Menstrual cups are as safe and effective as other sanitary products, report finds

Sarah Newey
Menstrual cups can last up to a decade - EyeEm

Reusable menstrual cups are as safe and effective for women and girls as sanitary pads and tampons, according to the first ever scientific review of the product. 

The report, published in the Lancet Public Health journal, found there is no increased risk of infection associated with using the cups, which can last as long as a decade.  

The research showed they are also as effective as tampons and pads, with 70 per cent of women continuing to use them once they had been shown how to. 

The cups – usually made of medical grade silicone, rubber or latex – are inserted into the vagina where they collect blood. Every four to 12 hours they need to be emptied and cleaned.

They are a often heralded as a sustainable alternative to tampons and pads as they can be used multiple times and could be a good solution for women in poorer countries. 

Roughly 1.9 billion women worldwide are of menstruating age, but the options available to manage periods are particularly limited in low and middle income countries. 

According to the UK’s Department for International Development, around half of women and girls in developing countries cannot afford sanitary products and are forced to use rags, grass and paper. The stigma that surrounds periods can force them to miss work and school.

But with growing resources dedicated to tackling “period poverty” – including a £2 million investment from UK aid – experts have long called for more research into the safety of reusable menstrual cups. 

“This is a much-needed review of the use of menstrual cups globally,” said Helen Weiss, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “An increased choice of menstrual products is needed, especially products which are more environmentally friendly than disposable pads and tampons. 

“This study is the first to systematically review experiences of using cups in terms of leakage, cost and safety, and showed that they are an effective and safe alternative to other menstrual products,” she added. 

Initial evidence from the report, which took data from 3,300 women and girls in 43 separate studies, found that using a menstrual cup could dramatically reduce the cost of sanitary products. On average, a menstrual cup cost less than seven per cent of the price of 12 tampons or pads.

“Notably, most studies reported a positive effect of use of the menstrual cup on participants’ lives, with decreased stress around leakage,” said Prof Weiss.

“The cup holds more blood than a tampon, and cup usage was associated with less frequent changes per cycle compared with tampons or pads in one UK study. This could be a major advantage for girls and women in settings where adequate water and sanitation facilities are not readily available.”

But the reports authors stress that more quality research is required to better inform public health policy. 

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