Recent studies suggest that women struggle to open up to their partners, let alone their doctors and pharmacists, about intimate health conditions

Around 10 million women – that’s half of the UK’s adult female population – suffer from incontinence. Data from adult incontinence brand Depend reveals that two-thirds of these women ignore the condition.

Nearly six in 10 of those interviewed for a Depend white paper choose to keep the issue a secret from their partners, 66 per cent haven’t spoken to a GP, while 19 per cent haven’t spoken to anyone at all. And 69 per cent of these women choose to remain housebound for long periods of time. The study quizzed over 1,000 women and its findings were revealed in October to coincide with the launch of Kimberly-Clark’s Depend Active-Fit underwear in the UK.

A high-profile campaign endorsed by TV celebrity Nadia Sawalha, who speaks candidly about her own experiences, accompanied the Active-Fit launch. She says: “It makes me so sad when I talk to women who experience incontinence and find they feel embarrassed, less feminine and unable to talk about it with their loved ones. Although I’ve spoken publicly about experiencing incontinence I still find it really difficult to speak to my husband, so I understand why it’s a sensitive topic for so many of us.”

She adds, “I never dreamed I would ever use an incontinence product. To me, it represented a line I didn’t want to cross. Now I’ve worn Depend Active-Fit underwear, I realise I couldn’t have been more wrong. The underwear is discreet, comfortable and has a very flattering cut.”

Findings in the white paper show that pharmacists have a role to play and more work to do around incontinence. It revealed that 60 per cent of women felt supported after receiving information or advice.
But 43 per cent were still not using any incontinence products, and 76 per cent were delaying the move – many still used sanitary pads and liners.

Kate Goodman, vice-president and managing director of Kimberly-Clark UK and Ireland, says: “Depend is committed to changing perceptions by launching Active-Fit underwear and inviting those who are delaying the move into incontinence underwear to find the rediscovered confidence and self-esteem they could
gain from a whole community of women – empowering and educating them to make the switch and regain their active lifestyle.”

Depend Active-Fit comes in packs of eight and retails at around £6.75. Samples are available from www.depend.co.uk.

Physical and hormonal changes

Bladder weakness is often related to physical and hormonal changes and, as such, is a common occurrence during the menopause, says Donna Wilson, TENA training and brand manager. In particular, the menopause reduces the quantity of oestrogen within the abdominal muscles, which can shift the position of the bladder. This reduces the effectiveness of the muscles around the urinary tract that hold the bladder closed, causing bladder weakness.

Lower levels of oestrogen can also result in the weakening of pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to a particular type of bladder weakness known as stress incontinence. This refers to a slight leak of urine, usually a few drops, which can occur when coughing, sneezing or laughing.

“As an intimate issue, the menopause can be an uncomfortable and even embarrassing time for women and may result in customers finding it even more difficult to shop the bladder weakness category,” says Ms Wilson. “It is therefore important for pharmacy staff to be on hand to tactfully open a dialogue and reassure customers about the commonality of bladder weakness, especially during and after the menopause.”

Women are increasingly likely to purchase products for intimate health issues from pharmacy, as they view this as a trusted environment where they can seek additional advice from trained advisors. As such, bladder weakness is one of the fastest growing OTC categories in pharmacy. “Pharmacy teams are therefore in an ideal position to introduce women to purpose-made bladder weakness protection, such as TENA Lady, and to educate them on the benefits of using these types of products over regular sanitary protection.”

Menopause unmentionables

Another revealing intimate healthcare study was conducted on behalf of the vaginal moisturiser brand Replens MD in August and September. Over 1,000 women and 977 men were interviewed to find out their attitudes towards professional help and intimate health issues, particularly vaginal dryness.

The survey found that many women experience a reduced sex drive after the age of 50 due to the menopause, lack of energy and vaginal dryness, which affects around 40 per cent of menopausal women.

“The findings announced by Replens MD as part of their educational campaign on vaginal dryness have confirmed that women have anxieties when it comes to discussing intimate health issues with professionals and their partners too,” explains Kathy Abernethy, a menopause specialist nurse and spokesperson for Replens.

“Almost half of the women polled suffer from vaginal dryness, with around two thirds saying that it impacts on their ability to have sex. Despite this, 42 per cent of sufferers put up with the condition because they think it’s just part of growing older,” she adds.

Ms Abernethy explains that women are not aware that they can get advice from their local pharmacist to help them find effective symptom relief. “Women are suffering from a condition which is having an impact on their life when they don’t need to. Pharmacists are in a key position to open a dialogue to discuss a range of menopausal related issues, like vaginal dryness, when women are self-selecting products related to other menopausal conditions.”

Intimate skincare

Another new intimate skincare range, In2Mate, was launched in the second half of October 2016. The 99 per cent natural products rejuvenate and lubricate vaginal skin, and contain an antioxidant and probiotic for a healthy bacterial balance and prevention of bacterial vaginitis, thrush and bacterial infections.

The range, available at www.in2mate. co.uk, includes a non-perfumed intimate wash, moisturiser and lubricant. The whole set retails at £14.95, and products can be sold individually.

Dr Elena Arias, director of the Graal Clinic in Puerto Banús, Spain, and spokesperson for In2Mate, explains that ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ is a fast-growing therapy as women seek to help reverse the signs and symptoms of aging in vaginal skin. She explains: “The majority of intimate skincare products focus predominantly on antibacterial or cleansing actions. But vaginal skin ages like any other area of skin. Antioxidants are crucial for helpingt to slow down the ageing process of skin and In2mate products contain antioxidants that are suitable for use in the vaginal area. Antioxidants help improve elasticity and moisture retention in ageing skin and so are highly beneficial to intimate skin, not just for cosmetic reasons, but more importantly for maintaining structural integrity of this fragile area of skin which can help improve overall vaginal comfort and health.”

60 per cent of women felt supported after receiving information or advice 

Mastering period pain relief

Painmaster Women, a lightweight microcurrent therapy device to relieve period pain, was launched in the first quarter of 2016. Painmaster’s patches can be placed each side of the painful area and microcurrents gently stimulate tissue, restoring blood supply to the area and relieving pain.

Each Painmaster Women device comes with two sets of patches that can be used for up to two cycles of pain relief, each with a built-in battery lasting 300 hours. Microcurrent therapy cannot be used during pregnancy, by those with pacemakers, those using insulin pumps, or by under-12s. The patches should not be placed over open wounds, on the head, or over or near transdermal drug patches.

Managing director of themicrocurrentsite. co.uk Steve Hutchinson explains that Painmaster is being backed by a national PR campaign. He says: “The campaign targets both trade and consumer press, and focuses on a new study that reveals how inflammation is the cause of period pain. It is being promoted in pharmacies via point of sale, including leaflets. Training and marketing support is available, with competitive pricing and discounts.”

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