Menstrual cups 'as reliable as other sanitary protection' - and could help the environment

Menstrual cups are having a moment [Photo: Getty]
Menstrual cups are having a moment [Photo: Getty]

Menstrual cups have been having a moment. Whether it’s for comfort, sustainability or affordability reasons, more and more women are making the switch from sanitary pads and tampons.

So much so that average monthly searches on Google for ‘menstrual cup’ are up a huge 174 percent in just four years.

And now new research has revealed menstrual cups are a just as effective and reliable as other sanitary products.

What’s more they are also cheaper and better for the environment. Winning.

The work, published in the Lancet Public Health journal , looked at 43 studies involving 3,319 women and girls living in rich and poor countries.

As part of the study, researchers compared the leakage between different sanitary products, which lets face it is probably the biggest concern.

Thankfully results revealed that levels of leaks were similar between menstrual cups and pads and tampons, with one study finding that leakage among menstrual cups was significantly less than with tampons and pads.

So there’s literally no need to worry about the contents of your cup accidentally spilling while you’re mid burpee. Now, there’s a thought!

Scientists also discovered that there was no increased risk of infection associated with using menstrual cups. Another tick.

As well as leakage, other common concerns about trying a menstrual cup included pain and difficulty fitting or removing it, while the risk of chafing also featured as a worry.

But the review found women using a menstrual cup found these kind of complications were actually pretty rare.

As a result, findings from 13 of the studies revealed around 70% of women wanted to continue using menstrual cups once they got to grips with how they worked.

The researchers also believe that making menstrual cups available globally could help to tackle period poverty and health problems such as infections.

READ MORE: Man heavily criticised for comparing scraped knees to period pain

How do menstrual cups work?

“A menstrual cup is a small cup made from flexible and body-friendly plastic which you insert into your vagina instead of using a tampon or towel,” explains pelvic health expert Stephanie Taylor, Managing Director, Kegel8.

“It sits just below your cervix and collects any blood or lining you lose for up to 12 hours,” she adds.

There are two main types of menstrual cup - a vaginal cup which is generally bell-shaped and sits lower in the vagina, and a cervical cup which is placed higher up.

If you’re thinking of trying a menstrual cup it might be worth experimenting to see which works best for you.

And women suffering from heavy periods need not fear leakage either as according to Taylor menstrual cups can hold up to 5 times more blood than towels and tampons.

Menstrual cups are having a moment [Photo: Getty]
Menstrual cups are having a moment [Photo: Getty]

How do you use a menstrual cup?

Taylor suggests making sure both the menstrual cup and your hands are clean, then hold the base of your cup and flatten the opening.

Then fold it in half vertically, so that the opening forms a ‘C’.

She advises finding a comfortable position to insert the cup, possibly even squatting or raising one leg.

“The biggest thing to remember is to relax and take things slowly,” she says. “A menstrual cup doesn’t sit as high as a tampon; you should have approximately 1.5cm clear at the base. Check the cup has fully opened by giving the stem a gentle pull – if you feel some resistance then you’re good to go.”

To remove the menstrual cup you should squeeze the bottom of the cup to release the seal.

Then you just need to empty the contents into the toilet and rinse or wipe the cup clean.

To keep your menstrual cup clean Taylor says you just give it a quick rinse with hot soapy water or use a cleaning spray.

“But you should rinse thoroughly to remove any soap or cleaner residue as this can cause irritation after insertion. For a more thorough clean, boil your cup,” she suggests.

Are menstrual cups better for you?

You might not realise it but most tampons are treated with chemicals to bleach the cotton and some even contain plastic!

“Tampons strip your vaginal walls of its lining and soak up the healthy discharge you need to keep your body's natural flora at the optimum levels,” Taylor explains.

“A menstrual cup takes the blood and leaves everything else.

“Using a body-friendly cup can also reduce your risk of bacterial infections and contracting Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS),” she adds.

READ MORE: Here’s how to have a plastic-free period

Is a menstrual cup eco-friendly?

Sure is! Switching to a menstrual cup an help reduce plastic waste as it will help prevent you from chucking away single-use pads and tampons.

“Switching to a menstrual cup saves the environment from approximately 16,000 tampons, panty-liners and sanitary pads in your lifetime which can take between 500-800 years to fully decompose,” Taylor explains.

She points out that most sanitary pads are also 90 percent plastic (who knew!?) and tampons are made from the world’s thirstiest crop – cotton.

“In comparison, silicon is a much greener material which slowly goes back to its original state (sand) as it degrades,” she adds.

There’s the money saving aspect as well.

According to the NHS, between the ages of 12 and 52, a woman who does not have children will have about 480 periods.

A menstrual cup costs roughly between £15 to £25, which is much more than a box of tampons, but it can be reused every month and lasts for up to 10 years, so in the long term it could be a far more cost-effective form of sanitary protection.

“With proper care and cleaning, a menstrual cup can last over a decade, saving women thousands of pounds on sanitary products over its lifetime,” Taylor adds.