Have you heard of menstrual cups yet? If not, I say it is time you get acquainted! A menstrual cup is a rad little sustainable period product that can be used instead of (or in addition to) traditional menstrual cycle supplies like tampons or pads. While small in size, they pack a huge punch of perks, including saving money and significantly reducing waste. Compared to using tampons, menstrual cups also reduce your exposure to toxins and can even lessen the severity of cramps!
Given all of these awesome benefits, it sounds like menstrual cups are definitely worth a try… Am I right? Don’t be nervous. Read along to learn more about menstrual cups, how they work, and just how risky traditional menstruation products can be – to both the environment and your health. I’ve personally been using a cup for over 12 years now, and highly recommend them.
What are Menstrual Cups & How Do They Work?
Menstrual cups are small, flexible, reusable cups that are designed to fit comfortably inside the vagina during menstruation. They’re especially popular among the eco-conscious and zero waste movement. All reputable and high-quality menstrual cups are made of medical-grade silicone, meaning they’re non-toxic and very safe! This is unlike many other period products made of bleached cotton, which we’ll talk more about in a moment.
To insert the cup, it is first folded up in one of several recommended fold options. Once inside, the cup pops open and into place, gently sealing against the walls of the vagina near the opening of the cervix. A menstrual cup then collects blood and is dumped, rinsed or wiped out, and re-inserted as needed throughout a woman’s cycle. They can be worn up to 12 consecutive hours. Boiling the cup in hot water between cycles is recommended for sanitation.
Not every woman or body loves every menstrual cup equally. Yet with the right cup and fit for your body, most women can barely feel the cup inside and experience very few leak issues. I’ve often heard them referred to as “life-changing”.
THE BENEFITS OF MENSTRUAL CUPS, EXPLAINED
1) Menstrual Cups Reduce Waste
Single-use feminine products like tampons and pads create an enormous amount of waste. Between the pads or tampons themselves, their wrappers, applicators, wings, and strings – the menstrual product industry is riddled with plastic and trash. Although some plastic applicators are technically recyclable, it is usually suggested to not recycle them due to sanitary reasons.
In 2018 alone, people in the U.S. bought 5.8 billion tampons, and over the course of a lifetime, a single menstruator will use somewhere between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons, the vast majority of which will wind up in landfills as plastic waste.National Geographic
As you’re likely aware, the demand for plastic products continues our dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels. Overflowing landfills pollute our water resources and emit greenhouses gases, contributing to climate change. That is, when plastic even makes it to the landfill… A huge portion of plastic waste ends up in our oceans instead (especially when flushed down the toilet) and poses a huge threat to wildlife and our environment.
A reusable menstrual cup is the perfect solution to this issue. Or, try reusable pad products or period panties – in addition to or instead of a cup if needed! Thinx is a very popular period underwear brand, and there are also these highly-rated organic cotton period panties available on Amazon. I sometimes wear period panties along with a cup overnight on my heaviest days.
2) Menstrual Cups Save You Money
In addition to being totally environmentally unfriendly, think about how much money is spent on single-use tampons and pads! I’m a nerd so I did little math here.
Let’s assume an average cost of $10 for a 50 pack of tampons, or $5 for a 25 pack. As a person who started my period young and has long and heavycycles, I’d be on the upper end of the lifetime estimate for single use products. That means purchasing 15,000 tampons would cost me about $3,000 over my years of menses. However, if I did use tampons, I’d opt for the organic unbleached ones – at twice the price!
On the other hand, the average cost for a menstrual cup is around $25, and can last decades if properly cared for.
3) Cups Protect You From Toxins
The vast majority of classic period products (including tampons and pads) are made with bleached cotton. Bleached cotton is bad news bears – in a multitude of ways!
Growing Toxic Cotton
Conventional cotton has the reputation as one of the nastiest, chemical-ridden crops to grow – being hit with round after round of strong pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and finally a defoliant during its growth cycle. Many of the chemicals used in the process are harmful to wildlife, the environment, and human health. Some are known endocrine disruptors and probable human carcinogens, such as Round-up (glyphosate).
Processing Cotton & Feminine Hygiene Products
Next, the raw cotton material is bleached before eventually becoming a tampon or pad. The bleaching process introduces dioxins, extremely toxic chlorine byproducts. The EPA explains that dioxins are persistent organic pollutants (POPs), meaning they take a long time to break down once they are in the environment. They also readily accumulate in animal (human) tissues and fat. Dioxins can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.
The FDA considers tampons and pads medical devices, and claim that only very low “acceptable levels” of dioxins are in them. Yet the small amount still present can have a cumulative effect. Furthermore, feminine hygiene and menstrual products are often treated with other chemicals like deodorizers or perfumes. Manufacturers are not required to label ingredients for medical devices, including tampons or pads.
The Unique Health Risk to Women
So how about we roll up all of that nasty stuff into a tidy white tampon, and stick it inside our most sensitive lady parts for days on end?! Talk about scary. Exposure to harmful substances through the vagina poses a special kind of risk.
“The vagina is a highly permeable space: Anything we put inside can easily be absorbed through the mucus membrane and then into our bloodstream where it may present a toxic burden to the body. Chronic exposure increases our risk of cancer, causes oxidative stress and metabolic changes, and disrupts our endocrine system.”Maggie Ney, N.D via Goop
Essentially, the vagina acts like a sponge – but one without a filter! In contrast to when we ingest something orally, substances absorbed through the vagina are not given an opportunity to be cleansed through our digestive system before entering the bloodstream. Pads aren’t without fault either, as those made with plastics have been found to contain harmful volatile organic compounds as well.
Overall, when it comes to single-use products, the safest options are those made from organic and chlorine-free cotton, hemp or bamboo. Also avoid anything with added fragrance. The most sustainable option is to find safe reusable products that work for you, be it a menstrual cup, reusable pads, sea sponge, or period panties!
4) Cups May Relieve Painful Menstrual Cramps
One final and noteworthy perk is that menstrual cups may help take your pain away! Uhm, yes please. While this may not be the case for every user, many women report fewer and less intense menstrual cramps when using a cup instead of tampons. I personally find this to be true too! It makes sense, if you think about the way a cup gently sits inside rather than jabbing right into your cervix. And don’t even get me started on the lovely feeling inserting or removing a dry tampon… I find the soft silicone of a cup far more pleasant to take in and out.
Other natural cramp-reducing remedies I count on during my cycle are:
- Raspberry leaf tea or homegrown calendula tea
- Good hydration and gentle exercise, like walking and light yoga
- My beloved DIY rice heating pad. Be sure to check out our tutorial on how to make your own heating pad (or cold pack) using an up-cycled pillow case and organic rice. I use them every day – not just for cramps!
- Turmeric supplements and turmeric-rich Golden Milk
Did you know that turmeric has crazy-potent anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties? When combined with soothing goodies like warm milk (of your choice), cinnamon, ginger, and honey – it can truly work wonders! Try our quick and easy golden milk recipe here.
MENSTRUAL CUP OPTIONS
When it comes to choosing a menstrual cup, there are tons of options out there! A couple of things to consider are your age, average flow, and personal anatomy in relation to the cup. The differences in cup sizes and styles are very subtle, but can make a difference in comfort and effectiveness (e.g. not leaking). This is especially true post-childbirth.
Of course, always choose a reputable brand made of tested medical grade silicone. Some popular brands of menstrual cups include the Diva Cup, Lena, Saalt, Lunette, OrganiCup, and the Pixie cup, to name a few. Nervous about being able to easily remove the cup? A few friends of mine enjoy the pull-tab loop on the Peach Cup for this reason.
Every woman’s body is unique, including the vaginal area and position of the cervix. Some women have a “longer” vagina with a high-sitting cervix, while others have a lower cervix. Your cervix can also move during different times of your cycle! Put a Cup In It has a great video about assessing your cervix height, shown below. Not sure what to feel for? Your cervix is more firm and slightly pointed, sort of like the tip of your nose.
For women with an average to high cervix (a full finger deep), a slightly taller cup (like the Diva Cup) is recommended for the most comfortable fit and removal. On the other hand, shorter squatty menstrual cups (such as the FemmyCycle or Me Luna Shorty) are best for those with an especially low cervix (half a finger or less high). Otherwise, a taller cup may feel like it is protruding.
Either way, you can also trim the pull-tab tip on most cups if the feeling of it is unpleasant. However, I suggest thoroughly trying out the fit and practice retrieving it many times before making any modifications!
When I first started wearing a menstrual cup, I knew nothing about cervix height. Furthermore, there was only one well-known flagship brand on the market: the Diva Cup! And it all worked out just fine. To this day I am still a big Diva fan. Whenever I mention menstrual cups over on Instagram, I get a flood of messages from ladies that love their Diva Cup just as much. So at least in my circle, it seems to be the most popular choice.
I used the Diva Cup 1 (small size) for about a decade. More recently, I switched to the Diva Cup 2. It is slightly larger, made for women over the age of 30 or after vaginal birth. Apparently they now make a Diva 0 for girls under 18 as well!
For the record, I have a very heavy flow. I can wear my Diva Cup with no leaks for several hours on my heaviest day or two, emptying it as needed (but less frequently than I was previously going through tampons). On my normal to light days, I wear it for the full 12 hours with no issues at all. I briefly flirted with the Lena Cup, another highly-rated cup that is made in the USA. Alas, it felt too short and more awkward to remove, but that’s just me.
And that is what’s up with menstrual cups.
What do you say? Are you ready to try a menstrual cup? I hope that you found this article interesting and insightful – and I didn’t scare you too much! Clearly there is a lot to ponder, but also many awesome solutions available to protect your health and the planet. As a new cup user, it may take a little getting used to – but I think you’ll love it.
I am happy to talk more about my personal experiences too. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments – or contact me privately if you prefer.
Finally, please help spread the love for zero waste and natural health by sharing or pinning this article!