A tampon shortage in the U.S. this summer has put a spotlight on menstrual product alternatives.
Over the past several weeks, major retail chains across the country have reported a shortage of tampon products. Across social media, users have posted about their struggles finding products on store shelves.
The shortage reportedly stems from a combination of factors, including staffing problems at factories, transportation delays and the rising cost of materials like plastics that are used to make the products.
Amid the ongoing shortage, the average price for tampons and other menstrual products has also risen.
The price of tampons rose by nearly 10% and the price of menstrual pads by more than 8% through May, according to a June Bloomberg reported, which cited data from measurement and analytics company NielsenIQ.
The good news for people who menstruate and prefer to use tampons is that there are still alternatives to be found.
Alternative #1: Menstrual pads
Pads are the most well-known alternative to tampons and the most easily accessible, according to Shepherd.
"Pads really are the forefront of menstrual hygiene products," she said. "They were the first that were developed."
Menstrual pads include both one-time-use disposable pads as well as cloth pads, which Shepherd described as a more eco-friendly alternative.
"As far as waste is concerned, reusable cloth pads are a great alternative," she said. "You're going to able to wash them and they give you about four to eight hours of protection."
Shepherd noted that reusable cloth pads can range in price from $10 to $40, but because they are washable and reusable, they can last longer than other options.
Both reusable and disposable pads, while uncomfortable to wear for some people, are also available for the different levels of bleeding a person may experience throughout their menstrual cycle.
"Pads really kind of create an atmosphere and an environment for people to have easy access to something that really has [been] designed to cater to the duration and flow of every individual," said Shepherd.
Alternative #2: Menstrual cups and discs
Menstrual cups and menstrual discs are both objects that are inserted into the vagina to absorb period blood, according to Shepherd.
Menstrual cups, which are cup-shaped and reusable, are folded and inserted into the vagina, where they sit below the cervix. The cups have a suction seal to prevent leakage, according to Shepherd.
Menstrual discs are disc-shaped and are also folded and inserted in the vagina, sitting below the cervix. They do not suction though, according to Shepherd.
"It just sits in the vaginal canal rather than having a suction portion, allowing it to be to the actual cervix," she said.
Both options are inserted at home, not at a doctor's office, and offer up to 12 hours of protection, according to Shepherd.
While menstrual cups and discs are more expensive than disposable tampons, for example, they are longer lasting, Shepherd noted.
"There is cost involved but you have to remember that cost, when you look over the long range of time, usually ends up being a little bit cheaper or less expensive than using things that are disposable such as your tampons and your pads," she said.
Alternative #3: Period panties
The most recent addition to the menstrual hygiene product options is period panties, which are underwear that have built-in absorption to prevent leakage.
Shepherd said she recommends period panties for people who have lighter periods, or for someone who is at the beginning of their menstrual cycle, when bleeding is lighter.
She said she also recommends them for adolescents who typically have lighter periods in general, for athletes who need the ability to move and for people who do not like the feel of other options like pads or tampons.
"Those are great for your light days or if you want to kind of double up," she said, adding, "For someone who does have a heavier cycle, wearing a period panty or period underwear usually needs to be done in conjunction with something else, which is a pad or menstrual disc."
Period panties can be worn for up to 12 hours and are reusable, according to Shepherd.
While period panties can be more expensive, costing as much as $50 for some brands, Shepherd noted the price may be worth it in order to have something accessible.
"They may be pricey, you may have to buy more than one, however, the great feature of period panties is that you always have it available," she said. "So even if you have a product that you run out of or is not the correct product that you need, you always have something that's able to be absorbent to some capacity."