(NewsNation) — A lack of tampons is the latest shortage grabbing attention, especially as other period products are also getting more expensive.
Time magazine first reported on what it said has been a monthslong tampon shortage in June, noting that a forum for DC-area moms and Reddit both had stories from people not being able to find them. The author of the article described seeing shelves bare of tampons in New York, Massachusetts and California.
One organization Time spoke to, I Support the Girls, which provides menstrual hygiene for people experiencing homelessness, said they’ve received only half as many tampons as they did this time last year.
Many goods have been in short supply since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as supply chains were disrupted and inflation has caused material to become more expensive. Andre Schulten, the chief financial officer of Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Tampax, said on a recent earnings call that it has been “costly and highly volatile” to acquire the raw materials, such as cotton and plastic, that tampons are made of, according to The New York Times. A representative for the company acknowledged that this issue can be frustrating for consumers, and told the newspaper that this is a “temporary situation.”
When it comes to period products, tampons are not the only option. But other menstrual products are getting costly, and might not be optimal for everyone.
One go-to period alternative: pads. These can give people with vulvar conditions significant discomfort and irritation, however, and keep people from engaging in activities including swimming,according to the Times.
Another option some go for is period underwear that uses absorbent materials. But as The New York Times noted, some popular brands go for $30 to $40 a pair, and they cannot be put in a dryer. Menstrual cups can collect blood for hours at a time, although as experts interviewed in The New York Times said, they can take some trial and error to use.
Overall, no products have been safe from the effects of record-high inflation. Using data from NielsenIQ, Bloomberg reported that the average price for menstrual pads went up by 8.3%, while tampons were up 9.8% for the year through May 28.
For some, it has always been hard to afford period products: a study from U by Kotex found that two out of five people who menstruate say they have struggled to purchase period supplies due to lack of income.
“It has been an issue for many years,” said Jennifer Gaines, program director for the Alliance for Period Supplies. “With the inflation and the higher costs for these products, it’s just putting an extra burden on these people that have already been struggling.”
Some online noted that news of the tampon shortage comes as the country is also in the midst of a baby formula shortage, making life difficult for women, particularly mothers. And 25 states charge sales tax on period products, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies, which supports a network of 120 organizations that collect necessities such as period products for people living in poverty.
Often, the alliance said, these items are taxed and treated as “luxury items,” not basic necessities.
Getting menstrual products to those who need them is important because not having them affects people’s incomes, and their education, if they can’t go to work or school, Gaines said. Not having products is an emotional burden, as well, causing people to feel stressed and embarrassed, especially as there is already a stigma around poverty, she added.
“Periods happen. It’s a natural thing that happens every month for a lot of people in this country,” she said. “These basic necessities are very important for people to continue on with their lives.”
Nancy Kramer, founder of Free the Tampon, an organization which works to put freely-accessible mestrual products in public bathrooms, said not having access to period products can be devastating.
“We’ve all had an unexpected start to our period, and we can probably all recall exactly what happened, how you felt, what the situation was, because it sticks with us,” Kramer said.
Kramer said tampons should be treated the same way tampons are — as “a basic human need.”
For those unable to afford period products, Gaines suggests calling 211, or going to 211.org, a service from the United Way that can help people find resources. People can also reach out to local food banks, and Alliance for Period Supplies has a list of organizations on its website that people can contact for assistance.
Although it may be tempting, it might not be a good idea to use an old box of tampons, especially if you’re not sure how old they are. According to Tampax, tampons can expire after five years, with bacteria and small particles of mold sometimes growing in them. In addition, using reusable tampons is discouraged by the Food and Drug Administration, as they have not been approved, and could carry risks of infections such as yeast, fungal and bacterial infections.