Cleanliness and hygiene are essential for a healthy life. Already in ancient times, people were aware that there was a connection between hygiene and health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Hygiene refers to conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases.” Personal hygiene is simply looking after the body and keeping it clean and healthy. Scientists have been studying different aspects of hygiene for decades and it has become even more evident during the Covid-19 pandemic. Skin hygiene not only has a positive effect on skin health but also on a person’s social life and their physical and mental constitution. And the hygiene of the intimate organs, so-called intimate care, has been undergoing a real metamorphosis. Let us take a closer look at social changes concerning gender, sexuality and everything related to it and opportunities arising for the cosmetics industry.
Breaking taboos – a social movement
Hygiene is something personal. Everyone has an individual need for cleansing – especially when it comes to intimate care. There is usually very little public talk about this. However, people are becoming more at ease when discussing topics that have been somewhat taboo up to now, such as sexuality and everything that goes with it.
The end of menstrual shame and the beginning of a new era of menstruation health and intimate care is gaining momentum. Around the world, initiatives to distribute menstrual products free of charge in schools, swimming pools, administrative buildings and museums, among other places, emerged. Social media is being used to educate people about intimate hygiene and health, new hashtags are changing the narrative around this topic.
As a direct result of the pandemic, consumers are consolidating their physical and mental self-care rituals into their daily home routines. This is opening up opportunities to bring skin care and wellness into new areas. Moving into a new world, there is a new breed of sexual wellness retailers and brands specializing in bringing confidence to women and leading their communities to a shame-free stance on menstruation, incontinence or female pleasure.
In the wake of the body positivity movement, many women are embracing their sexuality as an important building block for a healthy relationship with their own bodies. According to Mintel 1, 46% of Brazilian women seek fun in all aspects of their lives. Self-optimization is nowadays also transferred to the intimate zone. Open communication about “beautification” of the intimate organs is no longer taboo in today’s society and genital cosmetic surgery is on the rise.
At the same time, defying gender-norms is becoming more and more widespread. People are saying goodbye to gender-specific clothes and appreciate “genderless beauty”. Positioning sexual wellness as self-care can help consumers feel more comfortable exploring the category. Sexuality is actively integrated into a healthy lifestyle and is gender stereotype free.
Convenience meets diagnostic intimate hygiene
Digitalization is advancing in many areas and industries. In the cosmetics industry, digitalization has already made its way into many areas and is proving to be an additional sales tool for different products. Women’s health is also becoming more digitalized, enabling tracking of the female cycle and optimization of one’s own skin care. Will intimate hygiene and genital organs health be the new conquest for digitalization?
Non-topical products such as panty liners or intimate wipes are significantly more popular than any other intimate hygiene product among women and transgender men. Given the tremendous advances in textile technology – from temperature-regulating clothing to menstrual underwear – there is an opportunity for panty liners to introduce additional product benefits that keep pace with advances in textile innovation. Products like self-test kit Canestest help users detect vaginal infections within 10 seconds, and integrating similar diagnostics into panty liners could help users take control of their vaginal health.
In 2020, Juno Bio launched an at-home vaginal microbiome test kit for women who want to monitor their general well-being or who struggle with recurring infections and hope to get to the root cause. Through the quick and easy-to-use test completed by sending a vaginal swab and pH reading, women are able to access their results on a private app dashboard. This development could help identify and eliminate health problems more quickly and facilitate intimate hygiene management.
The intimate area – the “new face” for the cosmetic industry?
The aim of daily intimate care is to keep the delicate and sensitive skin in the intimate area healthy and resistant. For the cosmetics industry, products for the intimate area have been more of a niche market that has not received any special attention. For decades, skin hygiene was extended to the intimate area only for women, with products developed specifically for this purpose. These products were simple and had a more practical approach, primarily to cleanse and leave a fresh scent. For men, the focus was more on grooming and facial care after shaving.
With the social shift towards new self-realization, new body image and overall well-being, the intimate zone is also being de-tabooed as an important body part. Nowadays, the intimate area is defined as the “new face” for the cosmetics industry, opening up new sales opportunities. Taking inspiration from highly efficient ingredients from the facial care sector enables intimate care products to position themselves more strongly in an increasingly growing market. Facial care claims such as brightening, anti-aging, firming and moisturizing will be carried over into intimate care to add value and differentiation to the product.
Consumers are already aware of the importance of maintaining the delicate balance of the pH value and microbiome to prevent ailments such as bacterial vaginosis, dry skin and other disorders and irritations. According to Mintel 2, 26% of UK women who use feminine hygiene products consider a microbiome-friendly formula an important factor. ProRenewComplex CLR™ used for feminine hygiene supports vulvavaginal and microbial health in different ways. ProRenewComplex CLR™ is based on a lysate of Lactococcus lactis. A lactic acid-producing bacterium that occurs naturally in the vagina and has the task of producing lactic acid to maintain a healthy pH value. ProRenewComplex CLR™ supports the important barrier properties of the mucous membranes in the vagina. Microbiome-balancing ingredients and claims are on the rise in the intimate care space.
Sexual health and wellness products are also starting to enter the market and can meet consumers’ needs for gentle care and functionality. Some cosmetic brands are expanding into the sexual category through vertical marketing and managing the balancing act between skin care and sexual pleasure. They go beyond just providing products by accelerating acceptance through open communication and education. Furthermore, part of their profits fund health education seminars with their sales revenue to increase awareness for intimate hygiene and subsequent general health.
What does the future hold?
Developing and maintaining a personal hygiene routine is key to having a healthy body and mind. Interest in products for intimate care is growing and the consumer is transferring the classic beauty routine to the intimate zone and linking it with overall well-being and health. The effectiveness of products through the use of highly efficient and scientifically proven active ingredients is becoming the new mantra and is taking intimate care to a new level, intimate-care with “added value.” Consumers’ growing interest in environmental awareness and reusable products will drive innovation in disposable, ecological and natural products. Interest in intimate care products related to sexual well-being is gaining attention and will be part of consumers’ overall well-being.
Not surprisingly, the desire to have an overall healthy intimate area and feel attractive will be one of the main reasons for using intimate care products. Intimate skincare is selfcare!
(1) Mintel: “Sexual wellness Revolution”, January 2022
(2) Mintel: “Intimate hygiene and sanitary protection products UK”, March 2022
(3) Mintel: “Three ways to boost sexual health and intimate care”, August 2021