Nameless and Cheap Cups – Safety & Ethics
There are several sellers on AliExpress, ebay, Amazon and other such sites – selling very cheap menstrual cups. Often with no listed brand name. Usually with very few details available about them. None of them have actual websites to be able to refer back to. Some of these are using images and descriptions stolen off established menstrual cup sites, and some of the cups themselves look to be copies of other brands of cup. Others, by contrast look quite nice with lovely printed boxes, interesting stem options and lots of colours available… while still being very cheap.
I’m not trying to tell you not to buy a cheap cup… but you should be aware of a few potential issues with buying cups from unknown or cheaper sources.
Personally I feel that if you’re going to buy one of these cheaper cups – try to buy from a listing that gives good information about the product and looks like a decent seller. If they put some effort into their listings, they may take better care with their products.
Are cheap cups a good thing?
While on the one hand I think it is great that more and more cups are being made available to people, and that low prices that make cups affordable can be a good thing…. I personally have concerns for a few reasons…. one being quality, another being intellectual property rights (copying).
Some of these cups look VERY SIMILAR to other established cups on the market. Some of them are claiming they are made from high quality silicone, some are listing “food grade” silicone as the material. Some have a very strong chemical/plastic smell. Some of them are showing pictures in their listings that are not of the same cups they are selling.
So buying these cups may be a risk, or may be supporting businesses with unethical trade practices. The problem is that you may not be able to know exactly what you are getting.
What do you get for your money?
Potentially nothing 😛 I ordered one of the unbranded cups with a moon shaped stem from the “Love you sotre” (their misspelling, not mine) store, so I could review it here because a lot of people have been asking about these cheap cups…. and never received anything. They said they will send me another one – but I never received that either… by the time I had to wait for postage on the second cup – my ability to file a dispute had expired. So while that was only one seller, that may give you an indication of how reliable some of these sellers are.
For the record, I did eventually order the same style cup from ebay, which did arrive.
AliExpress doesn’t do paypal, which lessens your ability to do anything if you don’t get your product or your product is not what you expected. Though they do offer some form of buyer protection. So I would recommend if you are buying one of the very cheap cups from a somewhat less legitimate looking seller – try to buy from Amazon or Ebay, where you can pay with paypal. This should enable you to get your money back if it isn’t what you’d hoped it would be.
Potential safety concerns
Not all countries have high standards of quality, so it is important to realise that a cup that is from a reputable company (especially if it has FDA or other similar approval/registration/clearance) you should feel fairly confident that there has been sufficient testing to ensure that the materials in that cup is safe to use. There is nothing at all stopping a company from making a menstrual cup made from absolutely anything and selling it on ebay or the like…. even if the listing claims “medical grade silicone” can you really trust that is what it is?
Some of the cups are listed as being made from food grade silicone – which cannot be considered to be a safe material for a menstrual cup. For example the cups being sold by Zhida Xintai, all list food grade silicone, as do many other cheap cup listings.
There are different types of silicone, not all are intended to be used with skin contact for extended periods of time. Only Medical Grade silicones are tested to ensure they don’t cause irritations or infections with prolonged contact with the skin. While it’s not something we like to think of, medical grade silicone is tested on animals – to ensure that is does not cause skin reactions when used inside the body, and should come with a certificate showing this. So while a “food grade” silicone can be safe to eat food from, it may not necessarily be safe to wear inside your body for up to 12 hours at a time. There is also the safety of the coloured pigments used for coloured cups.
A lot of the listings include photos of certificates – which imply that those cups have passed various safety tests. But the thing is, showing pictures of safety certificates means nothing – if they copy images from other sites (as they often do with the folding instructions), they could copy those certificate images from somewhere too – So there is no guarantee those certificates were issued to that company or for those cups. They are rarely large enough to read what they actually say, so they could be certificates for anything.
For example this certificate below on the Dream Lover listing. If you read what it was issued for, it’s actually for a “massager” (eg a vibrator), not a menstrual cup. So it’s irrelevant straight away… but what are they actually certifying that it passed? If you look up the code for the tests (EN 55014-1:2006+A1:2009) that’s a test for electromagnetic compatibility. So while it’s great their vibrators passed that test – it’s not certifying ANYTHING to do with menstrual cups at all. Yet it creates the impression that the menstrual cups have passed some sort of testing.
Another example…. listings for the cups sold by “Shen Zhen Sailing” & “Care for Women” (who appear to be the same company, since the e-mail address listed on the Care For Women store is dorismo88@ and the Sailing listings are watermarked with “Doris Cup” and the contact details are for Doris Mo) state this:
They show certificates…
What that certificate is though, is a test for FDA section 177.2600 – Which is what FOOD grade silicone is tested to. So this test appears to be certifying that the silicone cups shown, were tested to the FDA certification for food-grade silicone. So where is the certification that the silicone used passed the bio-compatibility tests for medical grade silicone?
It does not show the menstrual cup is made from medical grade silicone as their information claims it is. It does not prove the cup has been cleared/registered with the FDA. It does not prove the cups are safe.
If you want to know what actual certificates look like – I have some (from MeLuna, Gaia Cup, Yuuki) linked on my article on Silicone and Animal Testing
There is also a great article on this topic here – opcionesmenstruales.blogspot.fr (which I’ve linked to a translated version for you)
Personally I tried one of the nameless cups I bought for $3.80 on ebay. (Review here). Not only did it have this very strong “chemical” smell, the stem actually caused physical discomfort because of it’s style (something that may have been eliminated in product testing if any was actually done)….. it also caused a mild “burning” reaction in my vagina after I had worn it for half an hour. Something no other cup has ever caused.
While on the one hand I don’t like that menstrual cups are considered “medical devices” and need FDA (and other similar) clearance for sale – On the other hand, given that they are going to reside in a vagina for up to 12 hours at a time – I’d personally want some assurance that it’s not going to cause harm long term.
It is all well and good for an ebay listing to claim the product is made from medical grade silicone and is “FDA approved” and whatnot (though such claims may be misleading), but you can write anything in a listing description, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. So when I see people listing cups that look like copies of other cups, with pictures and descriptions stolen from other sites – I don’t really feel I can trust what they say.
For example, there are several cup brands out there claiming to be FDA approved (when in reality no cups are, and only a few are FDA registered) or made from FDA approved silicone (without proof of that, how are we to know) – implying that they are safe.
It is sad to say, but China in particular does have a history of adding cheaper additives to things, to keep costs down. Even when those additives are not safe and have even killed people:
6 infants killed, 54,000 being hospitalised – after being fed infant formula that had melamine (which is basically plastic) added to it (on purpose)
Ongoing use of lead paint and toxic chemicals in childrens toys
So there’s that risk concern if you are buying a cup that is not approved by some well known body like the FDA, then you don’t have that assurance that it is what it claims to be.
Which I would like to point out, is a concern no matter where the cup is manufactured, I’m not trying to say that all products made in China are bad, and that other places can’t produce bad things either. Some of the large well known brands are manufactured in China as well, and they are perfectly fine! but it is of extra concern to me when VERY CHEAP cups that are being sold by these types of cheaper sellers are being manufactured in a country which has a history of negligence towards public safety. If the sellers also can’t even be bothered making a website, and don’t give proper information, don’t have certification for the correct products – I have to worry about their commitment to customer safety.
Pretty much you can guarantee that when prices are low, something has come at a cost. Now that may be that they don’t waste money on nice packaging, advertising and other business expenses (which will cost a lot)… and if they haven’t had to do research and development in creating the cup design – that’s cheaper to produce too…. and that could be the only difference – but it is possible that they are also using cheaper materials to make it, and that may be fine and safe…. but it may not be.
This isn’t to say that these cups aren’t safe, but if you are the sort of person who is concerned about limiting exposure to potentially harmful ingredients, then you might want to think carefully about what your cup is made from, and check that it has passed relevant safety tests.
Cheapness sometimes comes at a price. This can include avoiding the costs of product research and development, and paying employees a fair wage.
I don’t profess to know exactly how cups are made, but I do know that some brands have got people like myself to be a tester for their cup while it was in the design process. Then based on feedback, they make changes, possibly send more samples out to the testers, then when they are confident in their product they go into production. Sometimes this process can take almost a whole year! So there would have been considerable expense in getting the initial design, then getting it redesigned as well as making and sending out the tester cups.
Other cup brands have changed their designs and silicone formulas to better suit customers preferences after they have been out on the market for a while.
So some existing cup companies put a lot of time and money into producing their brand of cup. If another company comes along, buys one of their cups, takes a mold of it and starts making a new cup that is an exact copy or close enough to it – Not exactly fair is it?
Now, that sort of thing doesn’t bother some people… and to an extent, many of us use products that were once someone’s original design and are now being produced by others (jeans for example)…. But while commercial theft is common…. it doesn’t really make it right does it? The menstrual cup market is also fairly small, so stealing a design off a small company is often considered to be worse than someone stealing off a larger one…
To me there is a difference between taking “inspiration” from someone else, “copying” someones idea but adding your own changes to it, or completely making an exact replica. I think the first 2 are acceptable, but I don’t like to condone the latter.
For example, Miacup had a very similar shape to the Mooncup and Keeper, but they changed the stem design to a flat tab and made their silicone opaque. The cups with the hearts or moons on the stems (like the one I bought to review) – those have a body shape exactly the same as the Lunette, again they changed the stem and made it opaque. So they have added their own unique elements to the design and not made a complete copy. Unlike “Aneer” and those other cups, which appear to be a copy of the Lunette design without making any significant changes to make it their own design.
Also if you consider the working conditions…. While I’m sure a lot of the process is done by machine, there will still be some hands-on work needed, and if cups are selling for as low as 50c each, how likely is it that the factory employees are making a decent wage? Other than the humanitarian issues of that (Supporting “sweatshops” and “Slave” labour) … if you have employees who don’t get paid much, quality sometimes suffers. While there is no guarantee that a brand whose cups are more expensive is paying their staff well either (some of the large well known brands have their cups made in China too), if they are charging more for the cups, then they likely have more money to be able to spend on employee wages.
— Just some things to think about.