High inflation is putting a financial strain on people across the country, but now many people are being affected in an area they may not have expected: their menstrual products. Since the onset of the pandemic, tampon manufacturers have been struggling to put products on the shelves due to short staff, manufacturing holdups, and rising prices of materials to make tampons and pads.
According to NielsenIQ, period products hit their lowest availability this year in mid-March. Similar to the baby formula shortage, some states were hit harder than others, with Utah, California, Minnesota, and North Dakota facing the highest rates of menstrual product shortages. As a result, the cost of tampons rose 9.8% and packages of menstrual pads rose by 8.3% between Jan. 1 and May 28 of this year. To bring awareness to period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual hygiene tools, and education due to financial constraints, nonprofits across the country are working to provide menstrual products to low-income and BIPOC families who are disproportionately affected by rising costs and inflation.
“For BIPOC communities, the situation is even worse because they might not have available options when shopping. Especially if they already have a low income, on top of if they live in a specific community where there may not be an availability as far as places to shop,” said Chelsea VonChaz, the executive director and one of the founders of Happy Period. The organization works with brands to provide alternative product lines, including period panties, menstrual cups, and disc brands. “We encourage people to shift to something else if they can.”
Many Black and Latinx families experiencing poverty are more likely to struggle to afford a box of tampons right now. According to the Current Population Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau examining the national poverty rate in America, Black people had the highest poverty rate at 19.5% but did not experience a significant change from 2019, while Latinx people had a poverty rate of 17%. Poverty rates also increased for married-couple families and families with a female householder.
Drug store chains like CVS, Walgreens, and Target have acknowledged the tampon shortage in stores, which may affect certain brands, and that in recent weeks many suppliers like Tampax, Equate, and Playtex have not fulfilled the orders placed by the company. However, for families who are already struggling to put food on the table, not having their regular menstrual products is another hurdle they have to endure.
“When someone is in a position where they have to choose financially whether or not they’re going to do something that’s a necessity for them to eat, pay a bill, have access to other things, or even share those items with a family versus starving yourself during your menstrual cycle, it’s really difficult,” said Lamanda Ballard, the founder and executive director of Flo Code, which collaborates with nonprofits and schools in central Texas to ensure families have access to menstrual products without financial burden. “We’ve had an influx of requests and donations, and by the tampon shortage being mainstream, you know, in the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen more emails flow through to our organization.”
For some women nationwide, not finding their particular brand in stores to help their period flow became a nightmare. According to a 2020 health study by the University of Michigan, nearly a quarter of Black women between the ages of 18-30 have fibroids, compared to 6% of white women. The effects of fibroids can lead to heavy bleeding, pelvic pains, and prolonged periods.
Kassie Edwards-Rusaksriskul suffers from dysmenorrhea and fibroids, and recently snapped a picture of an empty shelf at her local Target store in Maryland. Since Edwards-Rusaksriskul was 13 years old, she has used Kotex Security tampons to help with heavy flow, but the brand discontinued their full-sized cotton tampons for heavy flows in March 2021. Edwards-Rusaksriskul was able to stock up on Kotex Security tampons, but customers nationwide that prefer the brand are struggling to find alternatives amid the tampon shortage.
“There are millions of women who use that tampon and rely on it and are having issues finding alternatives,” Edwards-Ruxsaksriskul said. “The CVS brand of tampons, which are similar to Kotex Security, are out of stock too as well, the Equate brand is out of stock too, as well [as] if you go to Walmart, and those were the cheapest, so I’m not sure what women of color are doing now.”
With different tampon brands like Tampax, Equate, and Playtex low in stock in stores, organizations like Happy Period and Flo Code are providing alternative menstrual products to communities struggling to find them. Applications for menstrual products are on a rolling basis, and anyone can apply. However, the fight to help end period poverty is not over, and these two organizations are working to educate and make access to menstrual products easier.
“We already don’t have public spaces that have care products available for free, like public restrooms, libraries, courthouses, airports, schools, shelters. These are spaces that may have running water, toilet paper, or even soap and hand sanitizer available for free, but there are no pads and tampons,” VonChaz said.
Tampon manufacturers and supply chains such as Edgewell Personal Care, the maker of Playtex and o.b. tampons, Procter and Gamble (P&G), the maker of Tampax, and pharmacy chains like Walgreens are working to ramp up production. P&G released a statement assuring customers that the nationwide tampon shortage is a “temporary situation.” However, local organizations like Happy Period and Flo Code are recommending that people who menstruate use items like menstrual cups, discs, period panties, and reusable pads if there are no tampons available in stores.