Whether you’re new to Aunt Flo’s monthly visits or your menstrual product isn’t cutting it, knowing what tampon sizes to use can make all the difference.
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Our first fact for you: Manufacturers size tampons based on their level of absorbency — not their physical size, like their length or width.
And as Ob/Gyn George Drake, DO, explains, there’s a method to the madness of choosing the right size.
What are the different sizes of tampons?
Tampon sizes from smallest to largest include:
- Light. Holds 3 milliliters of blood.
- Regular. Holds 5 milliliters of blood.
- Super. Holds 12 milliliters of blood.
“Different companies may call the sizes different things,” says Dr. Drake. “For example, some light-sized tampons are called slender.”
Some brands also refer to their biggest tampon sizes as super plus or ultra, which may absorb a few more milliliters of blood than super-absorbency tampons.
How to know if your tampon is the right size
Dr. Drake recommends choosing your tampon size based on how heavy or light your flow is. For example, if your period is very heavy, anything super or above is probably your best bet.
“It’s going to be trial and error,” Dr. Drake explains. “A good rule of thumb is that you’re using the right size if you don’t experience any leaks for four to six hours. But if the tampon is completely saturated when you remove it, consider going up a size. If it’s mostly white, consider sizing down.”
Tempted to go more absorbent so you can wear it longer without leaks? Dr. Drake says convenience comes with risks.
“Typically, it’s best not to leave a tampon in much longer than four to six hours,” he says. “Obviously, people wear them overnight, but the longer you do, the higher your risk for complications such as toxic shock syndrome.”
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but serious condition. It can happen if a tampon is inserted for too long, allowing bacteria to grow on it and release toxins into your body.
You may also need to use different tampon sizes throughout your menstrual cycle.
“Typically, people have a heavier flow at the beginning of their cycle,” says Dr. Drake. “But then, the flow of blood tapers off, so you may need a larger size at first and then a smaller one later on.”
Other tampon sizing tips
Other factors can affect what size tampon is best for you. Dr. Drake says you may need to adjust sizes when you’re:
- Having your first period. If it’s your first time menstruating, Dr. Drake recommends starting with the smallest size as you figure out what your cycle is like and what works for you.
- Exercising. Dr. Drake says you can bump up a size if you plan on exercising or doing something active. “Some companies also make active or sports tampons that expand in a way that covers more surface area, decreasing the risk for leaks,” he says.
- Spotting. Dr. Drake says there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a light-absorbency tampon on days when you’re spotting. Spotting happens when your blood flow is light and inconsistent. “But I wouldn’t leave it in longer than six to eight hours,” he adds.
- Swimming. Tampons absorb both water and blood. “So, whatever size you choose, make sure you’re changing it frequently enough,” he advises.
Still having a hard time finding the right size, inserting a tampon or avoiding leakage? Dr. Drake says to check in with your Ob/Gyn. These healthcare providers are an excellent resource for all things related to that time of the month.