If you are a woman, chances are that you have experienced the frustration of having to change your tampon every few hours. It’s not unusual for people to feel this way because it can be uncomfortable and messy.
The good news is that there is an alternative to tampons: menstrual cups! Menstrual cups don’t need changing as often as tampons do, they offer more protection than tampons or pads, and some women say they even help them with cramps.
Is it time for a change?
For all these reasons, many women are making the switch from using disposable feminine hygiene products like pads and tampons to reusable ones like menstrual cups—and we’re here to tell you why!
In this article, we will talk about the differences between tampons and menstrual cups which are safe to use. We’ll discuss their pros and cons, as well as some things to consider when deciding which one is best for you!
What are tampons and menstrual cups?
Tampons and menstrual cups are both period products that are worn internally, they are an intrauterine device for menstrual management. While tampons absorb menstrual flow, menstrual cups collect it.
However, menstrual cups collect fluid (rather than absorb it) Cups hold about 30 ml of liquid while the average tampon absorbs only around a teaspoon (5ml) of blood.
Both products can be used during activities such as swimming. Tampons must always be changed every few hours but menstrual cups can be left in for up to 12 hours. For middle income countries tampon usage is much higher.
A menstrual cup works by catching the blood, whereas tampons absorb it. Most menstrual cups are silicone cups, and this flexible cup can be a life saver if you have heavy menstrual periods.
How do tampons work
- Tampons are small, cotton-filled pads that you insert for menstrual blood absorption.
- They’re available in both disposable and reusable varieties (the latter being more eco friendly).
- They usually have a string attached to one end that aids in removing the tampon when it’s time to change it.
- They are made from bleached cotton and range from super absorbent tampon to mild flow.
- Like most sanitary products these attract vat at 5% in the UK.
How does a Reusable Menstrual cup work?
Reusable Menstrual cups are small containers made from flexible medical-grade silicone or latex rubber that you fold and insert. They create a tight seal against the tract walls to prevent any leakage, and collect menstrual fluid rather than absorb it as tampons do.
You remove them when you’re ready to change them by pinching the base of the cup between two fingers and pulling gently until you can reach in far enough to pull out the cup. The flexible cup is held between the walls of your reproductive tract in a vacuum seal and unlike tampons don’t irritate a sensitive bladder.
You can combine it with period underwear (see our period pants) for extra security overnight. They come in two sizes, large if you have given birth naturally, and small if not. You clean and sterilise by putting them in boiling water.
There is a bit of a learning curve to using them though they do produce much less waste (in fact they are zero waste!).
Pros and cons of using tampons
- Tampons are easy to find wherever you shop for personal hygiene items, which makes them convenient to purchase when needed.
- Menstrual fluid is absorbed by the tampon instead of sitting high in the tract, which some people find more comfortable.
- The average woman will use up to 16,120 tampons over a lifetime. The average cost (at the time of writing this article) was 20 Tampax for £1.90. Ignoring inflation costs, that’s roughly £1500 per menstruating woman spent on disposable tampons over their lifetime.
- Over 52% of UK women flush tampons, and they are not flushable! This leads to plumbing problems, fatbergs and tampons being washed out into rivers and seas, causing devastation to marine and wildlife.
- Tampons are disposable and contribute to landfill waste. Whilst tampons themselves can biodegrade as they are made from cotton, there are huge issues with plastic tampon applicators and disposable pads which will stay around for hundreds of years.
- There is a risk that they can get lost inside you (although this isn’t common). If left in for too long, there’s an increased chance that bacteria could build up inside, which can cause toxic shock syndrome.
- Tampon use has been linked to an increased risk of contracting pelvic inflammatory disease and cervical cancer.
- The string attached to one end may be uncomfortable for some people and also difficult to keep clean during your period.
- Using tampons means you’ll need to spend more time in a public restroom during your period because you have to change them more frequently. Tampons on average need to be changed every 2-4 hours.
- Because tampons ‘absorb’ they can often leave the vagina feeling very dry and many women report that this makes their menstrual cramps a lot worse.
- You have to carry the tampons into public restrooms using a bag or a pocket, which may be embarrassing depending don’t the situation.
- For heavy periods, a tampon alone may not be enough and you will have to combine it with sanitary napkins.
- You need to buy different sizes for your different flow days.
- Some people often get the tampon lost, which results in an embarrassing trip to A&E for removal.
- Leakage – Three studies compared menstrual cups with tampons, and the results showed that the menstrual cup had slightly fewer leakage issues and lower leakage rates.
Pros and cons of using menstrual cups
- Reusable Menstrual Cups are cheaper than disposable tampons over time, costing roughly £40 in total. They cost between £14-20 each and each one with proper care they can last for up to ten years. That’s a saving of £1500 compared to using tampons! With period poverty such a major issue worldwide right now, they are the ideal answer to help solve it. Indeed Ruby Cup, one of the brands we stock, offer a free menstrual cup for every one purchased to help end period poverty.
- They are environmentally friendly because they don’t contribute to landfill waste, and can help reduce your carbon footprint on the earth! Menstrual cups have a smaller environmental impact than tampons because they last for about 10 years.
- Using a menstrual cup means you won’t need to spend as much time in public bathrooms during your period because of fewer changes. You also don’t need to carry anything into the toilet with you.
- Depending on your menstrual flow, you can leave them in for up to 12 hours without needing to change them. Whilst some people right use reusable sanitary pads alongside them at night as a backup, really once you get used to them you don’t need to do this.
- They can be worn overnight and for up to 12 hours without needing to change them. This means you won’t need to wake in the night or at all during your period!
- Menstrual cup users report pain-free periods thanks to their menstrual cups because they do not absorb all fluids like tampons do which can dry out the intimate area.
- Some people find the idea of touching their menstrual fluid unappealing or disgusting, but this is just one way that reusable menstrual cups are more hygienic than disposable tampon use. You just need to empty the contents into the toilet, then wipe clean with toilet paper and reinsert.
- Some people find that their periods become shorter and lighter when they use them! They work out to be much more cost effective and they don’t have the ick factor.
- Ideal for heavy flow days without panicking about leaking.
Menstrual Cup Cons
- Some people find it difficult to insert and remove them at first. You need to insert with your finger, with the cup in a C-shape and then rotate it to open.
- It can be difficult to get used to inserting them correctly at first so they may take some time getting used to if you have never tried one before.
- They are more expensive than tampons with most menstrual cups costing between £14-20 each but this is a once-off purchase, it will last 10 years.
- Menstrual cups are bigger than tampons, which means some people find them uncomfortable to use and feel a little discomfort when they wear them at first.
- You need to sterilise them after every period, ready for the next one. This can be done by putting in a menstrual cup holder and popping it in the microwave.
- In a public bathroom you can’t easily rinse them out.
What’s best for heavy menstrual flow?
Without a doubt a period cup is better for heavy flow, holding about 5-6 times more menstrual fluid than a tampon.
What’s Best for Intimate infections
Generally speaking, menstrual cups are better. This is because tampons absorb all your fluids, which can dry out the area and lead to bacterial overgrowth.
If you’re dealing with a yeast infection or other type of Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), it’s best to use cups or sanitary pads instead of tampons.
The best menstrual cup is the one which fits you the best and most cups do take a little getting used to but once they are full you just release the suction and gently pull them out. When your period begins its easier to use a cup over a regular tampon.
These are the best period products for overnight protection.
Tampons can also cause irritation, which is another reason why menstrual cups are better.
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome or TSS is a rare complication of certain types of bacterial infections. These include the staphylococcus Aureus bacterium and streptococcal bacteria, which can cause TSS in some women who are using tampons.
While it’s very rare, the risk of contracting TSS is higher with tampon use than menstrual cup usage. For more information on health and other safety issues check out the NHS website.
It is possible to get toxic shock syndrome if you use a menstrual cup but it is very rare with only one confirmed case according to The Lancet, which followed after leaving a cup in for over 18 hours.
What’s best for dryness?
Menstrual cups are better because they don’t cause the same levels of irritation and dehydration that tampons do. In fact, some women report experiencing less dryness when using cups.
Which one should you buy?
When it comes to deciding which menstrual products to you, this is a very personal question. Both tampons and menstrual cup have their pros & cons, and it really depends on what matters most to you and what your prefer in your body!
If you’re looking for a more environmentally-friendly alternative or want to try something different with less risk of dryness, yeast infections etc. then go ahead and try a menstrual cup!
If you prefer the idea of tampons then make sure you use ones without plastic applicators and opt for organic cotton as well. Other menstrual products you might consider include are reusable sanitary pads or period pants or underwear.