Amid the shortage of tampons, some women are turning to menstrual underwear and menstrual cups.

Menstrual care products are personal, pretty much by definition. Various methods are passed down by family and trusted friends, carefully explained or hastily taught in the toilets. Once people find a product that works for them, they tend to stick with it.

Anyone who has traveled to a new place, been taken by surprise or seen their favorite brand sell out knows how difficult it can be to switch to an unfamiliar product.

But since Time magazine declared a “major shortage of tampons” in early June after months of online speculation about empty shelves, some women have begun to wonder if they will soon have to try a new approach to their periods. The shortage of tampons is the latest supply chain problem to affect women’s daily lives, just weeks after a shortage of infant formula left many families in trouble.

Andre Schulten, chief financial officer at Procter & Gamble, which makes Tampax, said it was “costly and highly volatile” to acquire the raw materials needed for production, such as cotton and plastic. A company representative told The New York Times that the shortage is a “temporary situation”.

For some women, this may offer a moment to rethink long-standing approaches to their periods. And for brands that sell reusable menstrual products, shortages can be an opportunity. Will more people be open to trying out alternatives to disposables like menstrual underwear and menstrual cups, or will people stick with what they know?

Some women prefer menstrual underwear, a type of underwear designed to absorb menstrual blood.

Becca Sands, 34, a consultant in Pittsburgh, started wearing menstrual underwear after she had a miscarriage in January. “One thing that some of the women in my support group warned me about was that seeing blood in your underwear when your period comes back can be a trigger, especially if that’s how you found out you were miscarrying,” Sands said.

She decided to try menstrual underwear because the appearance of blood may be less prominent on a black absorbent pad than on regular underwear or the white surface of a pillow. When wearing the panties, Sands said, “you don’t see red blood like you do on a tampon.”

Encouraged (and given a coupon) by her sister, Ms. Sands ordered a few pairs from Thinx. When she got her period again, she found it an easy experience. “I could just bleed and get comfortable without thinking about it,” Sands said. “And with my mind at the time, it was really important to be able to do that.”

Sands noted, however, that period underwear isn’t for everyone, because of cost ($12 to $38 a pair, depending on brand) and the realities of everyday life, as well as concerns about leaks. She felt more willing to try because she works from home, but said that if she worked in an office, she might be more hesitant.

Nichole Tyson, chief of pediatric and adolescent gynecology at Stanford Children’s Health, said most of the young patients she sees use tampons when they first menstruate.

But some teens are switching to methods that require less maintenance and are better for the environment, and are talking more and more about how to use them. Dr. Tyson said one of her patients said a friend recently taught her how to insert a menstrual cup in the school bathroom.

Dr. Tyson also noted that there are more period underwear brands available now. “I think it’s a great space that a lot of people are exploring as well,” she said.

Karla Welch, celebrity stylist and founder and chief executive of Period Company, a period underwear company, said the shortage of tampons has increased interest (in website visits and sales) in her brand’s underwear. Mrs. Welch, 47, said her brand is trying to lower prices and offer discounts.

“No one should not have access to a sustainable product,” said Welch. “Often, sustainable products are expensive for many people.”

She also noted that some people need to use tampons or cannot use sustainable products. But for those who are open to it, Welch said, “this is our opportunity to really convert people.”

Kate Barker Swindell, services and operations manager for Period, a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon, said that donations of disposable menstrual products to the organization have dropped significantly since 2020. The organization has a product request form, and Swindell, 55, said the high number of orders is a sign to her that “not everything is right in period lands.”

“More than half of the requests on our waitlists involve reusables,” said Swindell. “The beauty of reusables is that once you reach, you recover for a while. But you have to meet people where they are.”

Vili Petrova, 42, founder and president of Lena Cup, a company that makes menstrual cups known for being easy for first-time users, said that “with this shortage, people are once again exploring all alternatives and not wanting to be dependent” in if there is another fault.

Sustainability was a priority when she designed the Lena Cup, and environmental concerns have sparked more interest in the product in recent years. A menstrual cup can be a one-time purchase that can last for years with proper care, “so it eliminates the use of thousands of pads and tampons in a lifetime,” Petrova said.

But she acknowledged that many people have doubts about menstrual cups. “Why is it $25? Is it hygienic? How am I going to keep it clean? It’s healthy? It’s safe? All the understandable questions I’ve had myself before,” she said.

Asia Brown, 21, helped found 601 for Period Equity in January 2021 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. “We are a small team of young black women who are really passionate about our community,” she said. Its mission is “to raise awareness of the issue of menstrual poverty, which refers to people who do not have access to menstrual care products, menstrual health education, clean running water”.

The organization provides donated menstrual care products to community partners, including local shelters, health clinics, women’s prisons and schools.

“At my local Walgreens, I’ve noticed that some normal brands I see there, like Tampax specifically, which is the kind I like, are out of stock,” said Maisie Brown (no relation to Asia Brown), 20, who leads the company’s efforts. 601 in the Jackson, Mississippi area. She’s seen alternatives to her favorite brand on the shelves, but the options are limited.

Asia Brown said the current tampon shortage is exacerbating cost problems that already exist, particularly in Mississippi, where tampons and other menstrual products are taxed. (According to the Bloomberg Act, 26 states have a tampon tax.)

“People in Mississippi are going to be very affected by this shortage,” Brown said.

Maisie Brown pointed out that “menstrual cups are $30.” That same $30, Asia said, can help multiple people instead of providing a menstrual cup for just one person. With tampons in short supply, Maisie said she’s considering going to Costco or Sam’s Club and buying in bulk.

“People should be able to wear what they feel most comfortable wearing for a decent price. You shouldn’t be trading what you’re using for your vagina,” she said. “You shouldn’t choose between buying groceries and buying your feminine hygiene products for the month.”

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