Decades-high inflation is the big economic story of 2022, making it challenging for U.S. consumers to afford essential supplies including period products.
Menstrual hygiene, which already faced cost increases from state taxes (i.e., the so-called "Tampon Tax"), has also been hit by inflation on several fronts.
According to data from analytics firm NielsenIQ and provided to Yahoo Finance, the average unit price of tampons in the U.S. was over 10% higher year-over-year in each full month so far while the average unit price of sanitary pads was over 10% higher year-over-year in each month since April.
"It’s really been hard," Nadya Okamoto, Founder, and CEO of August, a lifestyle brand working to destigmatize periods while providing affordable period products to consumers, told Yahoo Finance. "We held out for as long as we could until we had to do a price increase a few weeks ago. That was really hard because obviously — we want to keep our period products as accessible as possible."
Okamoto added that shipping costs were a big factor in the price increase decision.
"We are currently shipping to thousands of cities around the U.S., and the inflation around shipping is insane," she explained. "We were losing a lot and in order for us to survive as a business we had to minimally increase our price, so we were definitely affected by it. I think every direct-to-consumer company was."
The average cost of menstrual products was $20 per cycle as of January 2021, according to National Organization for Women, before inflation hit decade-highs. That added up to an estimated $200 to $300 per year and thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.
The coronavirus pandemic also exacerbated the cost issue, as roughly 5 million women lost jobs in 2020 and were left with limited income while global supply chains were disrupted.
"So many women went into poverty," Dr. Padmini Murthy, global health lead at the American Medical Women’s Association, told Yahoo Finance. "Also, let's not forget the supply chain became broken — so that led to a shortage in so many places."
Adding another layer of difficulty for low-income households, federal government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) do not cover menstrual supplies.
When people lack access to period products, they're forced to use less sanitary alternatives, such as diapers, rags, old blankets, and newspapers. This is a global issue referred to as period poverty and it affects an estimated 16.9 million people in the U.S.
"It's a major issue," Murthy said, describing the unequal access to products as "menstrual inequity."
A 2019 report from the University of Leeds Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development found that when a woman has a negative experience with their period, it can often lead to discomfort, distraction, and absenteeism in both the workplace and at school, along with general "psychosocial stress."
"This affects women worldwide, and even in our own county, the United States, we have a lot period poverty because women do not have enough of these supplies," Murthy said. "And so, this kind of really debilitates how they respond those first few days when an individual gets their period. They can't work, or they're embarrassed, or girls can't go to school, and it is very stressful."
Sandra Salathe is an editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @srsalathe