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Menstrual cups are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional sanitary products. Getty Images
  • Menstrual cups are becoming more popular as an alternative to traditional sanitary products.
  • A new study finds that they work just as well as tampons and pads.
  • Reusable menstrual cup products are just as safe.
  • The eco-friendly, cost-effective products may be a game changer for women around the world.

Every person who has a period is looking for a comfortable, mess-free way to manage their menstruation.

Typically, people turn to tampons and pads when it’s that time of the month. But findings in a comprehensive new study support a growing minority of women who say there’s a better product for periods: menstrual cups.

Menstrual cups are funnel-shaped containers, typically made from silicone, rubber, or latex, that get tucked inside the vagina to collect menstrual flow. Women wash and reuse their menstrual cups for years at a time making them a cheaper option than tampons or pads.

And they appear to be as safe and effective as more common sanitary products, according to a new report published this week in The Lancet Public Health.

The meta-analysis, published on July 16, reviewed 43 studies and data on 3,319 women and girls on the international use of menstrual cups. It found that menstrual cups were just as good, if not better, as disposable tampons and pads at preventing leaks.

The report noted that menstrual cups presented no increased risk of infection for the European, North American, and African women and girls who had been studied.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that using a menstrual cup (which costs anywhere from $0.72 to $46.72 each) instead of tampons and pads could save a significant amount of money over the device’s 10-year lifespan.

Despite these benefits, awareness of menstrual cups is still low. The report found that only 21 of 69 websites with educational content on puberty mentioned menstrual cups as an option for managing periods.

“Most women just do whatever they were taught when they first got their period, as long as it’s working for them,” said Dr. Tangela Anderson Tull, OB-GYN at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Menstrual cups are definitely becoming more popular, though. I used to see one patient every other month who uses a menstrual cup, now I see it at least on a weekly basis.”

Menstrual cups have been embraced by some sustainability-minded folks as a less wasteful way to collect flow. And now there’s some data that supports their claims.

Authors of The Lancet report noted that over 10 years, a menstrual cup generates approximately 6 percent of the plastic waste from tampons, or just 0.4 percent of that from disposable pads.

“The reusability of menstrual cups is fantastic, especially for women who are in the mindset of trying to be more earth-friendly,” said Dr. Shweta Patel, OB-GYN at Orlando Health Physician Associates in Winter Garden, Florida. “It’s like carrying your groceries in a reusable bag instead of using paper or plastic.”

The study found that menstrual cups also have the potential to improve the lives of women and girls in some low-income countries, who may be ostracized from basic activities, including going to school or work, when they’re on their period and be at greater risk of infection from poor-quality sanitary products.

“In some areas of developing countries, where women don’t have access to tampons, they’re using things like rags… that are breeding grounds for bacteria,” said Patel. “Menstrual cups are a cheap, reusable, easy way to hide that you’re on your cycle. They can be a game changer for women in developing countries.”

While the data suggests that menstrual cups are largely safe, it did uncover some potential risks that may require further research.

The study found that there were five reported cases of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare, life-threatening medical condition caused by a bacterial infection, following the use of a menstrual cup.

Limited data prevented the authors from assessing the risk of TSS between menstrual cups to other products.

Tampons are known to be linked to the potentially deadly TSS infection.

“If you leave anything in the vagina for too long and prevent bacteria from exiting the body, it’s going to be a source for infection to brew, and that can cause TSS,” said Patel. “It’s possible to forget you have a menstrual cup in, just like it’s possible to forget a tampon.”

Menstrual cups may also present complications when used in combination with an IUD. The study found that there were 13 cases in which removing a menstrual cup dislodged an IUD. Authors noted that the use of menstrual cups in conjunction with IUDs may need further research.

“As far as we know right now, it’s safe, but there is a possibility that their IUD could come out with a menstrual cup because of the suction,” said Tull. “I encourage patients to check the string of their IUD once they remove their cup.”

Both Tull and Patel agreed that the overall findings of the study indicated that menstrual cups are a safe and beneficial way to manage periods. The doctors also said that their patients who use menstrual cups are, by and large, satisfied with the results.

“After they try using a menstrual cup, they wonder why they didn’t use it before,” said Patel.