• By Micah Dorfner

Menstrual Cups vs. Tampons: Things You Might Not Know

March 24, 2016

woman on couch having menstrual cramps or intestinal stomach pain
Not quite sure what a menstrual cup is or how it works?  You are not alone.  Even though menstrual cups have been around since the early 1930s, only over the past few years have they become a more popular choice for women.

“Made of hypo–allergenic rubber or silicone, a menstrual cup is inserted into the vagina during your period to capture fluid,” says Emily Linklater, D.O., Mayo Clinic Health System OB-GYN. “How often you need to empty or replace the menstrual cup depends on the size of the cup and your menstrual flow, but the cup can hold up to three times as much fluid as a regular tampon.”

Dr. Linklater identifies a few factors that may contribute to the recent popularity of menstrual cups, including:

Cost  

  • The average woman spends between 50 to 150 dollars per year on tampons or pads, depending on duration, amount and regularity of her periods. On average, a menstrual cup costs between $20 - $40 and can last from six months to 10 years.  Depending which brand of cup you choose and how often replacements are required, significant financial savings are possible.

Durability

  • A menstrual cup can be worn up to 12 hours before it should be removed, cleaned and reinserted. Typically tampons or pads should be changed every four to six hours. The cup allows women to have more time before changing out, especially on light days.  Also, it prevents the need to carry extra pads or tampons, which many women find burdensome and embarrassing. The menstrual cup also can be inserted around the time of an expected period to avoid first-day leakage.

Chemical-free

  • Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require tampon and pad manufacturers to list ingredients on packaging, many women are concerned about reports of tampons containing bleached cotton, rayon and viscose fibers, and dioxin. Although rare, toxic shock syndrome (TSS) has been long associated with tampons. The menstrual cup is made of flexible hypo-allergenic silicone, allaying concerns that fibers or chemicals are left behind in the vagina. Most menstrual cup companies report a suction seal that is formed between the vagina and the cup, claiming a decrease in risk of bacteria. However, this claim has not been proven scientifically.

Environmentally-friendly 

  • People often attribute disposable diapers for causing landfills to become full, but tampons and pads accumulate in landfills too. A Huffington Post article estimates 9,120 tampons are used over a woman’s lifetime. The menstrual cup is reusable and significantly reduces the impact on the environment.

No age restrictions

  • Females of any age can use a cup, even before a woman has had a child. Most cups come in different sizes, with sizing charts on the manufacturer’s website.

Are there any drawbacks?  

  • Women may find that emptying the cup can be messy, especially if changing the cup at a public restroom. Rinsing the cup after removing is preferred, which can be difficult in a large public restroom. The cup may not fit all women, especially if the uterus is low or abnormal. Also, the menstrual cup does require a certain amount of upkeep.  Sterilize the cup between periods, similar to sterilizing a baby bottle between feedings. Some women might find this cumbersome and inconvenient.

“Overall, the menstrual cup does appear to be a safe option for women during their period. Individual preferences may vary, but if you have concerns or questions, discuss them with your health care provider,” says Dr. Linklater.

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