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What causes pad rash, treatment, and what does it look like?

During a period, a person may experience a rash from wearing a pad. Pad rash causes include rubbing and an allergic reaction on the pad.

We address the most possible causes of pad rash in this article. Also, we cover rash diagnosis, recovery and prevention.

Pad rash pictures


Instead of wearing a pad there are many potential causes of a rash. These include scratching, an allergic reaction to materials in the pad, and heat and moisture irritation.


Wearing a sanitary pad may cause movement friction leading to rash. Walking, running, and other forms of physical activity may cause the pad to move back and forth and lead to a rash of friction on the vulva, according to the Center for Young Women’s Health.

A person can try wearing a smaller pad to reduce potential its movement.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a term used by health care professionals to describe an allergic reaction to the skin. An individual may develop pad rash from different materials or chemicals that come into contact with the vulva. A sanitary pad consists of several irritating materials, including adhesives and, in some cases, additional fragrances.

Persons with sensitive skin may find that due to the materials of the pad they are responding to certain types of sanitary towels. Switching brands in these cases could help prevent future rashes.

Heat and moisture

A sanitary pad has the function of collecting and gathering menstrual fluids as they leave the vagina. The trapped heat and moisture will irritate the vulva, and cause a rash.

Many pad- and underwear-related irritants may cause a vulva rash. These include:

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

Infrequent pad changes

It is critical that people regularly change their sanitary pad during the day. Allowing it to fill up and stay against the vulva will cause the development of a rash.

People should choose a pad that fits the flow of their time. If a person buys a pad for a heavy flow but only experiences a light flow, they may assume they don’t need to adjust the pad as much as they do.

People should always change their pad every 3–4 hours, however small their amount of flow can be. In do so, odor from bacterial growth must be avoided and irritation prevented.

Development of an infection

Changing a sanitary pad regularly can lead to an infection and may lead to symptoms such as itching, swelling and irregular vaginal discharge. Poor sanitary pad hygiene could result, according to a 2018 report, in:

  • infections of the lower reproductive tract
  • bacterial vaginosis
  • yeast infection

Diagnosing rash on paper

It may be obvious in some situations that the rash is the result of using a sanitary pad — for example, if the rash occurs within a few hours of using the pad or persists with use.

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

Certain symptoms can suggest existence of an infection. For example , if a person is infected with a vaginal yeast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) may notice that they will have the following symptoms:

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

Pad rash treatment 

Pad rash can be treated differently depending on the exact cause.

In the case of contact dermatitis, the Center for Young Women’s Health suggests seeking out another type of sanitary pad. An individual may also want to consider alternatives, such as tampons or a menstrual cup. Some can find that using the smaller pads helps to minimize rashes associated with friction.

Several therapies for contact dermatitis according to the American Academy of Allergy , Asthma & Immunology include:

  • antihistamines
  • steroid creams
  • Topical antibiotics (if the infection is bacterial)

An individual should talk to their doctor before applying a topical cream or ointment to the area, due to the position of the pad rash.

A person may be using a cold compress to alleviate and soothe the discomfort. Maintaining the area clean could prevent the rash from getting worse.

Is a pad rash the same as a diaper rash?

Diaper rash most often happens when the skin gets inflamed and irritated by contact with urine or fecal matter.

A sanitary pad rash is similar to a diaper rash in that it can be caused by discomfort. Urine and feces, however, aren’t the main vulva irritants in pad rash.

When to see a doctor

Until applying ointments or creams to treat the rash a person should see their doctor. Many drugs, such as topical steroids, may be too severe to use on a person’s genitals. Alternatively, a cold compress or hot bath can help alleviate symptoms without having to visit the doctor.

Even after stopping wearing pads the rash doesn’t improve after a few days, it may need additional treatment or may be contaminated.


A rash caused by contact with a sanitary pad will go away, with or without care, within 2–3 days. When an infection causes a rash it will heal after treatment.

If rashes are created by friction or touch, they can form again if the individual uses the same type of pad. The person might want to consider using alternate sanitary products to avoid potential rashes, such as a tampon or menstrual cup.


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

The Center for Young Women’s Health recommend:

  • Try different pad brand
  • using a menstrual cup
  • Using a Tampon

A person should keep changing their sanitary pad. Keeping the area clean and dry may help prevent the development of a rash.


Skin can respond to pad materials , leading to pad rash. Friction, excessive moisture or not often enough altering the pad can also cause vulva irritation.

In certain cases, an person may develop or already have an underlying infection that causes a skin rash to appear. An individual should discuss safe treatment options for their rash with their doctor, while applying a cold compress and keeping the area clean and dry can help relieve the symptoms.

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

Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka Martins is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.