First it was baby food. The latest supply chain problem complicating the daily lives of women across America is a nationwide tampon shortage amid rising consumer prices due to inflation.
For months, Reddit and Instagram users have been trading stories of empty shelves and increased prices. “I checked 8 different stores!” wrote a Reddit user who instead ordered tampons online at a “noticeable premium.”
Here’s what you need to know if you’re finding tampons now and what the alternatives are.
Why is there a tampon shortage?
Though Redditors have been noting the tampon shortage for months, the topic largely flew under the radar until Time first wrote about the “major tampon shortage” in early June.
Andre Schulten, chief financial officer of Procter & Gamble — the makers of Tampax, the tampon giant that sells 4.5 billion packs worldwide each year — said on a recent conference call that acquiring the raw materials needed has been “expensive and highly volatile.” to procure for production, such as cotton and plastic.
Inflation is also making other popular menstrual products more expensive. Bloomberg reported that the average price of a pack of menstrual pads rose a little more than 8 percent from earlier this year through the end of May, while the price of tampons rose nearly 10 percent.
Manufacturers and large retailers are trying to remedy the shortage.
A Procter & Gamble representative told the New York Times that the company knows how frustrating it is for consumers who can’t find what they are looking for and said it is working with retailers to maximize availability. “We can assure you that this is a temporary situation,” the manufacturer said, although it didn’t offer a more specific timeline. Representatives from CVS and Walgreens also confirmed that retailers have been experiencing shortages in recent weeks.
Understand the supply chain crisis
Can I use an old supply of tampons?
Some brands of tampons come with a date on the package, but that’s not a Food and Drug Administration-mandated expiration date like you’d find on latex condoms, for example.
Tampax-branded tampons, for example, are marked with a “best before” date of three or five years, which Procter & Gamble describes as a “period of time that a product is expected to meet our high quality standards” — if it’s stored in a cool, dry place.
But according to medical providers, that doesn’t mean tampons are necessarily unsafe or ineffective after that date. In theory, cotton could pick up some bacteria or mold, said Dr. Barbara Wilkinson, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, but there is no scientific data on best-before dates.
“I would say if you’re rummaging through an old stash of tampons, just double check that the tampon sleeve is intact and the tampon looks like it’s still well protected,” she said.
What should I do if I run out of tampons?
First and foremost: If you’re running low, don’t try to supplement your supply by wearing a tampon for a long time, warned Dr. Wilkinson. Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that can occur if you leave a tampon in for more than eight hours or use one that is too absorbent.
And while the lack of tampons can be a source of stress, Dr. Jessica Atrio, a gynecologist at Montefiore Health System in New York, said this could also be a chance for women and others who use tampons to re-examine the products they use and whether they are consistent with their values.
“People should be assured that they have agency in making these choices,” she said, pointing to the possibility of switching from tampons to reusable options for environmental reasons, for example. And nowadays there are more alternatives to tampons than ever before.
Many women already use menstrual pads — sometimes called sanitary napkins — in conjunction with tampons, said Dr. Lauren Streicher, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, either on days when their bleeding is particularly heavy, or perhaps when they’re sleeping.
There are disposable and reusable options. dr However, Streicher acknowledged that pads aren’t for everyone: some users don’t like the wet sensation they can cause, while those with vulvar conditions like genital psoriasis or vulvodynia may experience significant discomfort and irritation. Pads can also prevent women from engaging in certain activities, such as swimming or vigorous exercise.
Period underwear uses absorbent materials such as microfiber polyester to absorb menstrual blood. “I’m seeing more and more women, especially my younger patients, really embracing this option,” said Dr. Wilkinson.
How the supply chain crisis unfolded
The pandemic triggered the problem. The highly complex and interconnected global supply chain is in a state of upheaval. Much of the crisis can be traced back to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:
There are many reusable brands on the market, most of which list their capacity by how many tampons they can hold menstrual blood, she explained.
But dr Wilkinson also noted that period underwear can be prohibitively expensive (some popular bands cost $30 to $40 a pair) and can’t be tumble dried.
menstrual cups and discs
Menstrual cups and discs — flexible, reusable devices made of medical-grade silicone or latex that are inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood — have grown in popularity in recent years. Research suggests that menstrual cup leakage is similar or less than what women experience with pads or tampons.
“You place the menstrual cup over your cervix and it collects menstrual blood for about 12 hours,” said Dr. Strings. Cups and slices typically fall in the $25-$35 range.
Every expert interviewed for this story noted that finding the right menstrual cup can take some trial and error, and there can be a learning curve with insertion.
“Just because a menstrual cup doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t,” said Dr. John Horton, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Emory University School of Medicine. “As with any product, there are differences between different shapes or brands. It takes a one or two to find the right one for you.”
(If possible, he recommended having a spare menstrual protection on hand when trying a new product like a menstrual cup.)
dr Horton believes the tampon shortage is a reminder that menstrual hygiene is a universally important issue. Talking about it helps “demystify it,” he said, so everyone — not just those who have their periods — can get a better sense of the costs and logistical challenges involved with menstrual hygiene.