It’s been estimated that a woman will use between eleven to sixteen thousand tampons during her life and that roughly 86% of women in the United States use them. But, do we really know what they’re made of?
Similar to cosmetics that we use on delicate areas of our face, as it stands today there are no requirements for manufacturers to tell you what’s in a tampon. While New York recently passed a bill that would require labeling on menstrual products that list the ingredients so women can avoid toxic exposure—this is an issue that affects all women everywhere.
I have been watching the market as several alternative options to traditional feminine products have been made available over the last few years. But there have been a few a-ha moments on my end recently that finally pushed me into action.
Besides the exorbitant amount of money that I have spent on cotton products over the last thirty-two years of me having my cycle, I recently learned that tampons are loaded with dioxin, pesticides, fragrances, and micro-plastics, which accumulate in our bodies over time and lead to a variety of health risks including hormone disruption, increased mercury levels, and some studies suggest that they even increase the risk of cancer.
The other compelling factor in my decision process was environmentally motivated. It’s estimated that roughly 45 billion single-use sanitary products end up in landfills each year and that traditional tampons (not ‘green’ tampons) take anywhere from 500-800 years to disintegrate due to added plastics. To put some perspective on that statistic, the United States is 243 years old, which means that tampons can outlive the time our country has been in existence three plus times over.
The first alternative that caught my eye was Hello Cup because they claim that they are the most comfortable menstrual cup on the market. The first month I gave it a go, I was still sort of on the fence because like all new things—there is a learning curve. But after using it for several months now, I have to say that I love it and that I will never look back.
Based in New Zealand, Hello Cup was founded in 2017 by Robyn McLean and Mary Bond, who have been best friends since the age of eleven. Prior to launching Hello Cup Bond was a nurse and McLean was a journalist and publicist.
“We’d always talked about going into business together but never really had the ‘light bulb’ idea that suited both our skills,” states Bond, who has worked as a neo-natal, palliative, and intensive care nurse. “Dividing up the roles came relatively easily. I essentially run the logistics team and Robyn is in charge of marketing. From the outset we wanted Hello Cup to be the best menstrual cup on the planet but at the same time we wanted it to be a fun and kind business.”
The pair self-funded the launch with a modest $30,000 and were off to the races. “We started Hello Cup after looking for a quality cup that was comfortable and reliable,” McLean tells me. After trying another brand’s menstrual cup and finding it ‘life changing’ she never wanted to go back to using tampons. While the cup changed her life, McLean could still feel it when in use. “I wanted to find a more comfortable cup and when I came up short, I called Mary and said that we needed to design the world’s most comfortable menstrual cup!”
With both women having teenage daughters, they agreed that menstrual cups were the way of the future but being comfortable and high quality needed to be top priorities. McLean continues, “In 2017 hardly anyone had heard of menstrual cups. We wanted to make them mainstream, but also cool. With Mary’s medical knowledge combined with my marketing and journalism background, it seemed to be the perfect combo. Above and beyond making the cup comfortable we also wanted to start a conversation around why cups were an amazing period option in a fun and engaging way.”
One of the many consistent comments the Hello Cup team gets about their cup compared to others on the market is the design. “Most of our customers tell us they can’t feel their Hello Cup when it’s inside, which we take as a win, explains McLean. A common complaint with some of the brand offerings out there is that some women have complained about pressure on their bladder, which makes them feel like they need to urinate. “Another common complaint was that the stems could be sharp and uncomfortable. Armed with those issues in mind, we made the ‘rim’ of Hello Cups internal so that main point of pressure was removed.”
Hello Cup also incorporates a shorter, rounder stem in the cup design, which they refer to as a ‘toggle.’ McLean continues, “It’s a small tweak that can make the world of difference to the user’s comfort. We also wanted a relatively firm material that would allow the cup to withstand vaginal muscles. Sometimes softer cups leak because they collapse under pressure. No one wants a leaking cup!”
The pair landed on a medical grade thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) as the material of choice for Hello Cup. Many of the other cups available are made of silicone and some people have sensitivities to silicone or even allergies.
“Our TPE is medical grade and top of the line. It’s the same material used in catheters and IV lines,” explains Bond. TPE is also hypoallergenic. “The material is also really comfortable to wear because when it warms, it conforms to the shape of the body. Another bonus of TPE is that it is recyclable, which we currently do at our factory in Napier, New Zealand. We are developing a ‘send-back program’ that will incentivise our customers to return their cups at the end of their lifespan.”
The founders assure me that despite being a plastic that the Hello Cup is safe for internal use. Bond tells me, “Hello Cups are completely safe. The material is fully certified and, unlike tampons, will not dry the vagina out so the pH balance remains stable and unaffected. There’s currently no mandatory labeling requirements on sanitary products and so many people have no idea that many tampons and pads have been bleached and contain micro-plastics, which is why they can take up to 500 years to breakdown in landfills.”
For those of you who have been sitting on the sidelines (like I was) wondering if a menstrual cup is a good option or not, I ask the women if they have any compelling reasons that women should make the switch? “For me personally, there are two reasons,” responds McLean. “They hold around three times more than tampons and a single cup will last at least five years so not only are you saving money, but your environmental impact is reduced massively. You can sleep, swim, run marathons and binge watch Netflix while using a Hello Cup—so they give you period freedom!”
While Hello Cups are a great option for most women with a menstrual cycle and can be used as soon as menstruation begins, they do take a little practice (just like using a tampon for the first time) and there are certain cases where the cup may not be a good fit. “Those with a low cervix might find cups harder to use, although we are currently developing a low cervix cup that will help with that,” explains Bond. Women with vaginismus, a muscle spasm of the pelvic floor muscles can make inserting a cup into the vagina uncomfortable or even painful. “
Bond continues, “Also, in instances where there has been trauma such as female genital mutilation or sexual abuse, an internal period product such as a tampon or menstrual cup is not an acceptable option. In saying that, at The Hello Cup we have created an incredibly kind and supportive customer care team that work closely with those wanting a more sustainable period option but need more information and TLC to make the change to a menstrual cup.”
One of the questions I had about using the cup was whether or not it would stretch out the vagina over time? “Although menstrual cups are wider than tampons, they absolutely won’t stretch out the vagina,” Bond tells me. “The wonder of the vaginal walls are that they expand to accommodate the cup, but then return to their relaxed state when the cup is removed. The vaginal walls are made up of mucosal and muscle tissues with many small folds along the surface. In fact, when those muscles hold the menstrual cup in place they are actually working to tone them much like Kegel exercises!”
Hello Cup just launched their latest product, Hello Cup Black to offer a product for those who don’t identify as a female, yet still have a menstrual cycle. “The fact that the black cups come in a black box and aren’t overly feminized like a lot of period products has been huge for them and we are so thrilled Hello Cup is an inclusive brand,” explains McLean. “As a company we have made a commitment to talk about ‘people with periods’ rather than ‘women’ with periods to be as inclusive as possible. Kindness and compassion as well as a good sense of humor are the basis of everything we do.”
As the ladies would say, the cup is ‘bloody brilliant’ and I couldn’t agree more.