For people experiencing symptoms of menopause, information can be scarce and alienating. There's a lot of jargon and, although menopause as an umbrella covers a huge range of ages, life stages and symptoms, products on the market haven't always addressed this diversity of needs.
More recently, brands have stepped in to fill that gap. Most have focused on products and hardware that alleviate the physical impacts; 16% of people experience hot flashes, 14% have difficulty sleeping and another 10% regularly deal with brain fog, according to a survey from supplement brand Bonafide. Others have turned to community-building tools, apps and platforms.
But brands are coming up against the same issues of stigmatization and, as a result, a severe lack of funding in the menopause industry. There are also regional and cultural differences to consider when creating products; people in Russia, India and Brazil felt more uncomfortable talking about menopause than those in the UK, for instance, research by cosmetics company Avon found. In Japan, where there's an aging population, a government report predicts a surge in demand for menopause products in comparison with other femtech sectors like pregnancy and menstruation solutions.
Anna Butterworth is the founder of Ultra Violet Futures, a trend-forecasting agency with a focus on femtech.
Heather Jackson and Sam Simister are the co-founders of GenM, a platform that helps brands cater to menopausal people.
Kamili Wilson is the founder of Menopause Made Modern, a content platform for people of color.
Michelle Kennedy is the founder of Peanut, an app that connects women who are navigating similar stages of life.
Stacy London is the CEO of State of Menopause, which sells cooling sprays, creams and supplements.
What's behind the recent rise in menopause-focused brands?
SL: ‘There aren't enough over-the-counter products that are specifically for menopause. We're ill-equipped in so many ways and we don't know how to advocate for ourselves. But Gen X [those born between 1965 and 1980] aren't going to go down quietly, nor are we going to be phased by aging in the same way as previous generations. There was an increase in Google searches for menopause-related questions in 2020, so people are arming themselves with education and information.’
AB: ‘It's really been having a moment for the best part of five years, and women are more confident in building products based on their own struggles. Going through menopause is a very unique and varied experience, just like fertility struggles, pregnancy and periods. With the complexity of something like menopause, where symptoms range from brain fog and dissociation to dryness, it's important we create a wide variety of options.’
MK: ‘There's still a reluctance in mainstream media to talk about age. What we don't accept is premature menopause: this isn't something that's happening to people in their 50s and 60s – it's something that could happen in their late 30s and 40s. And, because women are having children later, there's a shorter timespan between new motherhood and menopause, which makes it come to the forefront more.’
KW: ‘What we see in Gen X is that we're used to being able to access information and finding answers. When we can't do that, we then set out to start creating our own solutions. We're still left in the dark when it comes to menopausal symptoms.’
GM: ‘These stats from GenM's Invisibility Report give some insight into what menopausal women want: 90% believe brands should work harder to cater for them; 87% feel overlooked by both companies and society; 91% say they've never seen any specific advertising or marketing for menopausal products.’
Which of the newer menopause-focused products on the market stand out to you? Are these new, design-centric products materially different from some of the pharmaceutical products that are available to people going through menopause?
KW: ‘One of the symptoms we don't talk about enough is vaginal dryness. I've seen more of an openness to it, and more lubricants and moisturizers to address it. There are also more water-based and less chemical-based lubricants. There's also more education and targeting around menopause-focused supplements. In the wearable category, there's moisture-wicking clothing [fabrics that pull water away from the body] and other cooling products to help you sleep better.’
AB: ‘One that I was always impressed with was Become, a clothing brand that helps to manage hot flashes. It took the technical elements of sportswear and adapted [it] to hot flashes, recognizing that these quick outpourings of sweat need to be dealt with quickly. There's also sexual wellness for people going through menopause, like Tabu. It's a beautiful piece of hardware. And then there's Peanut, a Tinder-like app for mothers that's creating a space to meet like-minded women. That shifts the space from being about managing physical symptoms to whole lifestyles and wellbeing.’
MK: ‘There's no other part of Peanut that sees more sharing around products than in the menopause part of the platform. The conversation is around solutions to a physical symptom, like weak or brittle hair, or skin reactions. But a lot of stuff we see is still very beauty-focused – women aren't looking for beauty products. It's more outcome-oriented.’
GM: ‘One huge missed opportunity is signposting. There are so many products out there that can help with menopause symptoms, from sweat-proof makeup to hold you through hot flashes to thickening shampoos that can help with hair thinning. But they're rarely marketed as such. In fact, our research found that 91% of menopausal women have never seen any specific advertising or marketing for menopausal products. We're calling on brands to consider the 48 symptoms and identify products in their current merchandise or services that could support any of these symptoms.’
What's the role of branding and communication for this market?
GM: ‘Communication and signposting are key. We need to make sure that those entering menopause are prepared for what to expect and are able to make informed choices on how to manage it in the way that's right for them. [UK pharmacist and health retailer] Boots offers a great example of meeting this need. The brand has recently launched a menopause hub on its website, full of information about symptoms and the products that can help them, including a “[shop] by symptom” tool.’
SL: ‘There's the product, and then there's the education surrounding it. For us, a part of this was repositioning State of Menopause to be about acute symptomatic care. Using the word “symptom” can feel like [we're] talking about something hard, but packaging and branding does a lot in terms of looking a little bit more chic and taking the sting out of it. We use education as marketing. You can even go on TikTok and find a conversation under the menopause hashtag.’
MK: ‘I don't think I've seen a single conversation on Peanut Menopause that says people love or feel seen by a menopause campaign, whereas I have seen that on the platform for mothers. They don't want to see an image of a gray-haired woman, unless they're empowered. These women are mums, athletes, working – we resonate with stories that are representative of more women at different ages.’
AB: ‘The way a 65-year-old woman wants to be marketed to will be very different to a 45-year-old woman. At the moment, I feel like menopause brands are targeting women as a whole, but it'll slowly start getting more fragmented. We must also make sure we're continuing to create an intersectional conversation across cultures, sexualities and abilities: a differently abled person is going to have a very different experience of hot flashes, for example.’
Where will the menopause industry go from here?
AB: ‘We're seeing a big rise in workplace support for people going through major life changes, including fertility struggles and maternity leave. We'll start to see that move to menopause. There's a huge lack of proper medical data, but it's great to see the clinical industry doing more to understand it. We've seen a symbiosis between the commercial and clinical space in fertility, and there's no reason we can't do that for menopause.’
GM: ‘Something that we're working on for the future, alongside our GenM collective brand partners, is a universally recognized menopause-friendly label that can be displayed on packaging and marketing. Similar to existing labels for vegan products or recyclable products, this badge will make it immediately clear to consumers that an item can help with menopause symptoms.’
SL: ‘The most requested new product is something for painful sex. I called every CEO of a menopause company in the US and asked how we could best serve this customer together. There isn't even a fraction of enough of us to serve everybody going through menopause, so I asked how we could join together. It's a new way of doing business – we'll see companies banding together to make more noise.’
KW: ‘In the US, only 20% of medical students are exposed to menopause education. Our medical professionals need more training and education. Gen X and onwards want to be partners in our care, especially since we're living longer. Product verticals will continue to mushroom. If you look now, a lot of these products have similar ingredients. We'll have to be more discerning around packaging and cost, and I hope to see the affordability of these products [increase].’
Brands to watch
From hot flashes to low sex drive, there are a number of physical symptoms of menopause and a number of brands addressing them. Here are some to keep an eye on.
• Tabu is a sexual wellness brand for people going through menopause. It sells a personal massager and an organic lubricant, with the aim of addressing the fact that nearly half of all women stop being sexually active in their 50s.
• California-based Kindra has a selection of bath products, supplements and bundles to support people with menopause. Its latest launch is a bath soak with a patent-pending formula that balances vaginal pH.
• MPowder is a plant-based supplement for perimenopausal and menopausal people that's guided by peer-reviewed clinical testing. It's stocked by online retailer Cult Beauty and British department store Selfridges.
• To address hot flashes, Menopoised has developed wearable magnets that quicken the cooling-down process. More than 80% of participants in a research study said that it helped lessen the intensity of hot flashes and night sweats.
• Attn:Grace aims to remove the stigma from bladder leakage with its range of panty liners and incontinence pads. Co-founders Mia Abbruzzese and Alexandra Fennell wanted to reframe how these products are often associated with shame and embarrassment.
A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 47, June/July 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.