realize it wasn't new razors causing razor burn -- it was the pads!

I contacted Always after my gyno told me to steer clear of that brand. She said this happens frequently with the Always brand and even emailed me a medical journal article where they correlated the Always brand with contact dermatitis. That's pretty bad when a med journal starts hypothesizing on a specific product! Anyway, I wrote to Always and gave them this information. Surprise, they sent me a coupon for more Always products.

By anon930535 — On Feb 05, 2014

I use pads for 'leaks' of urine. Two years ago, Kimberly Clark changed their Poise Pads from plain to 'pretty' with a paisley purple dye on the surface next to the skin. It took me weeks to connect the very severe genital itch with the pad. Only after going on their website did I learn that thousands of people were complaining about the same problem. My doctor said she could see what looked to be a burn in the whole area. It took many months to heal.

They shut down the website so you can no longer let others know. It can be the dye or the fragrance that causes a reaction.

By amypollick — On Jan 04, 2013

@koalapunk: I've never used the reusable pads, but I did have to stop using Always pads because they used a mylar-based material for the covering and it trapped the moisture against my skin. I never had hives, but they sure did give me the equivalent of a nasty diaper rash!

Does the reaction you're having coincide with you starting the Trinessa birth control? I couldn't take that stuff. It made me psycho. Birth control can change your body chemistry, so it's possible, I guess. That's a question for your doctor, though.

Oral benedryl might help, since it treats allergies, and there's a no-drowsiness formula on the market. It really sounds like a skin contact allergy to me.

I have seen this thing called a "diva cup" online, which is a silicone cup you insert into the vagina during your period. You empty it out like twice a day. Maybe you could try that, along with a pantyliner with baking soda.

You might also try either cortisone or benedryl ointment/cream on your skin to help reduce the allergic reaction. Good luck to you!

By koalapunk — On Jan 04, 2013

This is the second time this issue has occurred, however this time it is more severe. The last two times I have worn sanitary pads or tampons during my period I ended up with a rash on my vulva. I've already been tested for STD/STIs and I am negative across the board. I was on vacation and wasn't able to change my pad but once a day (which hasn't ever really bothered me before,) and now I have a gigantic hive/blister on the right side of my vulva. I wasn't able to do anything about the blister when it first appeared. It felt like a painful pebble stabbing my vulva. It felt better after I showered, and let everything air out, but would itch, burn and ache after putting back on a sanitary pad. Friction burn or solitary hive? I'm not sure.

It feels better after applying hydrogen peroxide and neosporin, but I don't know what to do about it, this never used to happen. Am I allergic to the pads or to my period?

I am on Trinessa birth control and love the pills and am wondering if there is a connection between the pill and my sudden intolerance for feminine products. I used organic re-usable sanitary pads as well as store bought ones for my last period and just ended up with a rash. I'm just so confused, and a little scared. I know it's not an STD/STI, it's just jarring to finally be able to have sex again and have this happen. I doubt an allergic reaction is transmittable to my partner, common sense tells me no.

I just want this to not happen ever again. I don't like it when there is something wrong with my vagina.

By anon305647 — On Nov 26, 2012

I constantly have reactions to pads every month. I don't use scented pads. What do I do?

By anon295542 — On Oct 06, 2012

I use different kinds of pads and always at the end seem to get a rash on my bum and vaginal areas. I have never used the scented kinds so I have no idea on what to do.

By Pharoah — On Sep 17, 2012

@LoriCharlie - I actually had a minor allergic reaction to a pad once. I usually buy unscented pads, but I grabbed the wrong box a few months ago because I was in a rush. When I got home, I realized they were scented, but I decided to use them anyway.

After a few minutes, I started to get really itchy and irritated. I removed the pad and threw the whole box away! I've never bought any unscented pads since then.

By LoriCharlie — On Sep 16, 2012

I'm not surprised that it's possible to have an allergic reaction to a scented pad. Who knows what they use to make them fragranced anyway? Whatever it is, it can't be good for you!

Has anyone actually had this happen to them?

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 16, 2012

@dautsun - That's good advice. I used to get urinary tract infections kind of frequently. My doctor told me to avoid using anything fragranced "down there," including sprays, scented pads, and scented soap. She also told me to use unscented laundry detergent.

Even since I started using unscented stuff, I haven't had any problems. I never had any kind of allergic reaction though, but I can imagine how unpleasant it would be!

By dautsun — On Sep 15, 2012

I think that, overall, it's a good idea to avoid fragrances when you're choosing feminine products. A lot of people are sensitive to fragrances, and there's really no need to use fragranced pads anyway! Also, even if you don't have an allergic reaction, fragrances can irritate you and possibly cause a urinary tract infection.

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