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11 April 2013 @ 05:42 pm

Hey everybody,

So, I hate to be the bringer of (possibly) bad news but I don’t hate it so much that I won’t do it, because knowledge is power and I hate being lied to.

So, flame testing.  I’m not sure how many people here are familiar with the concept, so I’ll give a quick run-down.  The idea is to determine if a product which claims to be “silicone” is in fact made entirely of silicone or if it is actually a silicone/elastomer blend (this is a much more common problem than you probably think).  It’s a pretty simple test; you just take the object in question and hold it in the open flame of a match or lighter for a few seconds and observe.  Pure silicone won’t melt, catch on fire, deform, or degenerate; the most that will happen is you might get a bit of ash on the surface.  Elastomer on the other hand is very flammable.  When you have a silicone/elastomer blend it will melt, deform, or even catch on fire.

I’ve really only seen flame testing used by sex toy reviewers since the industry is completely unregulated and manufacturers lie about materials but I figured I could just as easily apply it to menstrual cups.

I got suspicious of my Fleurcups after recieving a Lunette.  I happened to be boiling one of my Fleurs and the Lunette at the same time and noticed that the Fleur had significantly more of a hot plastic-y smell after boiling than the Lunette which barely smelled at all.  Even at room temperature the Fleurs tend to have a very slight plastic smell.  I know that the Fleurcup website claims medical grade silicone, but I’m not really sure if materials claims in things like cups is regulated in France so I decided to check for myself.  I flame tested the stems of both the Fleur and the Lunette and got some bad news where the Fleur is concerned.  I got definite material degeneration on the Fleur’s stem; it kind of smoldered and cooled in a kind of hard, discolored, crumbly/flaky substance.  This did not happen with the Lunette; I did get some serious carbon residue but a lot of that may have even been from the match.

Just for comparison I did the same with a couple of products which I know for a fact are made of pure high quality silicone: a Tantus dildo, and a Fun Factory one.  I only got minor ashing from both of these which is what one would expect from pure silicone which is what the Fleurcups claim to be made out of.

Now as far as silicone versus elastomer goes I know that MeLuna makes their cups from elastomer, and it isn’t necessarily a bad material but I don’t personally want an elastomer cup.  My reasons for not wanting elastomer is the fact that it’s slightly porous and therefor can’t be cleaned as thoroughly as silicone which is completely non-porous.  As far the Fleurcup goes, I figure if you're fine with a silicone/elastomer blend cup then you could absolutely keep using it and it's probably no big deal, but I personally am not okay with it.

The biggest problem I see here is that I want to know exactly what something is made of before I shove it up my vagina and leave it there for hours.  If they were marketed as silicone/elastomer blend cups that would be fine and I just wouldn’t buy one.  Claiming a product is made of medical grade silicone when it really isn’t is not cool.  I’m going to email Fleurcup and see if they have anything to say about the matter.

I’m also curious if anyone else here flame tests, and I’m especially curious if someone with a Sckoon cup would be willing to test theirs because I am now in the market for a new large cup and I like the look of the Sckoon.

I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of the damage right now because my camera battery is dead, but I can add some later if people are interested.

ETA: Wow this sounds much more ominous with everything else hidden behind a cut.  It's not quite as horrible as it sounds.

Jennifer Monoteasy2begreen on April 12th, 2013 01:47 am (UTC)
How interesting! I looked around just now for flame tests for silicone and didn't find a good resource. Do you have any links? My understanding is that silicone is not a pure element/substance (different from silicon), but rather a type of material involving silicon, hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen, which comes in multiple different formulations (and might explain some of the differences you saw?). Wiki says that silicone is a type of elastomer, a general term referring to any rubbery polymer. I am, of course, open to the possibility that Wiki is wrong. :-) I could ask my chem prof, but he might be curious why I'm asking!

I agree that some of the cup companies' medical grade claims are a bit sketchy, considering that medical grade requires clean rooms and other very finicky conditions. FleurCup is on the cheap end of menstrual cups, which makes it more likely they would take some short cuts. However, it seems like those super clean conditions are most important when it comes to silicone implants or replacement valves -- things that are in you pretty much permanently. I think some cup manufacturers let you see their manufacturing standards and chemical reports. It would be interesting to see what FleurCup says in response to you.
drawing_dwarfdrawing_dwarf on April 12th, 2013 03:38 am (UTC)
I think it'd be great if you asked your chem prof if you can!

I don't really have any links about the flame test because it's not exactly super scientific and isn't always 100% accurate, but without specialized equipment it's pretty much the only thing consumers can do. I know Metis Black (the president of Tantus Inc.) stands by the flame test as a good resource for consumers though, so I guess that's something. I think it makes sense though, because when you put a food grade silicone muffin pan in a 500 degree oven it doesn't melt or go all weird and smelly so it probably shouldn't catch on fire in a 600 degree flame either.

Silicone isn't a pure element, but there are formulations which contain only silicone compounds which is what would be used in medical devices and suchlike. I'm pretty sure that any formulation which contains only silicone compounds should hold up about the same in a flame test and be similarly non-reactive. When I was saying elastomer I was referring to other types of elastomer such as TPEs which I believe are derived from petroleum. I knew that elastomer was an umbrella term, but I didn't know that silicone fell into it too.

For me the medical grade thing isn't so much about clean room manufacturing but rather the assurance that everything in that formulation is safe for use in the body because there are a lot of things that get put into personal products which aren't even close to safe.
Jennifer Monoteasy2begreen on April 12th, 2013 04:51 am (UTC)
Haha, I'm totally trying to think of ways to ask my chem prof without referencing sex toys or menstrual cups. (We don't have that kind of relationship...)

What chemicals are you most concerned about in plastics? I don't know much about sex toys or studies that show harm from exposure to unregulated chemicals in them, but I'd be interested in reading more. I looked around just now for the materials safety data sheets, but I didn't see any for specific menstrual cups. I hope FleurCup will provide theirs if asked.
okwaho_okaraokwaho_okara on April 12th, 2013 03:43 am (UTC)
Meh. Is elastomer bad?? I use Fleurcups and I'm in love. It's my "goldilocks" cup and I'd hate to have to switch.

Thanks for this post :)
drawing_dwarfdrawing_dwarf on April 12th, 2013 03:53 am (UTC)
I suppose it depends on what you consider "bad" and since elastomer is a generic term it really depends on what they put in there. It's probably not bad but I don't really know. I guess I'll see what they have to say.

I personally much prefer silicone to like a plastic-based elastomer and I really just pissed that I might have been sold something under false pretenses. I'm bummed too because I liked my Fleurcups and I'm not made out of money.
okwaho_okaraokwaho_okara on April 12th, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
Mmm. Definitely let me know their reply!!! I don't really want to have to find another cup. Other than what you've posted, Fleurcup is absolutely perfect for me. Itd be a shame to have to find new cups :(. I've had them a year though, so I have gotten plenty of use and money saving already from my two cups :). Life free of pads and tampons is great and I intend to keep it that way :)
quietchords on June 5th, 2013 01:57 pm (UTC)
I know this is an older thread, but Im curious to know though, did they ever respond to your email? If they are selling something under false pretenses, I would not buy their product either. In fact since I was unsure I bought a Meluna instead. The price of the Fleurcup is indeed much cheaper than other silicone cups and in fact, the price is comparable to the Meluna...which is made out of TPE.
okwaho_okaraokwaho_okara on April 12th, 2013 03:44 am (UTC)
iPod touch here, so I can't edit my comment. I too would be very interested in your response from Fleurcup, so please keep us posted :)
juliiie87juliiie87 on April 12th, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
I have no background in chemistry, but I think the harmful substances found in some "plastic" materials would be the same found in Tupperware-type containers and plactic bottles, mainly BPA & phtalates, which Meluna namely claims its material does not contain, and backs up the overall safety of it with pages long of clinical test results, if anyone is interested and has the knowledge necessary to understand those. Also, a though occurred to me : "medical grade silicone" is something you read on english language websites mainly, and different brands have different formulations to describe their material... for instance, I've seen "platinum silicone" which might or might not make a lot of sense in english. So I wonder what Fleurcup actually calls it. Actually yes, medical silicone, anallergic, phtalates & bisphenol A-free, dyes are "from the medical field", no perfume or rubber latex.

Also I'd love to know what the manufacturers and an actual chemistry prof have to say.

Edited at 2013-04-12 05:16 pm (UTC)
greytcharmainegreytcharmaine on April 13th, 2013 12:55 am (UTC)

Could you ask him in connection to silicone baking tools, pans, etc.? That seems like a plausible reason...

Jennifer Monoteasy2begreen on April 13th, 2013 02:59 am (UTC)
Good idea. I'll try that, although I wonder if the silicones are the same (or similar) formulations. I know Lunette claims to use the same silicone that heart valves are made of, so it would be interesting to find out what other cup manufacturers use when they say 'medical grade.'

I guess it'd be pushing my luck to also ask if I could borrow a graduated cylinder to get a more precise measurement of how much fluid each of my menstrual cups holds...
neetzscheneetzsche on April 13th, 2013 01:34 am (UTC)
I heard about flame-testing sex toys a while ago, and I have gotten to flame test US moon cup and fleur. After about 8 seconds under a bic lighter, the stem bits started to ash and disintegrate. They both did the exact same thing. Bic lighters burn at only 425, so that's about 100 degrees less than what silicone can normally withstand.

I'm not sure what to make of this, but if it makes you feel any better, phthalates (what people worry about in sex toys) have a super low melting point and would not be able to be boiled at all. I still trust my fleur but I'd be very interested to know what's up.
Zzsomeone on May 6th, 2013 02:51 am (UTC)
Well this is very interesting. I don't boil my cups, I just wash them with soap and water. My first cup was a Fleurcup, and after only a couple cycles it developed a very unpleasant smell that wouldn't wash out no matter what. It wasn't strong, but if you washed it then stuck your nose it it...
I always wondered about that because silicone isn't supposed to absorb odors at all.

I switched to MeLuna because I needed a softer cup, and although after a few years it has minor discoloration, my MeLuna still has no odor at all. I know it's TPE not silicone, but I feel the sniff test proves it to be non-porous.

I just thought that since you were comparing, I'd throw this in. No I won't set my cup on fire, though I assume it would burn.
neverparous on February 26th, 2014 01:03 am (UTC)
Any updates?
I was all set on getting a fleurcup and I was proud of myself for figuring out that this would be the best cup for me to get next without having to ask the community first and then I read this post and others about some fleurcups having weird smells.

P.S. I'm new so sorry if this isn't the best way to resurrect this topic.