On September 2, 2019, a group of women required to Twitter v a challenge: Ask her boyfriend or companion what castle think the tiny “R” marking on tampons means.

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They to be referring come the little letter, either “L,” “R,” or “S,” in a circle on the wrapper.

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The outcomes were comical, come say the least.

“My girl friend left a tampon at my apartment and also idk wherein the left one is,” joked Twitter user Evan J Worthen as he guessed the the “R” means “right.” top top a an ext serious note, Worthen later told boring Panda that “the void in male understanding of women’s health is vast but there are also a the majority of women and girls that don’t obtain adequate understanding of their own bodies.”

Whether you’re one of those clueless boyfriends or a human being who actually has to address periods first-hand, you may not understand what those letters actually mean.

Put simply, those letters represent tampon absorbencies, an interpretation how much blood a tampon deserve to hold in one eight-hour duration without leaking. Expertise what this markings stand for — and also how tampon absorbencies influence health — can assist women have healthier, safer and much more worry-free periods.

What perform the letters on Tampons Mean?

Tampons room thin and compact wads of noodle that, when inserted into the vagina, staunch the flow of term blood. Favor all absorbent materials, they can only host so much liquid at a time. The letters on tampons reflect these conventional absorbencies: L way light, R means regular, and also S method super.


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There room federal requirements that govern how much blood each group of tampon holds. Light tampons deserve to hold up to 6 grams that fluid, consistent tampons have the right to hold in between six and also nine grams, and super tampons have the right to hold in between nine and 12. There are larger tampon size for human being with very heavy flows, including super plus, which host up to 15 grams of term blood, and ultra absorbency, i m sorry hold in between 15 and also 18 grams.

Scientists check absorbencies in laboratories making use of a an equipment called a “syngyna,” or artificial vagina. These devices are intended to mimic the moistness and also body temperature that a person vagina, but they usage saline solutions quite than blood to test absorbency.


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The exact meaning of the letter is at some point less important than the precise fluid each tampon is able to hold. The essential thing, according to Jennifer Conti, MD, MS, a professor in ~ Stanford University’s institution of Medicine and also co-host of The V native Podcast, is to identify your an individual absorbency needs.

“The names are arbitrary, but the differentiation helps determine the right absorbency because that you relying on where you room in her cycle,” Conti said.

Why are Absorbency Ratings Important?

Knowing the ideal absorbency for your menstrual flow is important because using larger than essential tampons, or leaving tampons in the vagina for as well long, deserve to be negative for your health.

Inappropriate tampon absorbency is associated with toxicity Shock Syndrome (TSS), a dangerous and potentially deadly infection. When tampons aren’t the only reason of TSS, they have actually historically to be a major culprit the the an illness in menstruating women.

There’s no should panic around TSS risk. You just need to monitor some straightforward guidelines.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

In 1980, the Centers for disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noticed an uptick in unusual instances of acute, sometimes fatal, infections amongst menstruating women. Symptoms consisted of high fever, short blood pressure, a sunburn-like rash and damage to multiple body organ systems. In the beforehand 1980s, approximately 5% of women that contracted this illness, which scientists referred to as Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), had died.

Scientists soon found a common thread in this infections: many of the ladies who had TSS were making use of tampons, an especially with the brand Rely, a highly absorbent range that combined synthetics with the traditional cotton for longer use.

The mix of artificial materials and long-term wear provided a perfect home for Staphylococcus aureus, a bacter that usually lives in some people’s vaginas. If S. Aureus is harmless as soon as its populace is managed by organic microbiomes, high-absorbency tampons — particularly those that incorporate synthetics — provide a perfect “petri dish” because that these bacteria come multiply.

Tampons no the just objects that can reason TSS. Expression cups, which stay in the body for as much as 12 hours at a time, can also carry out the perfect problems for harmful S. Aureus to grow.

This is why choosing menstrual products with the appropriate absorbency for your flow, changing tampons regularly, and alternative insertable assets like tampons and also menstrual cups through sanitary napkins is therefore important.

“The reason we don’t recommend utilizing the biggest obtainable tampon, also if the buys you much more time before an altering it, is since of the threat of toxic shock syndrome,” Conti said.

Vaginal Irritation and Discomfort

Tampons don’t just absorb menstrual blood, they likewise absorb natural discharge. This liquid regulates quality pH to keep a healthy and balanced balance and also prevent the complications the arise as soon as vaginal pH gets also acidic, choose bacterial vaginosis.

During menstruation, vaginal pH often rises, and also tampons can exacerbate these effects. This increase deserve to lead to vaginal drying, and can likewise cause slight quality tearing or irritation.

Tampons have the right to be physically uncomfortable for some users, and also others may discover them difficult to insert. These dangers all rise with bigger absorbencies, so part users might be much more comfortable utilizing tampon sizes with smaller absorbency.

How have the right to I phone call What Absorbency is appropriate for Me?

To minimization TSS and also irritation risk, you should choose as low an absorbency as feasible to enhance your flow.

“The best fit happens as soon as your tampon big a pair of hours prior to needing to be changed,” Conti said. “If you’re soaking through consistent size tampons every hour, you might need to size up come a Super, and additionally if your Super tampon is lasting 6 hours, you most likely need to size down to a Regular.”

If you’re tho worried, you can select alternate duration products or limit tampon use. Because menstrual cups are insertive, they still come with some TSS risk, despite they do address other problems related come tampons, such as reducing waste. Friend can select to forgo tampons altogether and choose non-insertive term products, choose pads, toilet napkins, or duration underpants, to limit TSS risk.

Using non-insertive approaches of term protection deserve to also help eliminate quality discomfort and also dryness connected with tampons. Friend should also avoid products that use artificial materials, and scented tampons, which can also cause irritation and throw off vaginal pH.

How Worried have to I Be?

TSS risk might sound scary, but it’s no as prevalent as you might think. To put it into perspective, just 1 in 100,000 people who menstruate will contract the disease.

So, as long as you’re equivalent your circulation with the exactly absorbency, changing tampons regularly, and also avoiding products with synthetics, you have actually nothing to fear from tampons. Have a happy — as lot as possible, anyway — period!


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