National Tampon Shortage: What You Need to Know

If you’re a person who gets a period, you might be wondering what happened to the feminine care products aisle at your local store. It looks a bit … bare?

Where have all the tampons gone?

Great question. As the nation continues to battle supply chain issues across many goods, tampons are just the latest product in short supply. Even though most of the things that disappeared during the pandemic like toilet paper, yeast, and flour have returned to the shelves, tampons are still suffering. According to NPR and Axios, CVS, Target and Walgreens have all confirmed the limited tampon supply at each retailer. Suppliers haven't been able to fulfill the full orders placed by each company, resulting in sparsely stocked shelves and higher prices for tampons and other period products.

Why are tampons so expensive?

Just like with infant formula shortage, the need for period products is biological. In 2020 alone, 34.1 million women were cited in the U.S. as tampon users. Additionally statistics indicate that tampon prices are up 10% from a year ago, according to Bloomberg. Menstrual pads are 8% more expensive than they were last year. Tampons are getting more expensive due to shortages and inflation. A year after announcing increased prices on feminine care products, P&G said in the April earnings call that ongoing supply chain constraints led to another price hike on the products, which will go into effect in mid-July.

So, not only are menstrual supplies in short supply, they’re also more expensive when you can find them.

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Who’s in charge here?

Though the tampon shortage is making headlines this week, it’s far from new. I Support the Girls, an organization that provides menstrual products for people experiencing economic hardship, has seen a huge drop in product donations in recent months, which is an indicator that the shortage may have been going on for longer than most people realize. Time first reported on the tampon shortage last week, calling out that it has lasted longer than other pandemic fueled shortages, like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Decision-makers in the supply chain and CEOs of manufacturers are mostly men, the magazine observed. A coincidence? Many of the people making decisions for feminine care products do not themselves use them, and that may contribute to continued shortages around female centered products.

What do materials have to do with the tampon shortage?

But, while it’s easy to be quick to blame the opposite sex for a lack of urgency around the matter, the real culprit seems to lie in the availability and cost of raw materials. The materials that make up tampons, including cotton, rayon, fluff pulp and plastic, have been in high demand for use in masks and other medical products during the pandemic. Extreme drought in Texas, diesel prices and Russia's invasion of Ukraine also tightened the supply of those goods. In April, the raw price of cotton was 71% higher than it was the previous year.

Another roadblock is quality control. Tampons are Class II medical devices, which means that because of quality regulations, companies can’t put just anybody on the assembly line, so production lagged demand.

Increased demand, staffing shortages, raw material shortages are not factors unique to tampons. Yet, what makes the tampon shortage so persistent and problematic is that unlike most other items that the supply chain has made it hard to access, tampons are not something women can stop buying until supplies return. You may be annoyed that your dining room set delivery is delayed or that you still can’t find your favorite sneakers, but you can wait—or buy something else. Women get their period every month, and if they’ve used tampons for their entire adult lives, they need tampons.

What are tampon shortage solutions?

If you’re a tried and true tampon user, here some things to consider:

- First and foremost: If you are running low, do not try to extend your supply by wearing a tampon for longer stretches of time. Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when you leave a tampon in for more than eight hours or use one with too much absorbency.

- Tampons have an expiration date on the box, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to be tossed. As long as the individual wrapper is intact, you should be good to go.

- While you may have your favorite brands, it might be the time to try something new out of necessity and make some concessions. You may prefer plastic to cardboard when it comes to applicators, but there might not be a choice to have any applicator at all!

If you’re open to alternatives, you might want to consider:

Leak proof underwear.
If you’re used to wearing tampons, the idea of free bleeding into your underwear might seem insane, but it’s 2022 and the technology has arrived. Proof has a full line of stylish, effective, and comfortable undies that can hold up to five four tampons (or 108 teaspoons) worth of liquid. We even have different absorbance options for every day of your cycle.

Menstrual pads.
Ok, they aren’t the most comfortable and can remind you of middle school, but they work and could be a quick, easy, and accessible leak proof solution.

Menstrual cups.
Menstrual cups and discs — flexible, reusable devices made from medical-grade silicone or latex and inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood — have exploded in popularity in recent years. Research suggests leakage with menstrual cups is similar to or lower 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. Cups and discs tend to fall in the $25 to $35 range, and do require a learning curve with insertion.

Unfortunately, between this and the baby formula shortage, it seems like women of child bearing age just can’t catch a break. But, it seems like the tampon shortage is getting its time in the spotlight, which should help expedite solutions. In the meantime, you’ve got options. 

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