How to choose the right menstrual cup
Not all menstrual cups are created equal
Take the above photo for example. This cup goes white when it's stretched, meaning it's not the 'medical grade silicone' it claims to be.
In Aotearoa NZ, menstrual cups are not classed as 'medical devices', meaning it's an unregulated market with no quality control. Onus is put on you - the user - to find a safe product (or even know that potentially unsafe ones are out there).
We don't think this is good enough from regulators (and plan to take action on this when we have the resources) but for now, here's a little info on what to look out for when it comes to cups.
Above: Wā Cup size one with rainbow light
Congrats on starting on the menstrual cup / moon cup / period goblet / Wā Cup conversation! Nau mai, Welcome.
We have some important information to flow your way if you are thinking of buying a menstrual cup or already own one.
Today, there are heaps available, so many it can be overwhelming.
Where do you start, how do you decide and importantly, how do you know you are getting a safe product that will actually work?
..and what about those ‘only pay shipping cups’ anyway?
It's important to get it right
Your vagina is an absorbent environment. It's also the portal to your whare tangata (house of humanity) or womb. It's an important and sacred place. Anything that goes in there that's not safe can potentially leach nasties, which can then be absorbed into your blood stream and body.
Vaginas are also pH sensitive. Your vagina does a great job at keeping itself balanced and clean all by itself, creating the slightly acidic environment it likes, regulating itself between pH 3.8 and 4.5, allowing it to ward off most bacteria and infections.
Tip this balance and that’s when evils like candida bacteria (thrush) can overtake.
When it comes to putting things in vaginas, our health is at stake
A good cup will be much easier to use and safer for your body than tampons and pads (talk to anyone who uses a Wā Cup!) but a dodgy cup can not only not work and feel uncomfortable, but it can sometimes be dangerous too. A cup is a purchase you'll have for years; do it right and it will look after you right.
Above: Size mini Wā Cup with rainbow light
Here's how to do it right
Materials: Silicone, TPE Plastic and Latex
Your menstrual cup needs to be pure medical grade silicone, TPE Plastic or Latex. Not only this, but it needs to have a silky finish on it, otherwise, you are going to have resistance ala - hello dry tampon syndrome - yowchers.
Silicone is from silica, the second most abundant elemental resource in world (right after oxygen) and can also be upcycled afterwards - we've been collecting used cups from the get go for a takeback programme. It's not perfect, as it's still a finite resource of the earth and the takeback programme puts responsibility on the user, instead of the business, but it's a start. 100% medical grade affirms that it is of standard to be worn internally in the human body and doesn’t contain any other cheaper materials such as 'fillers'.
Latex and plastic (thermoplastic elastomers (TPE)) cups are around too. However, we don’t recommend plastic cups as plastic is often derived from petroleum, and, we have enough plastic in our environment.
Side note: We chatted with the waste management team in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington who said that if a TPE plastic cup doesn't have a recycling number on it, after use it goes straight to landfill anyway... As of the date of editing this article (July 2022) there are no recycling numbers on TPE plastic cups on the NZ market.
How to tell what your cup is made from
A TPE plastic cup:
Is completely solid in colour, will not be transparent in any sense and can sometimes feel almost chalky to the touch. If you fold it, then pop it open, you will often be able to see lines where you folded it. The packet it comes in should also say that it is TPE or 'medical grade plastic'. Verified companies' cups that use TPE are safe to use, are recyclable (if they have a recycling number on them) but have a shorter lifespan than medical grade silicone (usually 2 - 5 years before they loose their shape) and can't be chemically sterilised.
As for silicone:
Ask what type of silicone the company uses. There are four. Liquid Silicone Rubber (LSR) is almost always medical healthcare grade silicone, whereas, High Consistency Rubber (HCR), Fluorosilicone Rubber (FSR) and Room Temperature Vulcanized Silicone (RTV) are not what safe menstrual cups are usually made from.
Reputable websites selling reputable menstrual cups should be transparent about this. Check out their FAQs and general info. BUT, the issue is that some onsellers (either consciously or unconsciously) sell frankly, really crap cups that claim to be made of ‘medical grade silicone’, but that’s not actually the case.
In some instances, manufacturers even have fraudulent ISO, CE or FDA 'approved' certificates. (We know this as we experienced this when we were seeking manufacturers in China before we landed on our USA manufacturer). This unfortunately happens a lot, especially of cups manufactured in China. Not good. Onsellers often get conned too, thinking they are doing the right thing, just wanting to get menstrual cups to people who need them, cheaply.
A cup can be safe without having been registered with the FDA, as it a costly process that not all companies can afford off the batt. As well as this, it's is a strictly American system so doesn't actually apply to NZ. However, it really needs other safety certificates with it too, such as SGS or ISO (and should have these anyway). CE registered is the European version of FDA registering, with differing processes.
Above: Caution - a dodgy cup may not work well
If in doubt, don’t buy it!
If your cup or cup manufacturer claims to be FDA registered, but is not on this list, then it’s likely fraudulent (you will find Wā Cups under Casco Bay).
If it’s claiming to be FDA and isn’t, then, what gives you reason to trust it’s actually medical grade silicone and not full of cheaper fillers or a grade of silicone not safe for internal use?
How do you know it is proven to be safe for your body and stand up to boiling in 100 degrees celsius and not deteriorate or leach chemicals? How do you know it is designed to work?
For the record, Wā Cups are made from medical Class VI LSR silicone with complete material traceability from our ISO certified manufacturing partner in the USA. We have the material certifications for each FDA registered menstrual cup we sell. You can contact us to request them if you like :)
Above: A Wā Cup size two folded
Menstrual cups come in many different firmnesses. That’s because everyone’s bodies are different. As well as this, some menstrual cup designs (such as flimsier softer cups and hard rock like ones) are cheaper to produce than others. When looking at cups, a good rule of thumb is:
- Pops open easily inside you
- Holds its shape against pelvic floor muscles
- Trickier to insert
- May put pressure on your urethra (makes you feel you need to pee!)
- Easier to insert
- Less likely to put pressure on the urethra
- Moulds to your body shape
- Difficult to pop open
- May get compressed by your PC muscles
Right, so you may see there is often a payoff. However, there is a sweet spot. Wā Cups have the benefits of both firm and soft cups. How?
Above: Menstrual cup squish test - hold the cups next to eachother with rims and bodys pressing and squeeze. From left: very soft generic cup from Trademe, Indigo size one Wā Cup in the middle and generic very firm cup from Alibaba on the right.
Wā Cups are in the middle of the squishiness spectrum and have a firm sub rim so they pop open easily. That’s important, or getting it working is going to be an unfun experience.
This firmer sub-rim allows for a soft body (we like soft bodies). The soft body means it will be easily folded and inserted, you won't feel it at all and it won’t put pressure on your bladder.
Some people have said their Wā Cup decreases cramping too. It’s the real deal.
Your cup also needs a rim at the top opening to be able to use it easily. Some cups don’t have these, and that’s okay, but it’s going to be a lot trickier to use and may leak. Not ideal for your fav. undies or confidence.
The rim of the cup forms a seal inside your vagina. Don’t worry, you can’t feel it! It just means that it won’t leak or slide down to say hello as it fills up!
The rim needs holes by the way.
How many holes below the rim does your cup or potential cup have, where are they and how big are they?
Your cup needs holes to be able to form and remove the seal properly. Four holes are best, a couple of millimetres below the rim, only two and it’s not as easy to operate.
Above: Wā Cups
How much did you pay?
‘Just paid shipping’, got a sweet deal for under NZD$20, or the cup is a higher price, $39.99 / $59.99 but is always 50% off? Think workers rights, material traceability, product safety, design and materials and infringement on intellectual property and harmful environmental practices.
Sometimes, material 'fillers' are involved meaning it's not medical grade silicone alone (or even not medical grade silicone at all, even if it claims to be). When we were validating Wā Collective we investigated many different manufacturers and cups and in all honesty were shocked.
Tip: stretch the material of your cup. If it claims to be silicone.. give it a massive stretch - really get in there. If it goes opaque/white where you stretch it - it likely isn't pure silicone.
Above: Stretch test - Olie stretching a $1.50 menstrual cup purchased from Trademe, showing it going white (not pure medical grade silicone)
Above: Janine stretching an Indigo Wā Cup at full force, showing the silicone stays the same and does not go white: it is pure medical grade (note: this cup is more robust that the other TradeMe cup so it looks like it's being stretched with less pressure - but this isn't the case).
Ask yourself, how is your cup that cheap when others aren’t? As above, many cups made in China claim to be FDA registered but actually aren't and have virtually untraceable production lines through multiple parties. You literally don't know where it came from, what's in it and what isn't in it. You sure you want to be putting that in your honey box?
At what sacrifice has this cheap price come? What’s in your cup, who's agenda are you covertly supporting and where's your money actually going?
Also, cheap cups (watch out though, some companies still on sell these for $20 - $60) are often shoddy design aka- no design at all and either rip off other brands, or, don't work properly or even physically hurt simply because no market research went into the design and it’s just pumped out of the factory at the cheapest mass price to get a bit of $buck$. Do they really care about your health?
Often onsellers, so people that have set up a lovely little business importing cups, will either be unaware or naïve to the above and will be selling these potentially dangerous, cheap rip offs for $20 to even $60. Sadly, price isn't always an indicator of quality.
Most knockoffs come from China courtesy of e-bay, Aliexpress, Alibaba and local online auction sites. These can be purchased off the site or from further onsellers who are importing these in large quantities.
How's your cup finished? Look at the joins on the rim of the cup - is it nice and smooth or uneven? If you see join marks going down the cup vertically from rim to stem, it's likely not going to last the distance.
If it’s got these joins, no matter the brand or it’s supposed prestige, in our opinion it’s not as good as it could or should be. Prominent joins can also irritate your body and, frankly is just a shoddy job.
Top tips on spotting the generic cheapie for what it is
- It calls itself a 'moon cup' or 'diva cup' when it’s not that brand
- It's always 50% off, down from eg, $39.99USD
- At full price, it's under $20NZD
- Has a name listed as a bizarre list of keywords like “ silicone ladies diva menstrual cup” instead of having a brand name
- The cup looks identical to other ones you have seen, but has a different name
- The product doesn’t have it’s own branded packaging
- It ships directly from China
- Product photos are blatantly stock images
- Photos look weird and fake
- Doesn’t give a firmness indicator or specs of the cup and is just designed for an easy purchase
- The info or site contains typos or questionable grammar or syntax
- It's a local on seller who can't provide you with safety documentation and cup specifications
It’s worth getting the right cup - both on ethical, safety and financial levels. We’ve put a heck of a lot of research into finding our amazing US manufacturer for our Wā Cup.
We’ve sampled cups from over the globe to end up here, taking us through multiple cup designs and countless periods! Do it once, do it right and experience how much a good cup can revolutionise your life.
Last updated: July 2022