First we had baby formula and toilet paper shortages. Now a tampon shortage. This is why.

Jessica Guynn

The latest household supply shortage? Tampons. 

The sanitary protection product has been harder to find for months, especially popular brands, shoppers tell USA TODAY.

“You wouldn’t think that tampons would be a hot commodity, but apparently they’re flying off the shelves, if they’re even getting onto the shelves,” said Santa Cefalu, an underwriter from Arizona.

Cefalu said she started to notice the shortage in March when she couldn’t find her favorite tampon.

Now, “the only ones that are left at the stores are the ones that nobody likes,” she said. 

Kimberly Georgekopoulos said she regularly searches shelves at CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Target near her Silver Lake, Ohio, home for boxes of Ultra Tampax for her daughters.

She’d love to take advantage of the Walgreens offer for one box at the regular price and the second 50%, but she says she’s lucky to find even one.

“It’s just like toilet paper when we had that shortage,” she said.

Retailers can't keep Tampax and other popular brands in stock

Amanda Currie said she has scoured stores all over the Detroit suburb where she lives for boxes of Tampax Ultra without any luck. She tried to pick up a few boxes on, but the prices were astronomical.

After sharing her tampon search on Facebook, friends began grabbing a box whenever they spotted them. “I have been Venmoing people for tampons, it’s outrageous,” said Currie, who is so fed up that she’s thinking about switching to period underwear or menstrual cups.

“If this was a product a man needed, like, how would the shelves look then?” she said. “I am not trying to be cheeky, but it’s in the back of my mind.”

Walgreens said retailers are experiencing "some temporary brand-specific shortages in certain geographies."

"While we will continue to have products at shelf and online, it may only be in specific brands while we navigate the supply disruption," the company said in a statement. 

Walgreens advises shoppers hunting for a specific product to check inventory at their local stores on its website.

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CVS said it's trying to keep shelves stocked.

“We’re working with our suppliers to meet the current demand for feminine care products,” spokesman Matt Blanchette said in a statement. "In the event a local store experiences a temporary product shortage, our teams have a process in place to replenish supply.”

Target said it has a "wide variety of sanitary products" in stores and on its website.

"We’re working closely with manufacturers where product has been more limited to secure additional inventory," the company said.

Tampons have been harder to find for months, especially popular brands like Tampax, shoppers tell USA TODAY.

Procter & Gamble says it's making Tampax tampons as fast as it can

Procter & Gamble, which makes Tampax tampons, said it's working to address the tampon shortage. Time reports that Tampax, the nation's most popular brand, saw demand increase by 7.7% since 2020 and is running one of its production facilities around the clock to keep up.

"We understand it is frustrating for consumers when they can’t find what they need, and we are working hard to ramp up production to meet the increased demand for our products," the company said in a statement.

Kimberly Clark, which makes the U by Kotex brand in the U.S., said it has not experienced product shortages. "We’re working closely with our retail partners to keep shelves stocked," the company said in a statement.

Why are some tampons in short supply?

Market research firm Mintel does not have a precise estimate of the current tampon shortage, said Jennifer White Boehm, the firm's director of US Personal Care, Household and Health and Wellness Reports. But anecdotal evidence "appears to show that there are more empty shelves than there used to be," she said.

Like any other product, tampons are affected by consumer demand. Sanitary protection products are considered essential by the majority of the menstruating population, according to Mintel.

The feminine hygiene and sanitary protection category saw sales increase by nearly 4% in 2021, reaching estimated sales of $4.1 billion, according to Mintel.

“Every store you go to looks like this,” said Santa Cefalu, an underwriter from Arizona.

"We're in a unique time right now when demand for tampons is really high, with people starting to travel again and going back to work and at the same time there is a really tight supply of these products," said Arun Sundaram, a senior equity research analyst at CFRA Research.

Sundaram said pandemic-driven raw material and labor shortages, freight bottlenecks, and port delays also continue to make it harder to meet demand for tampons.

The good news? "Barring any new COVID outbreak or major shock to the supply chain, we expect supply to improve over the next few months and hopefully that supply will catch up to demand so you start seeing more product on the shelves," he said.

High price of cotton fueling tampon shortage

Tampon price hikes are likely here to stay, however.

Soaring costs of raw materials are also playing a role in the tampon shortage, according to absorbent materials expert Jamie Rosenberg. He blames a decade-old trend of tampon brands increasing the "superabsorbent/fluff pulp ratio" to meet consumer demand for thinner products. 

"With superabsorbent becoming more expensive, that’s becoming less sustainable," said Rosenberg, associate director of household reports at Mintel.

Another culprit: the Ukraine war. "Because cotton is a very fertilizer-intensive crop, and because there are so few alternatives to Russian fertilizer, that's a nonwoven input that's seeing some of the fastest price increases," she said. 

Out of tampons? Here are some alternatives

Until shortages ease, plan ahead and be flexible about which brand you buy.

There are a growing number of feminine hygiene alternatives to tampons such as menstrual cups, menstrual discs, period underwear, disposable pads andreusable cloth pads.