Coloured Cups – are they safe?
Mooncup (UK) recently blogged about why their cup will never be coloured.
“Would you like crushed beetle with your menstrual cup, madam?”
(or Why the Mooncup Will Always be Dye-Free)”
“We are also committed to offering a product that is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Many natural colourings are animal-derived, such as carmine/cochineal (E120 – red, purple, pink) made from crushed beetles; shellac (E904) from insect secretions; gelatine (orange) made from animal bones and L-Cysteine (E920), sometimes made from hair or feathers.
Call us boring(!), but we’re not willing to compromise our ethical status for a non-essential additive with a dubious health and ethical history.”
(My thoughts about their post are at the bottom of this article)
Which sparked some discussion on the topic here: http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/2742047.html, given that part of their reasoning included the use of non-vegan things as food colours (despite the fact cups aren’t consumed and some of their examples aren’t actually used as food colours anyway)
JuJu has the following in their FAQ:
“Does JuJu come in any other colour?
At this point in time, JuJu is only available in a clear/semi-opaque colour. Until such time as we are able to gain an accurate understanding of the effects of the addition of dyes on our bodies, we have chosen to manufacture JuJu without any colour additives.”
But it is an interesting topic.. I have e-mailed some of the the cup companies offering coloured cup (Iriscup, CupLee, Ladycup Lunette, MeLuna, Miacup, and Shecup) to ask them about the colours and see what they have to say on the matter, and I’ll update this post when I’ve heard back from any :) In the meantime, feel free to discuss!
— edit —
I’ve heard back from a couple of the cup companies. MeLuna was the only company who actually sent me any information regarding the safety aspect of the coloured cups.
They of course said the colours are safe :) but sent me several pdf files of their test results to help prove this – which shows the testing of both the colours (first file) and the general cup material. Interestingly, I believe it’s saying that the plastic the cups are made from was tested on animals (presumably as part of checking the plastic is safe for use with people), as is referenced in the last file. I’d never thought about that being a component of testing, and I wonder if the other cups have been likewise tested.
Meluna_Masterbatches_Safety sheet – Info on the colours – they are food safe (though that doesn’t mean they are “food colours” like you’d use to make a cake blue)
THERMOLAST_M_englisch – Information on the plastic material the cups are made from (from the manufacturer I presume)
TM4MED_ISO10993-5 -Seems to be a certificate of a testing where the material was left in contact with the equivalent of human tissue and checked to see if it was reactive (it shows no reaction, whereas latex showed reactions).
TM4MED_USP661 – Information on a few tests that were run (I admit, I don’t really understand most of it heh)
TM4MED_USPVI – Test result certificate
Said they would get back to me in a few days. Never did.
Said they will issue a public statement on it (not sure if they did at the time, but they have posted on facebook to say what I’ve quoted below), and that they would contact me again in a few days – which they did, saying they have forwarded my e-mail to their head office. They say they realise it’s an important issue, so they are gathering information from their experts and will get back to me. (But they never got back to me)
However, their website says this about the coloured cups:
Yes, colored Lunette menstrual cups are safe to use. The dye we use in our colored cups is FDA approved for medical and food use. The colors don’t contain heavy metals (e.g. lead, chromium VI, cadmium, mercury) or phatalats. Lunette menstrual cups contain only small amounts of colorpaste. The type of dye used in Lunette menstrual cups are inside the silicone so it’s not possible for the color to leach like with some cheaper dyes which are also used in menstrual cups.”
They also say that their coloured cups are FDA approved, but not TGA approved: (Link)
“The colored Lunette cups are not TGA approved. TGA listing is a very long and costly process, and all of our colored cups are limited edition products.”
However I contacted the TGA, who told me that because the coloured versions are still the same product (only difference being the colour), they are covered under the same TGA approval that the clear ones are. So the coloured cups are TGA approved too.
Said that as far as they know, the colours they were polling people on (see this post) plus clear and grey are the only colours that are already tested and approved by FDA… and that other colours (like purples and whatnot) would need to go through the process of testing and approval.
I believe (from talking to a well respected cup retailer) that while the clear Sckoon cup has FDA approval, the individual coloured cups are made with FDA approved silicone, but those cups are not actually individually FDA approved.
Now, I don’t know the safety aspects of having colourants in cups – which is why I asked the cup companies, and frankly, the fact that so few of them responded, makes me think that nobody is really sure other than a “FDA approves them so therefore they must be safe” type thought. Which may be comforting for some people, it may not help others.
When I was looking up the Animal testing info for medical grade silicone, I did see a chart from one of the companies that showed the colours that the silicone could be made in, and I think they were considered food-safe colours.
There definitely is merit to the argument that a clear cup is safer for you and better for the environment – absolutely.
Be aware though that there is a “white” pigment, so a cup with a more “whitish” appearance than “clear” may actually have a white colour added. Cups from companies who don’t do coloured cups are unlikely to add a white pigment, but companies who offer colours including a “white” may be adding the white pigment.
I’d like to address 2 points of Mooncup’s statements.
Firstly, yes some synthetic food colours can and have been shown to have adverse effects on the human body. However there is a difference in how things are absorbed and processed by the body when they are ingested compared to skin exposure. We’re not eating our menstrual cups, so comparing food and coloured cups isn’t quite the same thing.
I’m not saying that food colours are completely safe when used in a cup, but it isn’t the same as directly eating them. The same sort of argument could also be had for coloured plastic lunchboxes and other products we use regularly. People talk about the dangers of BPA etc. but what about other things in there like whatever colours them?
The safety issue with coloured cups is whether or not any of those coloured pigments can cause any health problems? can they have an effect when added to the silicone and made into cups? and if those colours are properly embedded into the silicone and can’t leech out?
– that is something I don’t have the answer to :(
But Mooncup mentions natural colourants too…. basically saying that their product is vegan-friendly so they would not use natural colourant either.
Which some people have interpreted as implying that other coloured cups may contain “crushed beetle” and other animal derived natural colourants.
But the thing is, natural colourants are horrendously expensive compared to synthetic ones. (Cochineal, which is derived from beetles, is quite expensive, much more so than plant based red colourants). They are also not as vibrant (so you need more of them), and aren’t always as colourfast (can fade/degrade over time).
They simply are a more expensive and far less practical source of colourant than synthetic ones. It is unlikely that anyone would use a natural colourant when a more stable and far cheaper synthetic one exists, unless it’s for food or something where the natural aspect actually matters more than expense and durability.
Silicone may have natural elements, but it is not a “natural” product and is manufactured in a lab. I highly doubt that as they are pouring chemicals into a vat, they go “ohh, we better add some natural colourant, so our product can be more natural” :P Even if they wanted to, it’s going to add more expense, more variance (batch to batch wouldn’t necessarily have the exact same result) and isn’t going to produce something that is as good as if they used the synthetic colourant. They just wouldn’t do that.
Yes, the coloured cups may (should be) be using “Food-Safe” colourants. But there’s not going to be any crushed beetle in your cups!
– Having said that, there is one cup that claims to use natural colouring. Pinkcopa. As you can see though, the colour is unusual. I did ask what they used as colourant, but they didn’t tell me.