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What Does the “R” on Tampons Mean?

When you buy a box of tampons, you probably ignore the informational booklet inside; after all, you’re either a seasoned pro, or just trying to take care of your period and get on with your day.  Who really has the time or interest to read the tampon box insert? 

At the same time, you’ve probably noticed that most tampons have some kind of branding, information, or symbol on the wrapper. Namely, you may see letters and symbols like R, S, and S+. Although you may assume that those letters and symbols always refer to absorbency, that’s not always the case. Surprised?

While we’re talking tampon surprises, what’s inside your tampons shouldn’t be a secret. If you don’t know what’s inside something that stays inside you, you could be exposing yourself to harsh chemicals without ever knowing it. 

It’s time to get real about what’s inside our tampons, and better educate ourselves on a product we’ve been using since our teens. When you know better, you can do better, and if you’re still using tampons without knowing exactly what the packaging means, or without knowing what’s inside them, there’s definitely room to learn and make better decisions for your personal care items. 

Tampons 101

Most of us begin our tampon usage by having an older sibling or parent attempt to talk us through how to insert it properly and reassuring us that no, it won’t get lost in there

If that resonates, consider this the official tampon education you never had. If you’re completely new to tampons, this information can hopefully also help you make more informed decisions about your personal care products.

What are tampons? 

Tampons are considered medical devices by the FDA. They are thick, cylindrical personal care devices that are inserted into your vagina to absorb your menstrual flow. 

  • Some tampons have plastic or cardboard applicators that help with insertion, and are discarded after they are used.
  • Other tampons have no applicator, and are inserted by pressing the base of the tampon into the vagina with your index finger. 

Tampons have a string at the base which is used for removing them once they are full. While some companies advertise that tampons are flushable, we recommend you toss them into a trash bin along with the applicator. Tampons don’t really break down, and can cause major problems both for septic systems and sewer systems that can, at the worst, clog pipes and result in wastewater being leaked into waterways. The main point? Don’t flush your tampons. 

Any woman of menstruating age can use a tampon, provided she doesn’t have a medical reason that makes it dangerous for her to do so.  Women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby should not use tampons. 

Are Tampons Safe? What About Toxic Shock Syndrome? 

If you grew up in the 80’s you probably had the fear of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) instilled into you along with a strong affinity for Rave hairspray. TSS is a condition produced by some types of staph infection. 

Thankfully, TSS isn’t very common with tampon usage. In fact, less than half of all TSS occurrences are linked with tampon usage. The tampons that caused so many cases of TSS in the 1980’s were made with materials that are not used in tampon manufacturing today. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean that all tampons are equally safe for you. Some tampons can contain harsh chemicals that, at the very least, could cause irritation. More on that later.

If I Use Tampons, Do I Still Need to Wear a Pad? 

This is completely up to your personal flow and your level of comfort. It isn’t necessary to wear a pad along with a tampon, but if your flow is particularly heavy or you are wearing a tampon overnight, you may choose to wear a pad to protect your underwear against leaks. 

Many women choose to wear a pantyliner, which is a thinner, smaller pad designed for very light flow or leak protection. 

What Does the “R” on Tampons Mean?

When you pull a tampon from the box, you’ll notice they usually have a series of letters and/or symbols on them. Normally these do, in fact, refer to the absorbency of the tampon. 

Tampons are available in several different flows ranging from least to most absorbent. Their absorbency is rated by grams of fluid they can hold. Fluid retention is based on a time period of 4-6 hours, which is the average length of time you’ll want to use a single tampon. 

Here’s a chart to show the letters that will appear on a tampon wrapper, the absorbency they correspond to, and how many grams of fluid each tampon will hold. 


Packaging Identification

Absorbency

Grams of Fluid Held

Best for

L

Light

6

Light days, beginners

R

Regular

6-9

Most days of regular period 

S

Super

9-12

First 1-2 days of period

S+

Super Plus

12-15

Heavier flow on first days of period, overnight*

U

Ultra

15-18

Rare usage; most women will not need this level of protection


*It isn’t recommended to wear a tampon for longer than 8 hours.

Not all tampons with an R on them are “regular” absorbency tampons, though. 

How Rael’s Tampons Are Labeled 

Rael uses the general absorbency scale in determining the absorbency of our tampons, however we label ours a little more clearly than other companies. Our tampons do have an “R” on them, but that R is part of our branding, and shouldn’t be confused with a regular absorbency tampon. 

To eliminate confusion, we print the absorbency of our tampons as a full word (i.e. “regular”) on the wrapper, so you can be certain you’re using the correct absorbency each and every time. 

A Note About Choosing the Right Absorbency 

Even veteran tampon users can experience leaks and accidents by choosing the wrong absorbency. To determine the correct absorbency, pay attention to the tampons you are using when you remove them. 

If you remove a tampon after 4-6 hours of usage and there is still a large amount of white cotton visible, and/or the tampon feels dry or like it is “sticking” when you remove it, you are likely using an absorbency that is too high. Alternatively, if you are leaking through a tampon before the 4 hour mark, you should consider using a higher absorbency. 

What Are Tampons Made From?

Now that you know the basics of tampons and their usage, it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper and make sure the tampons you are using are made from safe, non-toxic, non-irritating ingredients. These are, after all, spending quite a bit of time inside your body. 

Your vaginal walls are lined with extremely porous mucous membranes, making it incredibly easy for anything that comes in contact with them to penetrate into your body. That means if there are chemicals lurking in your tampons, it is completely possible for them to take up residence in your bloodstream. 

Considering you’ll be using close to 10,000 tampons in your lifetime, that adds up to a lot of potential chemical exposure if you pick tampons that aren’t free from known toxins and harsh chemicals. 

The worst offenders usually found in tampons are glyphosate, dioxins, dyes, and fragrances:

  • Glyphosate. This is a pesticide that is used on cotton grown in the United States to kill weeds that threaten cotton crops. Because it has been used so excessively, the cotton plant has become resistant to it, so it’s capable of being sprayed directly on the crops. The problem, then, is that the cotton used in non-organic tampons can contain traces of glyphosate, which the World Health Organization ruled “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. 
  • Dioxins. Dioxins are commonly used to bleach tampons and give them their extreme white color. They are also used when converting cotton to rayon. Although dioxins are extremely toxic to humans, the FDA allows small traces of dioxins to remain in tampons. 
  • Dyes and fragrances. Dyes and fragrances are considered proprietary information, so the FDA does not require them to be disclosed on a tampon package. This means you can never really be sure what ingredients are in your tampons. At the very least, you could be exposing yourself to ingredients that are very irritating. At the very worst, you could be using a tampon that is filled with toxins. 

Are There Safer Tampons Available?

Thankfully, you’ve got options. Rael is your trusted personal care product guru. 

Our tampons are made from 100% organic cotton, and do not contain any harsh chemicals that could irritate your most delicate region, disrupt your hormones, or expose you to carcinogens. 

We believe women deserve access to natural, holistic, and safe personal care items, and we deliver these products at an affordable price.

Takeaway

The “R” on your tampons may mean regular, or it may mean you’re using the most natural and safe brand of tampons available, Rael

You have a choice in your personal care products, including your tampons, and knowing the difference between absorbencies and tampon ingredients can help you pick the best tampons so you can have a happy period. 




Sources:

https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/facts-tampons-and-how-use-them-safely

https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-do-tampon-absorbency-ratings-mean-2721890
https://www.iarc.who.int/featured-news/media-centre-iarc-news-glyphosate/

https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health

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