How personal hygiene in the country is undergoing a transformation

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Updated: April 7, 2019 12:32:29 AM

From stand-and-pee products for women to anti-chafing creams and lotions for men, a wide variety of intimate-care products have expanded the hygiene market in India multifold. As the world celebrates World Health Day today, we take a look at how personal hygiene in the country is undergoing massive transformation.

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For long, the hygiene market in the country was pretty much just soaps, haircare and facewash products. But over the past few years, the sector has undergone massive transformation, with many new innovative products being launched in the personal hygiene segment. There are now intimate-care wipes, sweat patches, anti-chafing creams for men, stand-and-pee products for women and much more available in the market. Not just that, even the ubiquitous bath and body products such as soaps and shampoos now have waterless versions, expanding the hygiene market multifold and offering a plethora of options to the consumer.

This shift is not without reason, as manufacturers realise the immense potential of the sector. If we talk about the feminine hygiene products market, it’s expected to be worth over $36 billion globally in the next six years, as per a 2018 report by US-based Donald W Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. In India alone, the feminine hygiene products market was valued at $340 million in 2017 by London-based market research company Euromonitor and is predicted to grow to $522 million by 2020.

This is especially significant for a country like ours where 88% of Indian women still rely on cloth, rags, hay, ash, wood shavings, newspapers, dried leaves and even plastic during menstruation, as per a 2016 report by Boston-based market research consultancy FSG.

It’s no wonder then that some entrepreneurs have taken note of this and are working actively to provide solutions. Take, for instance, Delhi-based Deepanjali Kanoria, who founded Heyday, a bio-degradable sanitary napkin company, in October 2017. “When I initially started testing the available range of products in the market, I was appalled to find that 90% of a sanitary napkin is made from harmful plastics. The other raw materials include dioxin, antibacterial agents, bleaches, perfumes and a host of chemicals that can easily enter a woman’s bloodstream through long exposure to her sensitive vaginal skin,” says 28-year-old Kanoria, adding, “Not only can this cause the user a lot of discomfort, rashes, allergies, skin infections, UTIs, etc, it can also put them at risk of cervical or ovarian cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and other life-threatening aliments. In a lifetime, women end up using 11,000-17,000 sanitary napkins and continuous exposure to harmful chemicals every month can lead to many risks.”

Talking about the genesis of her company, she says, “The industry is monopolised by big giants. No manufacturer mentions the ingredients used in their products on the packaging. I thought there had to be another alternative to using synthetic pads, which are harmful for the environment as well. So I decided to take up the challenge myself and develop natural sanitary napkins while raising awareness about the issue.” In over a year’s time, Kanoria says, over 3.5 lakh women have made the switch to Heyday, which is priced at Rs 99 for a pack of seven.

Not just the women’s hygiene market, the oft-neglected men’s grooming segment, too, is receiving a lot of traction now in terms of product innovation and differentiation. Moving beyond facewashes and sunscreen lotions, there are now many options available for men as well in the personal hygiene segment, including sprays and creams to keep the balls clean, anti-chafing creams and lotions to prevent rashes in the groin area and more. As per a February 2019 report by market intelligence agency Mintel, an Indian man spends an average of 42 minutes grooming himself everyday. Additionally, almost two-thirds of Indian men are concerned about some aspect of their appearance. “Men’s grooming, while still in a rather early stage, has been under the spotlight in India, as men grow increasingly image-conscious and are starting to take care of how they look,” said Minu Srivastava, India’s consumer research analyst, Mintel.

Ladies’ corner
We are now living in a time when people are increasingly becoming aware of issues that women face with respect to menstruation and personal hygiene. Recently, a documentary made on menstruation, Period: End Of Sentence, also won the coveted Oscar. Not surprisingly, menstrual hygiene is one of the segments getting the most traction from manufacturers. Plastic-based sanitary napkins are now being replaced by biodegradable and natural versions made from corn starch and bamboo. Not just that, sanitary napkins in general are being replaced by menstrual cups and tampons, as many players in the segment envision a pad-free world.

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“Sanitary pads are a problem, not the solution to menstrual hygiene,” says Gurugram-based Deep Bajaj, founder, Sirona, a feminine hygiene products brand. “There are three problems with a traditional pad. One is the issue of rashes. Two, pads need to be bought every month. And three, they are damaging to the environment. Today, 42% of women in the US use tampons and we, too, are converting 7,000-10,000 women every month… those who are switching from using pads to tampons and menstrual cups,” says 36-year-old Bajaj, whose company manufactures different products such as intimate-care wet wipes, pain relief patches for menstruating women, menstrual cups, etc.

The Sirona menstrual cup costs between Rs 200 and Rs 300 and can be reused after washing for a maximum of 15 years. But since the concept of reusing and washing a cup every couple of hours can be a little taxing for some, tampons make for a suitable alternative. And this is the gap that FLOH Tampons, a Delhi-based tampon manufacturer, aims to plug. The brand was launched in May 2018 and its products are available on e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Nykaa and Flipkart, as well as in leading pharmaceutical chains and supermarkets. Talking about tampons, which are not common in the Indian market, Gauri Singhal, founder and CEO, FLOH Tampons, says, “Brands were very silent about menstruation and innovative products that could make life easier for women. A bold and honest brand needed to disrupt the sector.”

The plus point with a tampon is that there is no leakage as opposed to a sanitary napkin. “We aim to dispel the myth that tampons are expensive and want to encourage women to try our product. At Rs 115 for a pack of 10, women will not mind giving it a shot. Once they try it, we are confident they will stick to it… We have been getting major traction from tier II, III and IV cities, including Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh apart from leading metros,” says 26-year-old Singhal.
The thought of completely eliminating sanitary pads from the segment, however, may be a little too ambitious. After all, it’s a market worth $441 million in India, as per an April 2017 report by Ireland-based market research company Research and Markets. Going ahead, the market is expected to be worth around $631 million by 2023, growing at a compounded annual growth rate of over 6% during the 2018-23 period, noted the report by Research and Markets.

“India does not have good washroom facilities and it’s grossly unhygienic for a lot of women to wash and change cups in these washrooms. In such a scenario, pads are easier to change and dispose. That’s why, it’s essential for us to develop alternatives that women are comfortable with and which also don’t pollute the environment,” says 27-year-old Tanvi Johri, chief executive officer and co-founder, Carmesi, a New Delhi-based maker of sanitary pads, which are made from biodegradable bamboo fibre and corn starch, with no harmful synthetics or chemicals. The pads come enclosed in a biodegradable disposal bag, ensuring environment-friendly disposal. And even though the pad is priced 2.5 times higher (Rs 750 for a pack of 30) than the market price of an average sanitary napkin, Johri says they have more than 75,000 women using their product. “The fact that we enjoy a very good retention rate with our customers speaks for the acceptability of the product,” she says, adding. “We have partnerships with several NGOs, wherein we donate sanitary pads to the less privileged, organise awareness workshops for them, as well as contribute in other ways like planting trees and sensitising women about menstruation.”

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Then, of course, there is bio-degradable sanitary napkin company Heyday, which boasts of 70% customer retention in a little over 1.5 years since its launch. “We are growing at a steady rate of 40% on a monthly basis. We are also expanding to more online and offline chains. The focus is on new customer acquisition and maintaining the current ones… We aim to convert eight lakh women by the third quarter of 2019,” says founder Kanoria.

All about men
While still in the nascent stage, the men’s grooming segment in India, too, is seeing great upheaval. Expanding from bath, beard, body, skin and haircare products, the options today include a wide variety of intimate-care products. Gurugram-based The Man Company (TMC), which offers head-to-toe grooming essentials for men and was founded in 2015, for instance, launched anti-chafing creams and anti-sweat lotions for men around a month ago after realising that there is untapped demand in this category. “Our anti-chafing cream and anti-sweat lotion from the Defence Theory range have been well received, considering that these were launched just a month ago. The lotion is formulated with moringa and vitamin E, agents known to cure skin infections and sores,” says Bhisham Bhateja, chief operating officer, TMC, whose products are SLS- and paraben-free. “Male grooming is still in its nascent stage and intimate hygiene for men even more so. A lot of awareness and education are required, but the future seems very promising,” he says.

Besides TMC, there is the UK-based company, Below the Belt Grooming, which sells a range of products in India online such as ‘men gel’ for a clean and dry groin in multiple variants and Below the Belt Instant Clean Spray for intimate areas. Similarly, Ahmedabad-based Beardo, which was launched in 2016, recently launched an intimate-care wash for men’s groin area after having set foot in the market with a range of products for the upkeep of beard, hair and skin. “With thorough research and market study, we found that urban men were open to the idea of grooming. Hence, we came up with an intimate-care wash that prevents odour, itchiness, inflammation and infections in the intimate area,” says Ashutosh Valani, co-founder, Beardo.

Another player is Pureplay Skin Sciences, a Unilever Venture Capital-backed skincare startup. Founded in 2013, Pureplay recently launched its Phy brand (which is dedicated to men’s grooming) after tasting great success with the Plum brand, dedicated to skin and haircare products for women. The USP of Phy is that the products are cruelty-free and 100% vegan. “We had several (women) consumers of Plum who asked us if the men in their lives could use Plum or if we had separate products for them. Several men, too, contacted us with specific skincare queries and product requests, and that’s how Phy was conceived,” says Shankar Prasad, founder and director, Pureplay Skin Sciences. “When we set out designing the products, we were very clear about one thing: the values of brand Plum would be carried forward into Phy—it would be 100% vegan, have only safe ingredients and recyclable packaging, and contribute 1% of every sale for the environment,” adds Prasad.

Intimate-care is not yet on Phy’s horizon, as the brand has only been operational for a few months, but a number of products to solve “real” problems of men are in the pipeline, says Prasad. “We already have an ultra-light SPF day moisturiser that is non-greasy yet provides SPF 45 sun protection. We also have a hair and beard serum that’s ultra-light, but is loaded with hair protecting and conditioning actives. Several more interesting products are on the horizon,” promises Prasad.

Innovation first
One of the most innovative launches in the personal hygiene segment in India, however, remains PeeBuddy, which was launched by Sirona’s Deep Bajaj in July 2015 with the aim of enabling women to stand and pee in case of absence of clean toilets around them. Shaped like a funnel and made from paper, the product, which comes in an Oxo bio-degradable disposal bag, can be carried anywhere. By giving women the freedom to stand and pee, it protects them from contracting infections from unhygienic public toilets. “The idea came on a road trip in 2013 that I took with family and friends when I realised how blessed men are to be able to pee anywhere at any given time. Also, while you’re travelling, you see that it’s almost impossible to keep portable toilets clean,” says Bajaj. Over the years, PeeBuddy has gained massive acceptance among the masses, including a mention in The Limca Book of Records. “My only conviction was that if there’s a problem in this area, I should be able to provide a solution,” adds Bajaj.

Another product promoting personal hygiene by Sirona is the sweat patch, which is available for both men and women. The sweat patches can be stuck to the inside of garments, preventing staining. Sirona also offers intimate wet wipes for women. With fruit and aloe vera extracts, the wipes are hypoallergenic and ideal for intimate areas, including the underarms, bikini area and breasts.

Then there is Delhi-based Clensta International, a biotech startup, which specialises in waterless products. Its portfolio includes waterless shampoos and body baths, which work like a soap, but without the need of water to wash it all off. “We use a simple formulation, which is free of alcohol, SLS and other harmful ingredients. It can be directly applied to the hair and body, massaged and then dried off using a towel. This removes dirt, oil and grease completely and provides you with a complete bathing experience. Through these 100% natural and waterless products, we aim to omit the old mechanism of maintaining hygiene and redefine the whole experience of bathing,” says Puneet Gupta, founder and CEO, Clensta International, which was founded in 2016 by Gupta and his business partner Anurag S Rathore.

Talking about what led them to start the company, he says, “After extensive discussions with experts and while closely working with the armed forces, I realised that directly or indirectly, the availability of water or the living conditions of an individual are primary reasons why people lack access to something as basic as personal hygiene. Our idea was to make personal hygiene accessible to everyone,” says Gupta.

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