What Light, Regular, Super, and Other Tampon Absorbencies Mean

Ratings helps you select the safest tampon option

Choosing a tampon with the right absorbency rating for your menstrual flow is important. Using a super-absorbent tampon when you have light bleeding, for example, may prompt you to leave the tampon in longer, which can increase your risk of a life-threatening infection called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that absorbency ratings be put on tampons for this very reason.

This article discusses how you can use tampon absorbency ratings to decide which one is safest and most effective for you to use. The best choice will likely change throughout the days of your period.

Two tampons without wrappers on a white background
 Sporrer / Rupp / Getty Images 

Standard Tampon Absorbency Ratings

All tampon manufacturers must measure the absorbency of their tampons using the Syngyna test. This determines how much fluid (measured in grams) a tampon can absorb.

Here is what tampon absorbency ratings mean:

  • Light-absorbency tampons: These tampons absorb 6 grams of menstrual blood or less. Light-absorbency tampons work well for the last days of your period when your blood flow is lightest.
  • Regular-absorbency tampons: These tampons hold from 6 to 9 grams of menstrual blood. Regular absorbency is enough for many people for most days of their periods.
  • Super-absorbency tampons: These tampons hold from 9 to 12 grams of menstrual blood. Super-absorbency tampons provide extra absorption that some people need on the first day or two of their periods when their flow is heavy.
  • Super plus-absorbency tampons: These tampons can absorb between 12 to 15 grams of menstrual blood. Some people who have extra heavy bleeding at the beginning of their periods may need to use super-plus tampons.
  • Ultra-absorbency tampons: These tampons absorb from 15 to 18 grams of menstrual blood. Most people will never need to use ultra-absorbency tampons.

There are tampons that can absorb more than 18 grams of menstruation, but they are not given an absorbency rating. If you have a heavy flow, ask your healthcare provider if these tampons would be an appropriate and safe choice for you.

Choosing the Right Tampon Absorbency

You should always use a tampon with the lowest absorbency rating possible during your period. You should find a tampon that offers the right absorbency for your flow, not the one that will absorb for the longest amount of time.

Super- and higher-absorbency tampons are most often linked to TSS. Keeping a tampon in place for a long time, regardless of the type, also increases your risk of TSS.

It can be inconvenient to change your tampon during the school day or a work shift, but consistently doing so prevents the overgrowth of bacteria that can release harmful and potentially deadly toxins into your body (Staphylococcus aureus).

How Often Should You Change a Tampon?

To reduce your risk of TSS, change your tampon at least every four to eight hours. This is true whether you are using a tampon with an absorbency level that matches your flow or one that is more absorbent that you need. If you sleep longer than eight hours, avoid using a tampon overnight.

You may need to adjust the size of your tampon depending on your menstrual flow. Once you get to know how heavy your flow is at the start, middle, and end of your period, you'll be able to figure out which menstrual products you need at each point.

Many brands offer multi-packs with tampons of a variety of absorbencies in one box.

Watch for Signs of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Using a tampon with the correct absorbency for the volume of your flow, and changing it as often as recommended, can help reduce your risk of toxic shock syndrome. However, you should still know the signs of TSS and seek emergency medical care if you experience them.

Signs of TSS depend on the bacteria causing it. Common symptoms of TSS in general include:

  • A fever over 102 degrees F (however, TSS caused by Clostridium sordellii bacteria may not cause a fever)
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue/lethargy
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Red eyes, mouth, and vagina
  • Confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Swelling
  • A general feeling of being sick (often with flu-like symptoms)

TSS can also cause a flat, red rash and skin peeling (usually on the palms and soles of the feet) a week or two after other symptoms have started.


Tampon manufacturers have to put absorbance ratings on their products to help people determine which one is best for their flow. Using a tampon that’s more absorbent than you need can increase your risk for a dangerous infection called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). 

Make sure you use a tampon that’s right for your flow and change it often. If you have any signs of TSS, get immediate medical care. 

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food and Drug Administration. The facts on tampons—and how to safely use them.

  2. Food and Drug Administration. Code of federal regulations title 21.

  3. Vostral S. Toxic shock syndrome, tampons and laboratory standard-settingCMAJ. 2017;189(20):E726-E728. doi:10.1503/cmaj.161479

  4. Reame NK. Toxic shock syndrome and tampons: The birth of a movement and a research ‘vagenda’. 2020 Jul 25. In: Bobel C, Winkler IT, Fahs B, et al., editors. The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies [Internet]. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan; 2020. Table 51.1, [FDA-required absorbency ranges for labeling of tampon products sold in the US].

  5. Office of Women's Health. Menstruation and the menstrual cycle.

  6. Nemours. Toxic shock syndrome.

  7. Johns Hopkins. Toxic shock syndrome.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.