Chemical-free products free of ingredients like alcohol, parabens, SLS and other harsh substances are gaining popularity as consumers learn the importance of reading labels.
By Srijana Bagaria
The rise of the millennial population has impacted everything around us. Given the voracious appetite of the younger generation for awareness and the sharp rise in disposable incomes, the market is bustling with innovation in every industry – including personal hygiene. The new-age consumer is better informed and is moving towards products that are not only more environmentally sustainable but also responsibly made overall. With the introduction of exclusive products such as intimate hygiene wash for men and toilet seat sanitizer sprays for women, the market for intimate care products has increased to almost US $3 billion and this is estimated to further grow to 5.3 billion by 2025.
The Progress and Potential
All these years, personal hygiene products were confined to segments like skincare, but now the market is maturing rapidly, and there is a greater variety in gender-based products as well. Chemical-free products free of ingredients like alcohol, parabens, SLS and other harsh substances are gaining popularity as consumers learn the importance of reading labels. Today’s consumer expects products to deliver what they promise and are not as easily fooled by fancy marketing gimmicks or packaging. Innovators are thus researching to bring to the core many products that were originally targeted towards a specific segment only. Besides, the industry is focused on bringing in more innovation into products — such as sanitary napkins — in a holistic way so as to address many social as well as environmental issues. Today, the market is all about expanding the scope of utility and adding numerous variants to a single product to give the consumer variety in a new, fiercely competitive market.
The transformation is also evident by the fact that even the quintessential everyday products are donning a fresh avatar. Researchers are catering to the very essentials of personal hygiene by delivering products that are exclusive and specific. For instance, there are a range of intimate hygiene wash products that cater to women and men exclusively as unisex products fail to serve the purpose. Having understood in depth the potential of this market, manufacturers believe they still have a long way to go in order to be able to reach a huge audience.
As for feminine hygiene products, the focus is on creating a more intimate experience that is safe, skin-friendly, comfortable and purely functional. A big chunk of the urban female audience now not only identifies good personal hygiene as a prerogative but also believes in buying products that resonate with their personality and body type. For instance, to address menstrual hygiene including safe disposal of used sanitary napkins, market leaders have come up with biodegradable sanitary tampons and pads made from organic cotton. Herbal pain relief options such as Feminine Cramp Relief Roll-On remedies are also available.
Men’s intimate hygiene is also a topic that has never been given due importance until recently. But now there are products specifically designed for and targeted towards the urban male consumer, and the personal care market for this gender has moved beyond just hair creams and shaving gels. There are antiperspirants, body sprays and other products that are oriented towards grooming and hygiene. Leading players have launched a range of intimate care products for men such as intimate wash gels, sprays as well as facial and body hair grooming products. The market has been quick to capture the demand for grooming products from the cosmopolitan male population in India.
While the feminine hygiene market stands at the whopping US $36 billion globally, industry experts believe they have only tapped into a small percentage of this. Creating more awareness can help penetrate a larger audience. For example, while only 18% of menstruating Indian women use sanitary pads, even those who use are at risk of developing many health problems. Experts say that more than 90% of women’s sanitation products use harmful chemicals and raw materials that can enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc on the body when used over a long period of time.
Lack of awareness is one of the major hurdles deterring the widespread market penetration for women’s intimate hygiene products. These topics must not be taboo anymore and we must dispel the social stigma that continues to be attached to them. Anything to do with our private parts is either discussed in hushed tones with metaphors or simply not talked about at all. However, knowledge is a great armour against the evils of social prejudices. For example, women are now gaining awareness about the perils of the age-old practice of douching, which is quite detrimental to sensitive vaginal walls. Not many know the pros of using a gentle pH-balanced intimate wash specially designed for women instead. Similarly, knowledge about sanitary pads is also quite limited as many do not know how to use it properly, how frequently to change and how to dispose of them securely. There are a few players in the market that have successfully replaced plastic-based sanitary pads, tampons and panty liners with organic, biodegradable ones. However, the market share of these players remains quite low. While they have a good online presence, they are yet to become household names.
While the urban women may have come of age when it comes to talking about intimate hygiene in the open, breaking the taboo and foraying further into the population can be tricky for the manufacturers, especially in rural areas. Here the resistance can often come from the women themselves, who are not only financially dependent but also shy and confined by social norms prevalent in their households, where menstruation is viewed through the lens of shame and as something “unnatural”.
The way forward
The personal hygiene market is evolving steadily mainly due to new entrants or startups that are more focused on helping people, especially women, lead a normal, active life. For the new-age consumer, it is no longer about spending money, but rather consciously spending on the right product. The millennials know that the importance of personal grooming and intimate hygiene goes beyond the superficial cleansing effect of the soap, shampoo and face wash regime.
(The author is Co-founder, Pee Safe. Views expressed are the author’s own.)