Menstrual Cup Dangers: Is There Lead or Cadmium in My Menstrual Cup?

menstrual cup dangers - lead, cadmium and heavy metals in menstrual cups - woman holding a pink menstrual cup

Are menstrual cups dangerous? Are menstrual cups more or less dangerous than tampons?

Many women and people who menstruate have navigated away from pads and tampons in favor of reusable options like washable pads and menstrual cups. But are these choices actually better for you? What about the environment?

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Lead, Cadmium and other heavy metals in menstrual cups

Tamara, The Lead Safe Mama broke the news in February 2018 that your menstrual cup might contain trace levels of heavy metals.

If you aren't already familiar with her, Tamara Rubin (AKA Lead Safe Mama) is a documentary filmmaker (a preview of  MisLEAD: America's Secret Epidemic is currently available to watch on YouTube) and multi-award-winning lead poisoning prevention advocate.

One of the things she does to raise awareness of lead and heavy metals in consumer goods is test consumer goods with a precision scientific instrument that is able to detect the precise amount of heavy metals including lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic down to PPM (parts-per-million).

During a batch of consumer goods testing done in 2018, someone had asked her to test their LENA cup for lead.

While the results came back ND for lead (ND = Non-detect: meaning no lead was detected by the instrument), the test did detect trace amounts of a different heavy metal: cadmium.

This ended up opening a small flood gate of menstrual cup testing.

Which menstrual cups were tested for the presence of heavy metals?

After Tamara found trace levels of cadmium in two different menstrual cups from LENA, she was able to test several other menstrual cups.

She has since tested:

How were the menstrual cups tested?

The instrument that Tamara used to test the menstrual cups for the presence of heavy metals is a non-radioactive source XL3T x-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) from Thermo Fisher Scientific.

It tests for the precise amounts of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, etc contained in an item with accuracy in the single-digit parts-per-million (PPM). 

This instrument is the industry standard for consumer goods field testing and is what the Consumer Product Safety Commission uses to test for heavy metal contamination.

Tamara is a trained and certified XRF operator.

All cups were washed before testing.

Do LENA menstrual cups contain lead, cadmium or other heavy metals?

Tamara used the XRF to test two different LENA menstrual cups. For accuracy, she conducted multiple tests in different areas of the product for a minimum of 60 seconds.

Here are the results of the two LENA cups she tested with links showing the type of cups tested.
This pink LENA menstrual cup tested positive for cadmium at 22 PPM +/-7. The test did not detect any lead, arsenic, mercury, or other heavy metals.

This blue LENA menstrual cup tested positive for cadmium at 19 PPM +/-7. The test did not detect any lead, arsenic, mercury or other heavy metals.

Does the Diva Cup contain lead, cadmium or other heavy metals?

A week following the LENA cup tests, Tamara was able to test a used (but clean!) Diva Cup.

The cup she tested, tested positive for cadmium at 17 PPM +/-4. 

While this is slightly less cadmium than seen in the test results for the LENA cups, and lower than the strictest regulatory standards for toys (40 PPM for cadmium) - both Tamara and I are concerned that this much cadmium is present at all in an item intended to be inside your body for such an extended period of time - especially so close to such a vital feminine organ.

Up to that point, I had personally been a dedicated Diva Cup user for almost eight years and was pretty disappointed about these results.

Does the Luna Cup contain lead, cadmium or heavy metals?

The next cup Tamara tested was a Luna cup. 

This cup has tested for the lowest amount of toxicants out of all the cups tested so far with test results of 11 PPM cadmium +/-4 (non-detect for lead, arsenic or mercury). 

Tamara wrote about this on the Lead Safe Mama website. Click here to read her detailed write-up about this cup: #LeadFree Luna Cup, purple.
Purple Luna cup with carrying bag

Does the EvaCup menstrual cup contain lead or cadmium?

Tamara did two extended tests on the EvaCup, the results of which average out to 15 PPM cadmium (no lead, arsenic or mercury detected). 

Read her much more detailed write-up about this cup on the Lead Safe Mama website here: #LeadFree: Green silicone Eva Cup.
blue green eva cup

Finally a cadmium-free menstrual cup option!

who knew the holy grail was actually a cadmium free menstrual cup? Pstt...we found one

After they read an early version of this article published in 2018, Genial Day contact me about their menstrual products.

They sent me a menstrual cup and a selection of their disposable pads.

I brought the menstrual cup to Tamara for testing and we were both delighted to see that the XRF was not able to detect any cadmium or other heavy metals!

This is likely in part due to the Genial Day menstrual cup being made of TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) instead of silicone.

TPE is similar in texture to silicone while being a different chemical composition. The Genial Day menstrual cups are silicone-free, BPA free, phthalate free and latex-free.

Why is there cadmium in silicone menstrual cups?

When cadmium is present in small amounts (under 40 PPM or so), it is not because it was added to the silicone mix on purpose

It most likely piggybacked in with the raw materials used to make the silicone or the pigment used to color the silicone. None of these companies are intentionally putting cadmium in their menstrual cups.

While the amounts present in the cups tested are considered safe by all regulatory standards, I think it is worth noting that it is absolutely possible to make silicone without trace cadmium contamination as have been proven by the consistently cadmium-free readings (ND with an XRF) on the silicone parts contained in Life Factory baby bottles, Avent baby bottles, and the Safe Sippy 2

Why aren't the menstrual cup companies sourcing cadmium-free silicone? I'm not sure but I hope they will consider that change going forward!

This also helps explain why the TPE menstrual cup was ND for heavy metals when the silicone cups tested positive. Ingredient contamination is a widespread problem in cosmetics, food packaging and (apparently) in the manufacture of silicone.

These companies are not maliciously adding heavy metals to the mix but if a different ingredient they need is contaminated with heavy metals and they are not screening for it, they can inadvertently have things they (and their customers!) don't want to see in the finished produst.

What is a safe amount of cadmium to have in silicone?

This question is tricky. 

An extensive search has not turned up any evidence of heavy metal standards for cadmium in medical-grade silicone. 

In the United States (where both Creative Green Living and Lead Safe Mama are based), the most stringent standards for heavy metals in items are reflected in legal standards for heavy metals in toys.

The federal government sets the limit for cadmium in items intended for children at 75 PPM. The state of Washington had an even more stringent standard of 40 PPM cadmium in items intended for children.

Washington adopted an evidence-based standard and I generally consider 40 PPM cadmium the "level of concern" for cadmium in items like dishes, mugs, toys, etc. 

While up to 40 PPM cadmium in something outside of your body - like a dish or piece of jewelry might be fine, many women - myself included - have expressed concern regarding cadmium in an item placed INSIDE your body and so close to your uterus.

I know for myself personally, I want a menstrual cup that can prove it has ZERO lead, cadmium or other heavy metals in the material it is made from, so I have switched to using either a Genial Day cup or organic tampons on days my flow is more than can be handled by a pantiliner.

Company responses to finding cadmium in their menstrual cups

Companies, understandably, don't like having someone present unfavorable testing results.

Lead Safe Mama has published correspondence chains with companies who are unhappy about the test results.

Click that link if you want to read them, but to summarize, they like to go back to insisting their product is medical grade and there is no evidence that cadmium leaches from their product into the body.

And while, I believe both of these points to be true, these companies are missing the point:

The customers that just contacted them concerned about cadmium? 

They are telling them what they want. 

They want cadmium-free menstrual products

Not products that are "good enough." Not products that don't show any leaching when brand new. 

Products that are CADMIUM FREE.

Many of these consumers chose to opt out of tampons to avoid glyphosate and all the other toxic crap that came with them. 

They don't want their next choice to contain any heavy metals. 

They don't care that the testing showed the heavy metals to be "unconcerning" because when it comes to items we put INSIDE OUR BODIES, trace amounts matter. 

I'm glad to see Genial Day providing that for women and I hope more brands will follow!

Carissa Bonham

About the Author:

Carissa is a green lifestyle advocate and mom of two active boys. 

The owner and lead writer at Creative Green Living, she is an award winning blogger and most recently won the ShiftCon Media "Best Green Lifestyle Blogger" award in 2019.

She is also the author of several books including Beautiful Smoothie Bowls (Skyhorse, 2017), Proven Techniques for Keeping Healthy Chickens (Skyhorse, 2018) and The Little Green Book of Mothers' Wisdom (Skyhorse, 2020).

Her projects have been featured in magazines like Kids Crafts 1-2-3, Capper's Farmer and Urban Farm Magazine. Follow her on PinterestInstagramTwitter or join the Creative Green Living Community Group.
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