Brands and countries

In many regions, the topic of menstruation is no longer the taboo it once was. Menstrual health is now becoming a more open discussion with an emphasis on inclusion. Manufacturers around the world are making efforts to adapt their terminology and products to evolving needs. Some are even promoting accessibility and affordability of period care products, as well as education in regions battling period inequity.

As a manufacturer, you’ve no doubt noticed that the topics of menstruation and period care products are coming into a new age. The evolving attitude toward menstruation brings significant shifts in the market segment that was, for years, called ‘feminine hygiene’. For product producers serving the market, understanding and embracing these changes may be the difference between being trusted or being seen as behind the times.

When the term ‘menstrual hygiene’ was first created by advertising experts in the 1920s, menstruation was a hush-hush matter. For many years, the cultural stigma against discussing or even acknowledging a woman’s period remained strong. Today’s consumers, however, are reclaiming it as a natural cycle and bringing it into the open. This more candid dialogue has begun to drive several changes:

  • More direct language
  • Increased accessibility
  • A larger variety of products
  • More sustainable options

Over the course of several episodes of our ‘Attached to Hygiene’ podcast, we spoke to many experts in the field. Here are some insights we considered valuable and thought you would, too.

From ‘Feminine Hygiene’ to ‘Menstrual Health’: Why Words Matter to the Consumer

Perhaps the most obvious change is the language used to describe this market’s consumers and menstruation itself. The newer verbiage has already been embraced by several absorbent hygiene companies.

Danielle Keiser, Managing Partner of Impact at Madami, addressed the topic directly. She explains that both the words ‘feminine’ and ‘hygiene’ can be problematic as each has flaws in light of the current culture.

With an increasing awareness that not every individual who menstruates identifies as a woman and that not every woman wants to be feminised, the term ‘feminine’ seems antiquated. Phrases like ‘people who menstruate’ or ‘people with periods’ are both more accurate and more direct.

Several years ago, the phrase ‘menstrual hygiene’ was introduced. However, there is a perception that ‘hygiene’ itself insinuates that menstruation is ‘dirty’.

‘When we talk about hygiene, the antithesis to that is cleanliness,’ says the menstrual health advocate. ‘When we use hygiene to talk about the condition, it could inadvertently reinforce the [idea that] the vagina and V-zone area is dirty and disgusting, and periods are gross.’

The term ‘menstrual health’ was only published in 2021, but it has become the go-to term used. For much the same reason, manufacturers and suppliers are adopting the phrase ‘period care products’ to speak to the absorbent hygiene articles themselves. As Danielle puts it, this is a ‘really exciting’ advancement because ‘language is power’.

According to Danielle, the eradication of stigma ‘… opens up the conversation to talking about menstrual cycle beyond the hygienic management of periods but also talk about conditions, dignity, irregularities, inclusion.’

Manufacturers Focus on Education, Accessibility, and Affordability in Period Care

The changing language is just one facet in a bigger move to reduce and ideally eliminate the cultural stigma that is associated with menstruation. Many experts believe that education is the starting point. From a producer perspective, being aware of these barriers is key to connecting with your users.

This need for information is more pronounced in some regions of the world than others, explains India’s Chirag Virani, co-founder of Sparkle Eco Innovations.

Beyond just being an undue cause of embarrassment, menstruation presents larger issues for individuals in these areas of the world. The fear of being observed keeps some from correctly washing and sanitising reusable products, which can pose a risk to health. It can also exacerbate a lack of access to period products.

‘Having a period is a sentence for being excluded … We’re talking about millions of girls and women dropping out of school and missing work,’ Chirag says. ‘When they do have access to products, there’s a 90 percent chance they will go … so there’s a direct correlation with accessibility and ability to participate in school.’

This state is known as ‘period poverty’, or the now-favoured term of ‘menstrual inequity’. Both phrases refer to the lack of ability to purchase period care products because of poverty in general. Companies have been working with governments and non-profit organisations to combat this issue. The ultimate goal is to provide products that consumers can easily access and afford.

According to many in the field, menstruation is a natural need. For this reason, the belief is that these articles should be free and easily accessible where users need them—just like toilet paper. This is the very essence of Pads on a Roll™, created by Egal Pads, Inc. The award-winning product makes menstrual pads available on rolls in bathroom stalls.

‘All biological functions should be treated in the same way,’ says Egal Pads CEO Penelope Finnie. Individuals who menstruate have traditionally been expected to carry period products with them, but that sentiment is not shared for toilet paper, she points out.

‘(Menstruation) is a biological function that nobody has any control over, so [we need to] provide for it,’ she states.

The idea that period products are not a luxury, but a necessity that should be ubiquitous, continues to grow. As you produce absorbent articles for individuals who menstruate, this is one of the changing attitudes that will likely inform and impact your decisions as a manufacturer.

More than ever before, consumers want to see their menstrual health needs normalised and have choices in how to address them. As a result, this expectation is driving a variety of article trends in menstrual health.

Several of our experts believe Millennials and members of Gen Z tend to expect the prioritisation of people over products. By focusing on individuals, companies are contributing to mainstreaming these natural needs and their consumer’s right to manage them as they best believe works for their lifestyle.

This viewpoint is encouraging manufacturers to offer a larger variety of choices in period care options. More sustainable alternatives are growing in popularity. For example, items such as menstrual cups and period panties have become more widely available.

Brands are producing attractive styles in period panties and creating bold advertising to promote the product. The industry is also seeing related social media campaigns. These include End Period Plastic Products, which calls for reducing period product waste.

‘I think all of these trends right now are really focused on [combating the effects of] climate change and [finding] environmental solutions’, Danielle shares. 'Consumers are becoming increasingly informed and disillusioned. They are pushing for more regulation and policy change.’

These in turn drive other industry trends such as transparency in packaging and [clearer] information, says Jan O’ Regan, former Director of Strategic Initiatives at Cotton Incorporated. She notes that many manufacturers understand that their consumers want to know what’s going into their products, and they even go above and beyond much of the time.

‘We are talking about products in this market for which there is really no requirement for ingredient disclosure,’ she says. ‘We are seeing companies revealing on the packages the product content even when it’s not required.’

The overall theme is more diversity, inclusion, and freedom, says Danielle. As the culture shifts, individuals who menstruate are moving away from the traditional approach to managing their period each month. This means no longer using only pads or tampons and being made aware of the other options that exist.

‘The future of the industry revolves around the notion of informed choice,’ she explains. ‘The menstruater should be aware of the full suite of products if one month they want to use period panties and the next month use disposable pads and then another month free-bleed on a blanket they bought, as long as they are not hurting anyone, great, let’s do it.’

Keeping Up with Your Consumer’s Menstrual Health Needs

As you look to keep the users of your period care products satisfied, it’s vital to stay up to date on the ever-evolving menstrual health market. Bostik is here to help you navigate these changing times in relation to your product. Find more valuable information with these ‘Attached to Hygiene’ podcasts:

  • Episode 21 ‘An Introduction to Menstrual Health with Danielle Keiser’
  • Episode 22 ‘The Menstrual Health Market Pt. 1 with Jan O’ Regan’
  • Episode 23 ‘The Menstrual Health Market Pt. 2 with Jan O’ Regan’
  • Episode 24 ‘Megatrends from the World of Menstrual Health with Danielle Keiser’
  • Episode 38 ‘The Menstrual Health Market in India Pt. 1 with Chirag Virani’
  • Episode 39 ‘The Menstrual Health Market in India Pt. 2 with Chirag Virani’

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