What’s happening

Whether you’re able to get your preferred tampon brand (or any tampon that’ll do) may depend on where you live and which store you frequent. 

Why it matters

Typically, tampons have a shelf life of around five years, and you’re not supposed to use them once they’re expired. While many people who menstruate probably would use one in a pinch, they’re made to go into your body and stay there for a while, and going against their designed use can open you up to harmful infections like toxic shock syndrome. 

What’s next

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

Free bleeding, while not suitable for everyone, is also an option, particularly at night or while you’re lounging around the house with a lighter flow. Simply put, free bleeding is bleeding without the use of a tampon, pad, panty liner or other disposable product. People do it for different reasons, and many choose to do so on the last day or two of their period where they’re losing so little blood that it would be hard to even fill up a tampon or pad. (While toxic shock syndrome is rare, using a higher absorbency tampon than what you need may be a risk factor for developing TSS.) If stains are a concern, you can lay a towel down or wear an old and/or dark pair of underwear.
There are a variety of brands to choose from and they’re made to suit people of all sizes with all types of flow. Here’s a list of the best period underwear out there for your body, flow and budget. 
A spokesperson with Walgreens said that “similar to other retailers, we are experiencing some temporary brand-specific shortages in certain geographies.” While they continue to have products, the spokesperson added, it may only be specific brands for the duration of the supply disruption.

Why is there a shortage of tampons? Which brands are affected?

Tampons are an essential product for millions of people.
The supply of tampons, which are essential to the roughly 34 million people in the US who use them, may be sparse at many stores across the country amid another apparent product shortage.
Stories of people looking for tampons and coming up empty-handed have made the rounds on social media. The newest essential care shortage (the other being the baby formula shortage) started making headlines when Time declared the tampon shortage the “supply chain problem no one’s talking about.” It’s also another health care shortage that primarily affects women.
Estimates on how popular tampons are compared to other menstrual products vary, but up to 70% of menstruating people in the US use tampons, by one count. If you get a period, you know better than anyone the products that work for you. So if you have a favorite brand, or you’ve been considering a different line of menstrual care (like period underwear), here’s what companies are saying about the shortage, tampon alternatives and more.
Smaller period-care companies may also be affected as customers start turning to newer tampon brands while their regular brand is out. Dana Cohen with Cora, which produces tampons in addition to menstrual cups, period underwear and other menstrual care products, said that while the company’s products are still in stock, it has experienced a “significant increase in demand for tampons, and we anticipate there may be stock issues in the coming weeks.” 
One of your options is to switch temporarily to a disposable menstrual pad. There doesn’t appear to be a supply disruption in menstrual pads right now, but because of the tampon shortage, all sorts of period products are lower in stock and harder to find.

Tampons arranged to make a sun shape against a bright yellow background
In a statement to CNET, a spokesperson with Walmart said that the retail giant is “not experiencing a shortage” and isn’t out of stock of menstrual products, including tampons.
Axel Bueckert/EyeEm

Which stores are low on stock?

A CVS spokesperson told CNET that in recent weeks, there have been instances when tampon suppliers haven’t been able to fill orders completely. “If a local store is temporarily out of specific products, we work to replenish those items as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.
Representatives for Playtex, another popular tampon brand in the US, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 
Tampons arranged to make a sun shape against a bright yellow background
“We’re working closely with our retail partners to keep shelves stocked,” they said, adding that the company is on track to donate more than 6 million period products to the Alliance for Period Supplies, a nonprofit that distributes period products to those who can’t afford them.

Can you use expired tampons? 

Companies say they’re working hard to increase availability. In the meantime, there are alternatives to tampons and pads that you should be aware of.
Some tampon manufacturers are experiencing supply chain issues, leading to products being harder to find in stores.

A purple menstrual cup laying on yellow cloth
“We can assure you this is a temporary situation, and the Tampax team is producing tampons 24/7 to meet the increased demand for our products,” P&G told CNET. “We are working with our retail partners to maximize availability, which has significantly increased over the last several months.” 
Westend61/Getty Images

What about pads and other period products? 

If you can’t find tampons or pads, or are just interested in making a switch, here are three sustainable alternatives to consider.
As Tampax puts it on its website: “Obviously, tampons won’t deteriorate immediately once five years is up, but bacteria and small particles of mold can find their way into your tampons after they’ve expired.”
A purple menstrual cup laying on yellow cloth
A menstrual cup is reusable and works by creating a seal around your cervix so blood doesn’t leave your body until you take out the cup.
Tampons are a popular product used during the bleeding phase of a menstrual cycle.
Menstrual cups are another alternative to tampons. These cups (popular brands include Diva, Cora and Lunette) are reusable, usually rubber or silicone and seal around the cervix, collecting the menstrual blood from your uterus before it leaves your body. There’s a learning curve on how to insert it, but many people who try menstrual cups swear they’ll never go back. You can shop around to find the best size of menstrual cup for your body and heavy, medium or light flow. (Note for IUD users: Menstrual cups with suction can sometimes lead to an IUD coming out — yikes — or being displaced. If you have an IUD but want to try a menstrual cup, talk to your doctor about the best cup to use, and how to use it safely.) Period underwear is a sustainable and ultimately cost-effective alternative to tampons and pads. While getting started with period underwear may be a little pricier than buying a box of tampons if you buy a few pairs to get you through your period (a good pair of period underwear starts around ), you’ll save money in the long run. 

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