First it was baby formula. Then sriracha. Now it’s tampons. Shortages and supply chain issues have been a constant headache for consumers throughout the pandemic, and essential hygiene products have not been immune.
Headlines about a tampon shortage started appearing in early summer 2022, when TheWall Street Journal reported that 7% of tampons were out of stock nationwide. Across the US in particular, shoppers looking for their preferred brand, or any brand at all, were greeted with empty store shelves.
Tampon makers are facing the same supply chain and labor issues that have plagued many industries during the past two years. This means tampon alternatives—such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period underwear—are increasingly becoming attractive options. Such products are washable, reusable, and only need to be bought once.
“During the pandemic, we’ve definitely noticed increased interest when people aren’t able to easily leave home, go to the grocery store, or purchase disposable products due to shortages,” says Tracy Puhl, President of GladRags, which sells alternative period products.
“Part of the benefit of a reusable product, aside from the environmental aspect and cost savings, is that you always have your menstrual care products on hand. So there’s no need to worry about what’s on grocery shelves.”
Is there a tampon shortage?
Several tampon manufacturers have confirmed that they are indeed facing supply issues in 2022, leading to a tampon shortage. According to Time, Procter & Gamble, which makes Tampax, said it was having issues sourcing raw materials. A Procter & Gamble spokesperson also said there’s been increased demand thanks to an ad campaign featuring comedian Amy Schumer (which turned into its own joke), but it’s not the only tampon maker having troubles.
Edgewell Personal Care, which produces Playtex and o.b. tampons, told the BBC its supply is being impacted by COVID-19-related workforce shortages.
Overall, the 2022 tampon shortages are being caused by the same factors as other shortages—access to raw materials, shipping troubles, and labor issues. As Time pointed out, tampons are made with cotton and rayon, two materials that have been in high-demand for personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic. The war in Ukraine may also be affecting raw material prices and availability.
On the labor side, COVID-19 has led to higher than normal job absence. Fewer workers means fewer tampons being produced and making it to stores.
According to Bloomberg, the shortage is not the same everywhere, with Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia seeing the most noticeable shortages. Brands have said these shortages are temporary, and they’re working to bring supply back up.
Why are tampons so expensive?
Even when not accounting for a tampon shortage, period products have gotten pricier. According to a report from Bloomberg, citing NielsenIQ, the average price for a box of tampons rose 9.8% in the year leading up to May 28. For pads, the increase was 8.3%.
The shortage of raw goods like cotton and rayon have driven up prices. As well, prices are up for applicator components like plastic.
It’s become more expensive to have a period. And unlike some other products with shortages or price increases due to inflation, period products aren’t optional for those who menstruate.
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Menstrual product alternatives
Disposable tampons and pads are the most common menstrual products you’ll see on store shelves, but they’re far from the only options. There are other product types that people with periods are switching to that are more sustainable, reusable, and more inexpensive to use in the long term.
Tracy from GladRags said these products “eliminate disposable waste, cost less in the long run, and are comfier too.
“All of our products are made to last a minimum of five years, although we have plenty of customers who've been using them for much longer, so once you have them, you’re all set for your monthly period needs,” she says.
Here’s what consumers are looking for as tampon alternatives, and the DTC brands that sell them.
Typically made of soft silicone, menstrual cups are inserted to collect period blood and then can be removed, washed, sterilized, and reused. While there’s a learning curve, menstrual cups are a popular choice for tampon users because, like tampons, they can be inserted and used for many hours before changing them out. However, rather than going through boxes of tampons, you only need one menstrual cup and it can be reused each cycle.
Menstrual cup brands:
Period underwear, or period panties, are underwear built with an absorbent layer. Like a reusable pad, they collect period blood, but instead of being thrown out they can be washed and worn again. Like cups, they are a more environmentally friendly option because there’s no waste. They’re also made in different styles for different gender expressions, so you can find everything from lace-trimmed cheeky briefs to boxers.
Period underwear brands:
Like the pads you buy at a pharmacy, cloth pads are attached to underwear to add an absorbent, protective layer. But unlike disposable pads, these ones, usually made of cloth, are made to be washed and worn again. It keeps pads out of landfills and they often come in fun colors and patterns.
Reusable pad brands:
When will the tampon shortage end?
Tampon manufacturers have said they’re working hard to increase production and end the shortages, but it remains unclear how long customers will be waiting. US senators have even started putting pressure on these companies to address the shortage.
In the meantime, alternative products are more accessible than ever, though they aren’t immune to supply chain issues either. Tracy said GladRags has faced its own supply issues, although using local manufacturing has helped alleviate that.
“We’ve seen a lot of delays and price increases in the cost of materials,” she says. “Fortunately, we make our products locally here in Portland, Oregon, so we’ve been able to keep our products in stock and flowing to our customers, rather than stuck in ports.”
Feature image courtesy of GladRags.