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Vaginal health offers opportunities for biotics beyond the gut

Article-Vaginal health offers opportunities for biotics beyond the gut

© iStock/Dr_Microbe Vaginal health offers opportunities for biotics beyond the gut
Launches in vaginal health products are growing, creating opportunities for enterprising brands to leverage consumers’ familiarity with pre- and probiotics beyond the gut, according to Mintel.

Like the gut, the vagina is home to billions of bacteria. A healthy vaginal microbiome is dominated by lactobacilli, which produce various antimicrobial compounds and help to maintain a slightly acidic pH level to prevent growth of yeast and bad bacteria.

The types of bacteria found in the vaginal microflora, such as Lactobacillus crispatus and Lactobacillus gasseri, vary between individuals and fluctuate over a woman’s lifetime. Mintel suggests that this offers an opportunity for companies to lean into consumers’ understanding of pre- and probiotics, extending this beyond the gut to introduce the importance of a balanced vaginal microbiome.

However, brands should be wary about overstating claims, as findings regarding the benefits of probiotics for vaginal health are mixed. Some researchers have suggested this may be due to not administering the correct bacteria to the correct body site”, as many products on the market do not contain the specific strains found in the vaginal tract.

In any case, maintaining transparency around biotic claims is key to avoid harming consumer trust.

Brands can take lead on conversations destigmatising vaginal health

One strategy might be for brands to take the lead on conversations around vaginal health.

More than one in three (36%) of US consumers say that it is important to maintain the vaginal microbiome, Mintel data shows – while almost a quarter (22%) are more likely to buy from a brand that encourages open discussion of feminine care.

However, despite this, more than one in ten (11%) of females and transgender males deal with vaginal itchiness by letting the symptoms run their course without taking action, suggesting limited awareness and knowledge of available solutions.

This limited consumer awareness suggests there is an opportunity for industry to empower women to take charge of their vaginal health.

Mintel suggests that brands “prioritise the development of accessible vaginal care solutions and educate with science-backed facts to empower consumers to take charge of their vaginal health with confidence and comfort”.

In the US, women’s health startup Evvy uses metagenomics to sequence the vaginal microbiome via an at-home swab test. The company, which says it is “pioneering precision care for vaginal health” sends users their results alongside a customised plan of science-backed recommendations – such as taking a specific probiotic or antibiotic – and one-on-one coaching.

Launches in vaginal health products growing

Launches in vaginal health products are growing and are dominated by the vitamins, minerals, and supplements (VMS) category, according to Mintel.

Boots Good Gut Live Friendly Bacteria + Women's Health Support Food Supplement, launched in July 2023, is an example of one product seeking to target the category. These capsules, which contain 17.5 billion biotic cultures, proven to reach the gut alive”, are positioned as being “designed to give a helping hand to create a healthy gut environment”.

However, the packaging adds, they also contain L. gasseri – “a normal part of the vaginal flora as well as cranberry extract and vitamin B6 “to help regulate hormonal activity”.

Meanwhile, OPositiv Health URO Vaginal Probiotic Capsules promise to “supercharge your vagina with science-backed ingredientsthat include five billion CFUs of “V-Positiv probiotic blend of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus fermentum, and XOS prebiotics”.

Elsewhere, Mintel suggested that brands adopt a holistic, multifaceted approach by pairing VMS with bodycare, giving the Love Wellness Ultimate Vaginal Bundle Kit as an example.

The kit – which combines cosmetics such as wipes and a cleanser with probiotics and a vitamin complex containing turmeric, garlic, and black pepper fruit extracts – allows consumers to maintain their vaginal health from the inside out”, Mintel added.