Menstrual Cups

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.

aneer_foodgrade

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.

dreamloverCertificate dreamloverCertificate2

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:
care_test1

They show certificates…

care_test2

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:

Eg:
6 infants killed, 54,000 being hospitalised – after being fed infant formula that had melamine (which is basically plastic) added to it (on purpose)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chinese_milk_scandal

Ongoing use of lead paint and toxic chemicals in childrens toys
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/One-third-of-Chinese-toys…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_export_recalls

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.

 

 Ethical issues

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.

Advertisements

July 23, 2014 - Posted by | news, The Cups

13 Comments »

  1. Just to make a quick correction (well, you didn’t say this, but it could be implied if some people take it that way)–the Rainbow is not a knockoff of any other cup on the market. It’s a unique design and just as well made as any of the other cups I’ve owned. For someone with a high-ish cervix (length with stem on both sizes is 70mm) who is good at popping open soft cups, it’s a great option.

    I am not familiar with the others in that I’ve never purchased them–but ouch, I imagine the little moon decoration on that one cheap cup’s stem would be quite pokey! I am also rather seriously considering an iCare simply due to the 85mm total length, for those times when my Si-Bell and Rainbow drift just out of reach…

    Comment by MC community member | November 23, 2014

  2. Hi all, I wonder if we consumers could consider altering our perspective? Rather than referring to unnamed and unbranded cups as ‘cheap’, why not call the named and branded ones ‘expensive’. I am talking about the cups that retail in stores for $30-50 USD. To me, it is far more unconscionable to put products on the market that sell for extremely high prices (relative to the business investment), thereby discouraging women from making the switch to support the environment. I understand that women in developing countries are now being offered cups by NGOs because they can’t afford pads and tampons. Whilst I applaud this, I’m pretty confident they would not be getting the top of the range product. Let’s remember that vac form silicon is not that expensive to produce. There’s more silicon in a mask and snorkel set and they sell for a fraction of the cost. We should not feel guilty about not supporting a product that has been copyrighted via a patent. Seeds get patented, then flood the markets (extremely unethical in my mind). The moon cup, in its various forms has been around since the 1930s, albeit initially in rubber. I’ve just tried the Aneer Moon Cup (took a gamble with a ‘cheap cup’). It feels fine, I feel great and I don’t feel one ounce of guilt about its source.

    Comment by Nat | February 10, 2015

  3. We are all entitled to our opinions….

    “cheap” is a comparative word, and compared to the majority of actual branded cups, the cups I’m referring to here are “cheap”. Cheapness is not necessarily an indication that the product is bad, it is merely an observation on the price.

    However I would like to point out that silicone in a snorkel set is NOT the same as the silicone used in a menstrual cup. There are lots of different types of silicone, and high quality “Medical Grade” silicone is much more expensive than the silicone you would see used in other products. So this accounts for some of the price.

    There are a lot of other expenses related to being in business properly, that mean that products made by those companies who are trading with these expenses need to be priced high enough to cover the running costs of the business. It is not a simple case of working out how much an items costs to produce, adding a couple of dollars and selling them. When you are in business (and I can speak from experience here) you need to make sure that all your running costs are more than covered with the sales of your products, so you need to price them in a way that makes your business earn you money after all expenses are paid.

    Running costs that these “cheap” no-name brands of cups aren’t necessarily paying for. Which is why they can offer much lower prices. This includes but is not limited to, things like domain name registration, website hosting fees, business name registration, trademark registration, business insurance, paying for staff, paying for the “time” spent on customer relations (answering website/social media/email), advertising and promotional expenses, packaging, research and development, attending trade shows….

    A company who has gone to the effort of setting up a “proper” business, with a website for information and staff to help answer questions, and charges a more “expensive” price for their products, is more likely to also have invested in using high quality silicone. A company who has no website, no brand name, only sells on ebay/aliexpress, offers no customer service and sells for prices under $5 per cup – I do seriously doubt are using as high a quality silicone as the more expensive brands…. and that is the major concern. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have a fancy website or anything, but it is harder to be sure that a cup is made from good quality silicone when they haven’t bothered to set themselves up with a website or anything.

    One telltale sign of this is the odd smelling cheap cups (not all of them smell, but several people have reported some cups have this smell and I have experienced it myself in a cheap cup bought off ebay). A proper medical grade silicone should not have a nasty “plastic” chemical smell to it.

    Another thing to consider is that some of the cup brands have paid to be registered with the FDA and other regulatory bodies, which costs THOUSANDS of dollars – per year – so a portion of each cup sold needs to go towards expenses like that too.

    — However…. there is also the issue of the fact that some of the cheap cups are being bought in bulk and re-sold as another brand. There are a few brands who are priced in the $20-$30 per cup range, who I strongly suspect are reselling cups they bought for only a few dollars each, and pretending they are their own brand. Now this I really do not agree with! because it misleading to customers.

    You mention cups being donated to women in developing countries – I know that Juju donated a thousand cups to Days for Girls in one shipment. Several other cup brands donate cups. I doubt very much that they would make donated cups from substandard materials – they likely don’t include the fancy packaging, but I am sure the cups themselves are the same as the ones sold to regular customers. Charging the prices these companies do for their cups, allows them to make these donations.

    As far as the trademark/patent thing is concerned – Some people feel very strongly about not supporting companies who are making copies of an established brand (not wanting to support theft of intellectual property). So it’s not about avoiding brands who haven’t trademarked their designs, it’s about some people wanting to avoid brands that have breached someone elses trademark/patent/design.

    Comment by obsidian | February 12, 2015

  4. I have been tempted to try out cheap cups. But I really don’t want to risk it. I hate how expensive cups are but I don’t want to stick something sketchy up me.

    Comment by Becky M | February 18, 2015

  5. I personally would not go for one of the cups retailing for less than $5. But that’s just me….

    People often buy and like these cheap cups, so there is that…

    I’m not saying that cheap cups are made from poisonous materials, but read the listings, if it looks a bit “dodgy” buy from someone else.

    Comment by obsidian | February 20, 2015

  6. ok, the “expensive” cups are pricey initially, but when you consider that they will last you 10 years and possibly more, I think they’re quite affordable in comparison to other menstrual products. I think it’s worth paying the higher price with assurance of quality and some standard of business practices. Over the course of 10 years, it’s less than 30 cents a month for a $40 cup. A box of tampons or pads is easily over ten times the cost and puts needless waste into the landfill.

    Comment by V | March 31, 2015

  7. I actually ordered a large number of cheap cups – I am one of those people who forgets to take my cup with me at the worst times, and am also one of those “crazy preppers” that wants to be prepared for anything. So I have two Diva cups that I absolutely LOVE and use regularly (I got the second one when I forgot my first one on a weekend trip and they live in each bathroom), and now 6 or 7 of these dirt cheap ones. One in a purse, one in each prepper bag, one at the parents house…. I figure the likelihood of needing them at each of these places is small, but I don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars on buying nice ones for backup.

    I spent some time reading about each of the cheapest ones, and ended up going for a Diva Cup lookalike (different stem, different density, but similar cup shape which is what I cared about) that isn’t bad feeling, and doesn’t smell bad. I think it was the right decision for ME, although it isn’t right for everyone. With how forgetful I am, I actually had my last remaining tampons from years ago spread out among all these places before, and I’d rather have a slightly sketchy cup as backup than tampons that itch and leak and don’t work for very long. (That said, I do remember my cup 90% of the time, I just only seem to start that 10% I forget it).

    Just my two cents! Thanks for this article and your previous review of the cheap purple cup, it was actually a big help for me in my decision making process.

    Comment by Amanda A. (@quackduck314) | August 27, 2015

  8. For the recoord . … I tried one of these cheap cups I boiled it before use and I now have vaginitis for the first time in my life, extremely painful and humiliating. Spend the extra money and buy a good brand don’t gamble with your health. I now have to wait 3 days to get test results to find out which bacteria has caused this 😦 😦 😦

    Comment by Anon | January 7, 2016

  9. Anon, did your results indicate anything specific? Just concerned and wondering.

    Comment by Nathi | March 17, 2016

  10. here’s another opinion and personal experience in case anyone finds it helpful. I’m all about saving money and initially thought it was a little obnoxious when people would discourage others from buying knock off cups..i figured how expensive is silicone when it’s mass produced? it’s not like it’s gold…they’re probably all the same. Until i tried 3 different knock offs, all from amazon, not even alibaba or ebay, one of which was slightly more expensive (just under 20) and clear. they smell different and they feel different, i had a light burning sensation when i wore them. i know this doesnt happen to everyone, but that’s a signal for me that something is off, and i would really prefer to not be thinking of that when there’s a cup inside of me. i then bought a lunette, and i can tell the difference. no burning, it feels different, and smells different, and is tga approved. i will NEVER use another cup not approved by the TGA. I live in the USA, but Australia’s TGA only approve a handful and they have the strictest safety standards. Although lots of companies are claiming fda approval and clearance the fda no longer requires registration for cups and doesnt do ANY testing, so it never meant anything.

    remember a few things: even clear cups can have additives, anyone can claim “100% medical grade silicone” if they feel like it, we really dont know what may be in a cup that the vagina can absorb and what harmful effects it can have…i’mpersonally tired of hearing comments about how bad disposables are and how we shouldnt worry about menstrual cups…i’m not defending disposables, but the chemicals in those dont make me feel less careful with reusables.

    that’s my 2 cents. if the initial price feels steep, maybe buy knockoffs to test what shape/size you like? I’m not judging anyone, and obviously dont benefit if people buy expensive cups… but i just share this all because i used to be critical of the “get an expensive cup” bandwagon, until i tried the cheapies myself.

    Comment by Mona112 | March 19, 2016

  11. Ya’ll mentioned perspective, well think about THIS perspective: Most, if not all of these cheap cups are made in China. China has one of the worst cases of bad environmental practices. The Yangtze River is beyond filthy from all the chemicals they dump into it, and in Beijing, the people have to walk around with face masks on because the air has gotten SO bad. When you buy a made in China cup, you are supporting this over the top behavior. Based on the research I’ve done, most women who are into cups, use them primarily for the sake of the environment. Same of most companies. It’s not the primary reason I use cups, but I can respect it. I do it so my special needs daughter won’t have disgusting things to play with and chew on in the trash when I turn my head for just a moment. It’s for her. And my oldest is still figuring out her period and therefore goes thru way too many pads, so I’m attempting to cut down on the waste.

    Also, doesn’t it seem just a bit hypocritical to anyone else that these companies flaunt the environmental factor without a thought of all the fuel needed to shop their product worldwide, or for all the plastics they ship with their products that just get thrown away? I have received a handful of cups shipped with a lot of plastic wrapping in some form or fashion.

    Comment by Tj | June 21, 2016

  12. I will just say that some of the well respected and reputable (for want of a better term) brands are also manufactured in China…. so it’s not just the cheap knockoffs that are, and not all Chinese factories or manufacturing practices are unsafe.

    Also if you buy anything from China you’re contributing to the problem, not just cups….. however it is almost impossible to completely remove Chinese manufactured items in everyday life.

    But, I do agree that when you’re looking to lessen an environmental impact, buying close to home and supporting companies who have more ethical (and that is both to the environment and to the workers) business practices is what you should be doing.

    Comment by obsidian | July 15, 2016

  13. I would personally never want to use one of these Chinese knockoff cups due to concerns about their safety. Don’t buy any shady cup, regardless of price, as was mentioned, “rebranding” happens and those cups aren’t any safer just because they cost more and have a fancy name or package! China is not known for making good quality materials, good working conditions, or good environmental practices. In fact they’re known for purposefully poisoning babies just to cut formula manufacturing costs (after lying and marketing formula as “better for babies than breast-milk” (pretty much never true!) to trick them into buying it in the first place because they wanted their babies to be as healthy as possible, what a cruel joke), paying their employees so little it’s pretty much slave labor, having the worst quality items over any other country in the world(!), and actually actively poisoning their citizens because their environmental practices are so bad.

    If you’re actually so cheap that none of these facts deter you, I’d still urge you to consider making your own reusable pads instead. Those can be made pretty cheaply and aren’t going to poison you from the inside out. Quality menstrual cups also go on sale from time to time so keep an eye out for that, too. Just because they’re pricey doesn’t mean they’re trying to rip you off, they’re trying to provide a safe, long-lasting product that’s been tested to assure said safety and longevity while still affording to run and manufacture these products.

    Comment by Jaimie B | December 22, 2016


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: