How Innovation Is Shattering the Stigma Around Menstruation
April 11, 2023
Menstruation is a pain. Period.
With 80% of women experiencing period pain at some point in their life, it’s an issue that has gone unnoticed and untalked about for far too long. This is because menstruation has been and still is largely a social taboo.
In the late 1800’s when menstrual hygiene products started to be sold in public, further innovation slowed due to consumer hesitancy. They did not want to purchase these products in public even though these same products might have changed the trajectory of menstrual care.
Finally, in the 1970s, options other than pads and tampons began to emerge as the environmentalist and feminist movements heightened. At this time, products such as menstrual cups, period sponges, and biodegradable alternatives appeared on the market.
But that was 50 years ago.
The feminine hygiene market has been slow to innovate...until now. With some of the innovations entering the market, it is possible that women are now experiencing a new level of menstrual empowerment.
Extreme period pain, or dysmenorrhea, is prevalent in women of reproductive age and is a leading cause of school and work absences. Although it’s not clear exactly how many women experience dysmenorrhea, with estimations ranging between 16 and 91%, the condition negatively impacts the quality of life of enough women to warrant a solution.
Some women are turning to supplement brands to reduce period pains. Semaine Health has created a supplement for anyone experiencing period symptoms and those suffering from endometriosis, a possible underlying condition of dysmenorrhea. Their product combats increased inflammation during menstruation and helps with period symptoms such as cramps, bloating, and mood. The sister founders, Lauren and Catherine Lee, have both faced chronic period pain and aim to not only reduce suffering in other women, but also normalize these conversations.
Food Period is another brand entering the market to explore menstrual symptom management through micronutrients or chemical compound solutions. The company focuses on balancing hormones naturally through a process they refer to as ‘seed syncing’. For the first phase of the period (days 1-14) a combination of flax and pumpkin seeds are taken. In the second phase (days 15-28) sesame and sunflower seeds are consumed. In addition to their ‘moon seeds’, the brand also has energy bars, lattes, and anti-bloat milk.
Treatment from within is not the only option for pain management, as Nua is proving with their Cramp Comfort Heat Patch. This portable patch self heats for up to 8 hours to provide relief for period pain symptoms. Similar to this product are Private Packs reusable hot and cold pads which can be worn for relief for any vaginal-related pain for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Treating with Technology
Period tracking apps have become common, with WILD.AI and Flutter Health taking monitoring to the next level by allowing women to improve their health by tracking their sleep, nutrition, and early signs of endometriosis.
But menstrual technology is not ending there.
Although not yet on the market, smart tampons might be the next period technology. my.Flow is a startup that would connect the tampon to a Bluetooth monitor that would allow the user to see how full their tampon is via an app.
NextGen Jane is taking a different approach to smart tampons. Instead of having it be Bluetooth connected, they’re extracting blood from tampons through their patented mail-in kit to test for sexually transmitted infections, reproductive concerns, cancers, and endometriosis. Founder and CEO, Ridhi Tariyal, chose the tampon for diagnosis since it taps into what the company calls a ‘uterus data trove’.
“[A tampon] is this unique singular access point to the woman's reproductive system that you literally cannot get short of a biopsy. “Your body is expelling materials from your entire reproductive system every single month, trying to tell you something. We call it a natural biopsy.” -Ridhi Tariyal, founder and CEO of NextGen Jane
Although the smart tampon, especially via Bluetooth, is controversial, there is no doubt that it proves technology can shape the way that women experience periods in the future.
Not only are women demanding products that better suit their hygienic needs and relieve their period symptoms, but they’re also requesting that these products are greener and more natural.
Take pads for example. Pads can contain up to 90% plastic. In a landfill, these pads take an estimated 500 to 800 years to break down. Each year in the United States alone, 12 billion pads are used. Period Aisle and other brands are combatting this waste with reusable pads.
Considering that women spend between $200 and $300 each year alone on pads and tampons, reusable pads are friendly to the environment and to your wallet. Tampons, although more difficult to make reusable, are not being ignored. DAME has created the first ever reusable tampon applicator, complete with organic cotton tampons.
A one stop shop for environmentally friendly menstrual products is CORA. This brand has it all -from organic disposable products to reusable underwear and cups to period symptom management patches. It’s worth mentioning that with every purchase, CORA gives period products and health education to those who might go without. It is impossible to talk about periods without mentioning the injustices that women worldwide have to face every month from lack of affordable products to missing school and a plethora of other equity issues.
Time to Talk About It
Periods don’t have to be a scary thing that women silently experience each month. Still, just 31% of American women are comfortable speaking about their period to a male family member and 20% of women worldwide have avoided social engagements for the fear of being caught on their period. Commaperiods is giving those with periods the space to talk about it, ask questions, and find support. The startup has 115 members in their group and offers free resources to help people navigate a healthy period.
These brands are tapping the tip of the $4.5 billion Feminine Hygiene market in the U.S. There are still many gaps that need to be filled. Get in touch if you want to hear more and talk about how your business or brand might lead the change.
Caroline is a Bentley University senior studying marketing, media and entrepreneurship. At Compass Marketing, she manages all the Social Media and Content marketing efforts in addition to assisting with business development activities.