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Are menstrual cups and discs cruelty-free?

Are menstrual cups and discs cruelty-free?

Whilst many people remain opposed to animal testing for ethical reasons

Menstrual cups and discs are typically advertised as being "vegan" and "cruelty-free". We explain why these claims may be misleading. 


Cruelty-free & vegan claims

Menstrual cups and discs are mostly made from medical-grade silicone and some are made of rubber, latex, elastomer, or thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). These base ingredients are synthetic and do not contain any animal products and are therefore vegan. If you are choosing a coloured device, it is worth checking if the dyes or pigments are vegan too. Most are however some pigments are derived from insects or animals. One such example is carmine, a red dye made from cochineal beetles. We recommend you opt for non-colour cups or contact the manufacturer to check if you are unsure about the vegan claims of a product.

When it comes to cruelty free claims it gets a bit trickier as the ingredients have probably, at some point, been tested on animals, even if this wasn't performed by the company manufacturing the consumer product. 


Why is animal testing performed?

Biocompatibility tests are performed on animals for safety reasons. They allow manufacturers and material suppliers to have confidence their devices are safe for use in the human body. Most animal testing is undertaken on live rabbits or mice. The reason these animals are chosen is that they share similar DNA and mice and humans share around 98% DNA so are susceptible to many of the same health concerns. 

For menstrual cups and discs to be listed as medical devices with regulatory bodies such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia (TGA) and the Food and Drug Administration of America (FDA), manufacturers will need to supply evidence the raw material will have to undergo USP class VI tests. USP Class VI tests are a common method of testing to ensure strict biocompatibility standards of materials are met and that the material being used in a device will not cause adverse reactions.


What tests are usually performed?

Biocompatibility and toxicity tests are usually performed.  They are performed by producing an extract of the product which is mixed with other fluids such as vegetable oil or glycol and injected into the specimen. These tests can include;

  • Cytotoxicity - tests if a cytotoxic compound can cause cell damage or death
  • Pyrogenicity - tests for immune responses to pyrogens
  • Sensitisation - tests for leachables and unknown antigens that cause hypersensitivity or allergic reactions
  • Implantation - a surgical implant to test the pathological effect of the material on the function and structure of living tissue
  • Intracutaneous Toxicity - tests for inflammation or allergic reaction through a skin prick test or injection into the dermis
  • Acute Systemic Toxicity - tests the systemic toxic effects from acute exposure to the material


Who performs animal testing?

Typically the tests will be performed by an independent laboratory on behalf of the raw materials manufacturer. Once the raw materials manufacturer has obtained satisfactory test results they can provide this information to any device manufacturer or brand wishing to produce products from their ingredients so the test does not need to be performed again.

So it comes down to a question of semantics. Yes, the brand you purchase from may not have directly tested their finished product on animals but the raw materials the product has been made with is is likely to have tested their ingredients on animals, at some point, to prove they are safe for use, and this may not have been disclosed.


What about other products?

The same applies to other consumer products including pelvic floor trainers, dilators and pleasure products. Whilst the brand manufacturer may not have tested their products on animals, the source material is likely to have been tested on animals at some point.