Menstrual Cups

Why (I believe) you shouldn’t buy “Chinese Cheapies”

Everyone wants a bargain, not everyone has cash to spare  – I’m quite budget conscious myself.  I get it.  But sometimes paying a bit extra is worth it.

There are a LOT of places selling really cheap cups.  As in under $2 “cheap”.  Other brands can cost $40 or more.  For that kind of price, who wouldn’t want to spend just $2 compared to paying 20x that price!

But cheap isn’t always best.  There are a few things to consider –

1) Is the cup design a good one for you?

2) Is the material safe?

3) Do you want to support a good brand or support a dodgy one?

The thing is, a menstrual cup is really an investment.  A menstrual cup should last around 10 years.  So you’re talking about the more expensive menstrual cups costing about $4 PER YEAR or less, tampons would cost you more than that per month.  Even the most expensive cup is a MASSIVE saving on using tampons. I don’t know about you, but I consider my vagina is worth more than $4 a year to keep happy and healthy. I don’t want to be shoving anything up there for long periods of time unless I’m fairly confident that there will be no long-term side effects of that.  Cervical cancer is something I’d like to avoid and IMHO putting something of unknown and potentially dodgy composition up close to your cervix for 12 hours a day may not be a sensible idea.

At the end of the day, buy what you want – but I want to make sure people are aware of what they are buying and thinking about factors other than the price.  If you’re buying to donate to impoverished women, or buying for a friend – consider their vaginal health too.

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So…. This is why I don’t recommend people buy “Chinese Cheapies” ….  or if they do, at least buy from the manufacturer so you’re not being ripped off by a rebranding as well.

For want of better terms, to highlight the differences I’ll refer to the 3 types of cup (in terms of pricing) as:   “Legitimate” , “Rebrandings” and “Cheapies”.

  • Legitimate” – By this I mean that these brands have developed their own cup design shape through research and development, they have had their own manufacturing molds made.  Many have gone through the processes to get FDA and equivalent registration.  They have websites and staff so that you can email and ask questions.  Some donate cups to charity and do advertising to help spread the word about cups (in general as well as their brand)  You’ll pay around $30-$40 (USD) for these.
  • Cheapies” – These appear be sold by the Chinese companies who own the factories they are made in.  It appears that many factories are sharing the same (or very similar) designs.  They haven’t gone through the same development process the “legitimate” cups have, and they don’t have the support.  Often these are sent to customers as just a cup, without even basic instructions.  Where the listings include instructional images, often these have been taken from legitimate sites.  Usually you can find these available in bulk (more than 100 pieces) for as little as 50c each, or sold individually for under $2 each.
  • Rebrandings” – These are when a business buys the “Cheapies” and then sells them to their customers under their brand name (See my page on rebrandings).  You’ll pay around $10-$20 (USD) for these.   So for example I could buy “Cheapies” for 50c each, have boxes made with my artwork and sell the cups in my boxes calling them “The Fantabulous ObsiCup” and charge $20 each for them.  The problem for customers is that with a $20 price tag instead of a $2 one, how do you know that you’re actually buying a 50c menstrual cup I bought wholesale and put in a new box, or a cup I’d spent years developing and testing and having manufactured especially for me?  Unless you noticed it looks the same cup design as 20 other cups!

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“Cheapies” (and thus rebrandings too) have some concerning aspects:

  • Often resold for much higher prices than you can buy direct from the manufacturer
  • Usually very soft (can be tricky for some users due to difficulty opening up)
  • May be “food grade” silicone instead of medical grade (which is not safe for prolonged skin contact)
  • May not have been cured properly to reduce offgassing of volatiles (see below)
  • Contribute to poor pay conditions for factory workers

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So what’s the difference really?

The truth is that we don’t know.

Will a “Cheapie” work the same way a “legitimate” cup will – yes, functionally they are the same.  Are they made from the same high quality ingredients? – That is the unknown.

Some of the cheaper price will be because the are selling direct to the public, without fancy packaging or brand names. No middle man.  But the concern is that due to the nature of manufacturing in China, quality standards are not always as high (or adhered to) as they should be. (Lead paint in toys for example)

Now I will point out that some of the “Legitimate” brands do have their cups made in China too, so being made in China does not necessarily mean a cup is poor quality.  But the real issue here is the price. Generally speaking when prices are very low, so are quality standards.  At the very least you also have to ask yourself how much are workers at these factories getting paid when the cups are selling for as low as 50c each?  While much of factory production these days is automated, if you look at the few images we have that show how cups are made, it seems that the production may be smaller scale and more labour intensive than you’d expect.  I’ve also heard rumours that cups are produced in the factories at night after the production of the normal products has stopped.

The actual cup you get might be the same as a “legitimate” brand, but the “Cheapies” may be inferior.  You can’t tell the difference just by looking between a pure medical grade silicone and a silicone that has fillers and other things added to it.  You also can’t tell the difference between a food-grade silicone and a medical-grade silicone just by looking at it.

Early on when these “Cheapies” started coming out, many of the listings for them said they were made with food-grade silicone.  When places like this blog started to show that, these same listings then got reworded to say medical-grade.  Changing the words on a listing is easy – but does it reflect what the cups are actually made from?   Food-grade silicone is tested to make sure it isn’t toxic for use with food, but it isn’t tested to make sure it is “bio-compatible”.  That means that it’s not tested to see if it is safe to have against your skin (delicate vaginal skin).  Does this mean that these “Cheapies” are not medical grade silicone?  I don’t know.  But I find it suspicious that they would list them as being food-grade if they were the higher standard medical grade, and you can still see the phrasing “food or medical grade” being stated in listings for bulk cups, which implies they could make both types.  Given there are often untruthful or misleading elements to many of these listings – I personally would be cautious trusting them.

They often claim they are FDA approved and use the FDA logo to imply approval – but no menstrual cups are ever “Approved” as they are not a class of medical device that can be “approved” (but they do need to be “registered” and many of these manufacturers are not registered for making menstrual cups). When the AliExpress listings show safety certificates I’ve yet to see one that actually belongs to the company who is selling the cups, nor certificates for the product they are selling!  And I’ve also yet to see one that shows the product is medical-grade silicone or any bio-compatibility testing – they usually just show food safety.   So those certificates not only don’t mean anything at all, but also show that there obviously is no correct safety certificates available for that product from that company!  That’s a massive alarm bell.

One very interesting thing is that it appears the majority of the “Cheapies” are very soft silicone.  I don’t know if that is because they think that is what the market wants, but it is cheaper to manufacture a softer cup if you add fillers in there to make a softer silicone.  If they do add fillers, are these safe?  MeLuna’s soft cup was not able to pass FDA registration because it was considered too soft (to pass their long-term durability test).  So when “Cheapies” that are very soft are claiming to be made from FDA approved silicone, I have to wonder if that is true.  Although again, silicone for food applications is not regulated the same way as silicone for skin-contact applications!  Their silicone might be FDA approved for use in food applications, that does not mean the menstrual cups are made from medical grade silicone.

This article by Casco Bay Molding explains the process of curing menstrual cups to properly remove “volatiles”.  If this is not done properly, then the cups may not be as safe.  Some “Cheapies” have a very plastic smell to them, which a proper medical grade silicone should not have. Could this smell be these “volatiles”? (I don’t know)

Some of the “Cheapies” go white when stretched – which a pure medical-grade silicone should not do.

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So there are a lot of concerning aspects of these “Cheap” cups.  They might be perfectly fine and safe to use, but they might not be.

A lot of people buy them to try them out, because it is a cheap way to see if a cup is something they are prepared to use or not – which I can totally understand.  But if you try it and find that it’s difficult to get to open properly, or the stem is difficult to grip, you may think all cups are difficult to use, when it could be just that particular design.  Buying these “Cheapies” and worse the “rebrandings” is supporting this industry of cheap and rebranded cups, taking money away from the legitimate brands who are doing the right thing to make safe products.

If you really must buy cheap cups to test them out, I would advise not using them for long, and replacing them with a legitimate brand as soon as you can.

If you are concerned about wasting money by buying a legitimate cup and finding it doesn’t work for you, there is actually a good market (via menstrual cup groups online) for selling off unwanted used cups, so you would be likely to at least get some of your money back by selling the unwanted cups.

Keep your vaginas safe!

 

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July 14, 2017 - Posted by | Cup Related, news

2 Comments »

  1. Where’s the “LOVE” button for this?? I feel the exact same way as you about this. You mentioned after hour factories. I’ve also heard of factories allowing potential customers to visit ONE of their facilities but not the others. Of course this one would be their “front” to show how clean and organized they are. What the others look like? Who knows! They could be in a dirt basement or garage! I’ve seen a lot of images and videos (not cup related) about those too 😐 So disgusting!

    Comment by Red Herring | July 14, 2017

  2. Reblogged this on Menstrual Cups and commented:
    Again, I’m not here to tell you that you can or can’t use a “cheap” menstrual product. It’s up to YOU to be comfortable with what you’re willing to use or not use.
    This is an awesome read either way….

    Comment by Red Herring | July 14, 2017


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