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Menstrual Cups 101

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Get the facts. 

By Lauryn Lax

You know the story all too well: That time of the month hits and you resort to rummaging in your purse every four to six hours, urgently searching for another tampon or pad. Or worse, you’ve started your period and are not prepared. You start counting down the days until you’re free from having to deal with the cramps, cravings, heightened emotions, messy tampons and soggy pads.

Enter menstrual cups, a reusable alternative to pads and tampons that can withstand eight to 12 hours of your flow before requiring a reset. A menstrual cup is a piece of plastic, latex or rubber shaped like a bell or cone that is placed in the vagina and catches period flow before it even reaches a pad.

Pros

It’s a potential money saver: According to some experts, the average woman spends $7 to $10 every month on tampons or pads (about 240 tampons each year), and more than $1,700 throughout her lifetime (about 450 cycles) to keep her period in control. With a menstrual cup, women make a one-time investment of $20 to $40 for something that can last as long as 10 years, though some require replacement annually.

They are eco-friendly: One menstrual cup can do the job of as many as 1,625 tampons. This is a no-brainer when considering the waste we create with disposable period products. In fact, it’s estimated that every year, more than 45 billion period-related products are thrown into the garbage. Tampons make up a large part of that weight. For instance, the Ocean Conservancy claims it collected 27,938 used tampons and applicators from beaches throughout the world in a single day in 2015.

They are less toxic for your health: Menstrual cups are typically allergen-free and made from a special medical-grade hypoallergenic silicone, while tampons and pads can be made of a variety of materials, including:

• phthalates

• surfactants, adhesives and additives

• polyethylene plastic

• dioxin (a carcinogen and a byproduct of bleaching)

• synthetic fiber rayon (linked to toxic shock syndrome)

• chlorine

• fragrances

Cons

They can be messy: The primary disadvantage women note about menstrual cups is that emptying the cup can be messy. However, with a little practice, most women can work out a suitable technique and quickly get over the “gross factor.”

There’s a learning curve: Learning to insert and remove the cup takes a few trials, just like learning how to use a tampon for the first time.

Maintenance can be tricky: After each cycle, it’s recommended women sterilize the cup using boiling water or a sterilizing solution like the kind used for baby bottles.

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