There is almost no worse torture than having an itch you can’t scratch. Unfortunately, most of us with vaginas have had to suffer the intolerable discomfort of a yeast infection. At Ruby Cup, we understand your desire to avoid anything that might cause a yeast infection. We are happy to tell you that menstrual cups do not cause yeast infections. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about using a period cup without the hassle of a yeast infection.
This article is written by clinician Amy Harris. Read more about Amy Harris at the end of the article.
Vaginal yeast infection basics
Yeast is a type of fungus found naturally in our bodies. A vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes irritation, vaginal discharge, and intense itchiness of your vagina and your vulva — the skin, folds, and labia (lips) at your vaginal opening. Vaginal yeast infections are also known as thrush or candidiasis.
You can have yeast infections in other parts of your body (like athlete’s foot or diaper rash). It is impossible to spread yeast from your vagina to other parts of your body or sexual partners.
- Vaginal yeast infections are common - 3 out of every 4 women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life.
- Having a yeast infection does not mean that you are dirty.
- Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Medications called antifungals treat and cure yeast infections
There are no long-term harms from a yeast infection (other than your discomfort, which can be bad enough, for sure!). Yeast infections do not impact your ability to get pregnant.
What are the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection?
Now that we have the basics out of the way, it is time to figure out the symptoms of a yeast infection. With some yeast infections, the symptoms are hard to ignore, but signs can be more subtle other times.
The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are:
- Itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva
- Redness and swelling of the vulva
- Thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese appearance
Other less common but possible symptoms are:
- Vaginal rash
- Vaginal pain and soreness
- A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
- Watery vaginal discharge
Symptoms can range from mild to moderate to so severe you feel like doing a screaming itchy dance just to try to make them stop. Remember the torture of the itch you can’t scratch?
Your symptoms (the discharge or amount of itching or pain) may change if you have sex, use soaps or vaginal hygiene products, or even antifungal treatments. Once the fungal infection irritates your sensitive skin around your vulva and inside your vagina, it becomes extra-sensitized to chemicals like those found in soaps or medications.
Can a menstrual cup cause yeast infections?
No. Using a menstrual cup can not cause yeast infections. Studies of menstrual cup users in Kenya actually found that menstrual cup users had lower rates of vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) or yeast infections (candidiasis) compared to users of menstrual pads, cloth, tissues, or other scavenged materials.
Is there a connection between your period and yeast infections?
Yes. There are three main reasons people can sometimes get yeast infections around their periods. The first reason is hormones. The second reason is your menstrual flow. And the third factor is the menstrual products, soaps, and cleaning products people use around their periods.
There is a change in the hormones your ovaries release during your menstrual cycle. These hormones are called estrogen and progesterone). Right before your period, your body’s usual amount of estrogen drops. This drop in estrogen changes the chemistry of your vagina, called the pH. A healthy vagina is very acidic (low pH) and this pH supports a healthy mixture of bacteria, kind of like the mix of animals, plants, bacteria, and fungus living in the healthy ecosystems of your garden or the forest.
Your monthly dips in estrogen makes it less acidic, making it a friendly home for yeast. Sometimes this shift in hormones around your period causes an overgrowth of yeast so that you start noticing symptoms, like a change in your discharge or itching.
The second connection between having your period and yeast infections is the blood and menstrual tissue you shed during your period that can change your vaginal pH. Menstrual blood can increase your pH just like hormone shifts do, making it easier for a yeast infection to start.
Finally, the combination of menstrual products and cleansers many people use around their menses can also change your vagina’s natural acidity and healthy balance of bacteria. Tampons and pads, especially scented, cause irritation and inflammation of the sensitive tissues in your vulva and vagina. This irritation and inflammation also makes it easier for more yeast to grow and for you to develop a yeast infection.
In some cultures, people who menstruate wash, douche, or use special perfumed soaps or cleansers to clean themselves after finishing their period. Your vagina naturally cleans itself. These cleaning products, soaps, and douches also make it easier for people to develop a yeast infection around the time of their period.
Does cleaning my menstrual cup lower my risk for yeast infections?
Yes. It’s super easy to clean your menstrual cup in a way that protects you from yeast infections. Even if you have a heavy flow, you are not at risk of yeast infections as long as you wash and dry your cup each time.
It is always recommended to wash your hands with soap and water before inserting or removing your menstrual cup. Keeping your menstrual cup clean during your period is as simple as washing it out and drying it off each time you empty it. There are even ways to clean your menstrual cup in a public bathroom.
There is no need to use special soaps or cleaning solutions to keep your period cup yeast- or bacteria-free. Harsh soaps may even shorten your period cup’s life span, which is why we recommend simply boiling it in clean water between periods and rinsing it in clean water every time you change it. Any leftover chemicals from harsh soaps could also disrupt your happy vaginal ecosystem to one where it is easier for you to get a yeast infection.
Plan to sterilize your period cup each month after the last time you use it. Ruby Cup makes an easy-to-use period cup sterilizer for you to buy. You can also just boil your menstrual cup in water from the tap for 2-3 minutes only. This is just the right amount of time to kill any bacteria that could cause infections such as toxic shock syndrome or fungi that could cause a yeast infection.
Hopefully, we have laid to rest any fears that switching to a menstrual cup might cause yeast infections. With some easy, common-sense handwashing and cup cleaning steps, you can be on your way to using this planet-friendly and vagina-friendly period product. And don’t forget, with each Ruby Cup you purchase, we donate a Ruby Cup to someone without safe access to period products. Good for your vagina, good for someone else, and good for the planet.
Yeast Infections and Period Cup FAQs
What are the most common causes of vaginal yeast infections?
Many of the items listed below will not automatically cause a yeast infection — they just might increase your chances of getting one. These yeast infection risk factors are:
- Wearing tight-fitting, moisture-trapping underwear, leggings, or clothing that traps moisture close to your vulva.
- Staying in your workout clothes or wet bathing suit for too long
- Using scented tampons or sanitary pads
- Taking oral antibiotics (by mouth)
- Using glycerin-based lubricants
- Washing with perfumed soaps, bubble baths, or using scented laundry detergent for your underwear
- Taking birth control pills
- Having sex more frequently or with a new partner*
*Remember, yeast infections are not sexually transmitted. But, we all know how exciting a new partner can be and how we tend to have more sex in that intense infatuation haze of a new relationship. Just like being on the birth control pill can change how acidic your vagina is, so can your sexy new partner’s semen. Both result in a vagina party that extra yeast would love to join, whether they are welcome or not!
Certain medical conditions make it easier for people to develop a yeast infection. These are:
- Health conditions that weaken your immune system like HIV
- Some medications like antibiotics, steroids, or chemotherapy
Can I still use my menstrual cup if I have a yeast infection?
If your healthcare provider has diagnosed you with a yeast infection, it is best to stop using your menstrual cup until you finish your treatment and no longer have symptoms (see next FAQ about yeast treatments). Your vagina is likely more sensitive and irritated by your yeast infection. Therefore, wearing your menstrual cup might not feel very good or cause more irritation or swelling.
Will yeast infection treatments hurt my Ruby Cup?
Yes, they could. Some of the vaginal creams or suppositories (capsules of medicine inserted into your vagina), may be oil-based or contain chemicals that could cause your period cup to break down more quickly. Your period cup has a life-span of up to 10 years - but it is important that you take good care of it! It is best to stop using your period cup if you are using a vaginally-inserted anti-fungal medicine. If you take medication by mouth to treat your vaginal yeast infection, you can still use your period cup, as long as your vagina is not too sore or irritated from your infection.
Can menstrual cups cause chronic yeast infections?
Your provider may have diagnosed you with chronic or recurrent yeast infections if you have had four or more yeast infections in one year. There is currently no evidence that menstrual cups increase your chances for chronic yeast infections. It may be that avoiding tampons and using menstrual cups could help your vagina return more quickly to its natural balanced ecosystem. This has not been proven yet in any studies, unfortunately. Following our tips for cleaning your menstrual cup and sterilizing it at the end of your period with a menstrual cup sanitizer set is the best way to avoid yeast infections becoming a recurring problem.
What is the risk of yeast infection from using a period cup compared to other period products?
There are no current studies that have directly compared rates of yeast infection in period cup users compared to tampon or sanitary pad users. However, women’s health providers and scientists who study the vaginal ecosystem have a hunch that menstrual cups might keep the vaginal microbiome healthier. Yes, there really are people whose life’s work is studying the vaginal microbiome.
Menstrual cups may be less likely to disrupt the healthy mix of bacteria in your vaginal microbiome. We know that using tampons, especially scented ones, changes that mix of bacteria. The same is true of menstrual sanitary pads but less so. This is because absorbent tampons suck up your good bacteria and pads don’t.
So we can’t say for sure that you’ll have fewer yeast infections if you use your menstrual cup, but using fewer tampons each month might just make your vagina and planet Earth a little bit happier.
Written by Amy Harris.
Amy Harris is a certified nurse-midwife with more than a decade of clinical experience in reproductive health clinics, hospitals, and private OB/GYN practices. Amy holds a Masters of Science in Maternal and Child Health from Harvard School of Public Health and completed her nursing and midwifery training at Yale School of Nursing and Boston University School of Public Health. Passionate about empowering women through health education, Amy puts her public health training to work as a dedicated women’s health writer.