Beauty industry must avoid ‘menowashing’, warn experts

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Beauty products targeting menopausal women have to be based on sound science and not just marketing chatter [Getty Images]
Beauty products targeting menopausal women have to be based on sound science and not just marketing chatter [Getty Images]

Related tags: Menopause, menopause beauty, Ageing, Women, female beauty, female health, Marketing, Research

Menopausal beauty is a space with huge untapped opportunity, but one that brands should approach in a credible and science-backed manner, caution female beauty experts.

Last month’s Menopause Beauty and Wellbeing webinar​, hosted by CosmeticsDesign-Europe and NutraIngredients, brought together three female beauty, wellbeing and life sciences experts to discuss the opportunities in this nascent and fast-evolving space.

Overall, the panellists agreed that brands offering credible, research-backed products along with advice to help consumers through menopause, without patronising or over-selling, had the best chance of succeeding in the space. In particular, preparation and prevention would prove key.

And, according to Kate Bermingham, postdoctoral researcher and nutrition academic lead at Kings College London’s ZOE Ltd, menopause beauty and wellbeing was a highly relevant category given women spent about one-third of their lives in a post-menopausal state.

‘Excited and nervous’ about market

Millie Kendall O.B.E, CEO of the British Beauty Council, said there had been an explosion in beauty products focused on the menopause recently, with traditional skincare brands also now onboarding, which made her both “excited and nervous” ​about the future.

“I am really grateful we are having this conversation, as five or six years ago we wouldn’t have been, but at the same time I am nervous about where this market is going,” ​Kendall said.

What she didn’t want to see happen was brands simply jumping aboard with marketing claims – “that’s not the way we should be going”​.

“…I think this is the start of something, of a category, and everyone has jumped in, but I think we could be at risk of menowashing, because I don’t think there is necessarily enough understanding of what the body is going through during menopause.”

Branding expert Sara Jones, co-founder and director of Free The Birds, shared Kendall’s concerns.

“Like Millie, I am grateful that we have these incredible pioneers out there who are banging the drum and opening doors. So many different organisations are driving that awareness, like GenM, Over The Bloody Moon and Boots No 7. with their Menopause Monologues and the identity they have crafted in-store to help consumers choose the right products,”​ Jones said.

However, she said that from a product perspective, the category had a long way to go.

“There is a lot of opportunity, but we need to be careful we are not just menowashing products and getting them on shelf if they are not going to deliver a true benefit to people in a fragile position. Women are going through this transition and we want to be sure that we are helping and supporting and guiding them through that process,” ​she said.

“…It is a space that needs to be done authentically and credibly,” ​Jones advised. 

Open-source research and collaboration critical

Ensuring menopause-oriented beauty products delivered a “true benefit”​ would involve heavy investment in R&D from industry, said both experts.

“I think claims, R&D, focus groups, and clinical trials are all very important, and a lot of that comes with a hefty price tag,” ​said Kendall.

“So, that is where we will see the difference between established brands and newer brands that don’t necessarily have the research to back them up. The larger, more established brands who have the R&D, can put money behind ensuring products are effective and are doing what they say on the tin, which is very important because it is a very fragile audience that needs to be handled with kid gloves.”

Looking ahead, she said collaboration between big and small beauty players would be essential from a research perspective. “I think that it’s incredibly wrong of us to not make research available and solutions available widely. And this is where I feel that the indie brands and collaboration comes into it. If the large brands can afford to do research and development, and can afford to find some really bonified solutions to help us along this journey, then that should be available to the indie brands as well (…) If you’ve got solutions, share them. Open-source is going to be really important.”

Bermingham said research funding remained the category’s biggest challenge, supporting this thinking.

“We have a lot to understand about all the changes occurring in the body as we transition across these stages of menopause. And there’s a lot to do to understand mechanisms behind what’s going on,”​ the postdoctoral researcher said.

“What I’m really excited about is the communication around menopause, the dissemination of information, the publications and the sharing of knowledge and all the work people are doing and actually the ‘stepping up’ of our understanding.”

Kendall said the beauty industry, however, had to be careful not to cross over into medical intervention territory and profess to be the ultimate solution during menopause, and similarly avoid just replacing ageing claims with menopause claims.

Shifting the conversation: A cause for celebration

Jones said beauty brands ought to be encouraging, supporting, even celebratory of the menopause when working in this space.

“I am all for building confidence and showing that the menopause is not something to be ashamed of. In the same way as puberty, the menopause is an exciting time - it is the next lease of life. From a communication point of view, it is not about patronising or making women feel bad, it is about acknowledging that it is a change that brings new opportunities,”​ she said.

Whilst there remained a “long way to go”​ in breaking societal taboos around the menopause, the conversation was moving in the right direction.

What’s exciting, is this is only the start. And the voices are loud and they’re only going to get louder and it will gain momentum,” ​Jones said.

Interested in hearing this expert-led discussion in depth? You can still register to watch the full webinar on-demand for free HERE.

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