What's causing the tampon shortage? Here's what to know and how you can help

Shortages of sriracha, baby formula and tampons?

That's right — if you scour the shelves at your local pharmacy for the sanitary product, you may be out of luck.

An increase in demand for tampons due to return to work and travel combined with supply chain issues and increasing costs of raw materials such as cotton are some of the reasons behind why tampons have been in short supply, USA TODAY reported.

Rachael Heger is the national director of affiliate outreach for I Support The Girls, a nonprofit that provides bras, new underwear and menstrual products to organizations serving people in need. She said she's noticed a donation drop-off in recent months as compared to previous years.

The number of tampons donated in the first six months of 2022 was around half of what was donated in the same period of time for 2021, Heger said.

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The tampon shortage is just one of several struggles people face right now, Heger said, including higher gas prices and inflation, which is causing higher prices on items across the board.

"It's all just compounding for the kinds of folks for the organizations that we serve," Heger said. "So a lot of communities that are in need are having a much harder time accessing these basic items around dignity."

Debby Herbenick, professor at Indiana University's School of Public Health, said some people may be allergic or sensitive to materials in alternatives like pads, which could cause skin irritation. Having a choice on which menstrual product to use can drastically improve quality of life.

"Being able to manage one’s period in a way that is comfortable, effective, and healthy lets people go to school and have a job," she said in an email to IndyStar.

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The 'tampon tax' and financial effects

In addition to tampons being gone, Heger said she's seen prices rising with smaller tampon packages. This is part of a phenomenon known as shrinkflation, where prices increase or stay the same for a smaller amount of product. This means that consumers are paying more for less.

"If you go to any local drugstore, you'll see the shelves are definitely empty," she said. "A lot of the store brands that are typically at a cheaper price point are definitely gone. So when there is stock left, and it's usually the higher price point, which again, is a bigger issue for folks in need."

Herbenick said shortages like this are most likely to affect young people and those who struggle financially.

"Tampons are already expensive and something that many menstruating people buy one box at a time, and thus are less likely to have extra boxes at home to get them through the shortage," she said.

Tampons and other menstrual products are taxed at Indiana's sales tax rate of 7%. Items deemed "essential," such as food, medical devices and prescriptions, are exempt from Indiana's sales tax.

There have been legislative attempts in recent years to ban the so-called "tampon tax," as well as getting rid of the sales tax on diapers, but they have ultimately been unsuccessful.

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"The typical price point is still too high," Heger said. "I believe they should be free and and available everywhere, and so to see the price gouging, it's hurting people even harder."

While some may suggest alternatives to tampons, like pads or menstrual cups, having the choice is what's important, Heger said. It's about dignity, she said.

"It's just not a choice for every menstruator," she said. "And so I think that that's really important because whatever product folks choose to use, they should have access to it."

Heger said she is accepting donations for tampons at her warehouse, located at the rear entrance of 3445 Washington Boulevard. Donations can be dropped off at any time and can always be left in or by the mailbox, she said. Open tampon boxes will be accepted as long as each individual item is sealed.

Herbenick said that people should be mindful of how they can help others at this time.

This includes donating tampons if you have extra, considering switches to menstrual cups or period underwear or rationing tampons for when you really need them and using alternative products like pads when at home if possible.

She also suggested that parents of adolescents should "remind their kids not to tease peers who may be struggling during this time."

"This is a time to come together over a basic need," she said.

Contact IndyStar trending reporter Claire Rafford at crafford@gannett.com or on Twitter @clairerafford.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana health experts discuss local, national tampon shortage