‘It’s a really delicate system’: Research on vaginal microbiome shows how little we know about femcare

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Our understanding of the vaginal microbiome reveals that the beauty and personal care industry has yet to fully address women's true needs in feminine care product. [Getty Image]
Our understanding of the vaginal microbiome reveals that the beauty and personal care industry has yet to fully address women's true needs in feminine care product. [Getty Image]

Related tags fem care microbiome Feminine care Feminine hygiene

What we currently know about the vaginal microbiome only highlights that the beauty and personal care industry has barely scratched the surface of what women really need from feminine care products.

While there is a certain understanding that some of the vaginal issues that women face is linked to the microbiome, there have been no clear evidence on what those links are.

Sequential Bio is Singapore-UK startup that specialises in microbiome testing and research. The company has developed microbiome tests for skin, scalp, and mouth.

The company has been gathering research on the vaginal microbiome and is aiming to launch a testing kit for the vaginal microbiome soon.

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Asia​, the company highlighted that education on intimate care was still inadequate and consumers continue to face misconceptions about care and hygiene in the area.

“From a science point of view, there was a lot of research. But we were quite surprised that the research was not translating quickly to the consumer level,”​ said Dr Albert Dashi, chief science officer and co-founder of Sequential Bio.

He elaborated: “So many women out there believe the marketing and claims. They may not understand the science behind it. If they see an influencer using it, they assume it will work for them as well, but that’s not the case. If you don’t know which microbiome profile you fall under, it’s hard for you to understand what products you can use.

“There's still a kind of grey area on what these products actually are claiming. A lot is not quite clear yet. So that's why we need to clear the air in the room a bit and bring a bit more science into it.”

A vulnerable environment

Dashi explained that the vaginal microbiome was a complex and sensitive environment. A slight change could lead to a disbalance and result in issues such as bacterial vaginosis.

“Unlike the skin microbiome, it is very clear what a healthy vaginal microbiome looks like. We can categorise them into five profiles because the differences are clear as night and day.”

The vaginal microbiome can be influenced in various ways, from topical personal care products to feminine hygiene products like tampons or menstrual cups.

“Mother Nature has made the vaginal microbiome a very controlled environment because it’s a very delicate system. The changes that happen within the microbiome are immediate. One change can cause dramatic changes, dramatic problems like a yeast infection,” ​he said.

He added that even procedures such as laser hair removal could affect the vaginal microbiome.

“These laser treatments can cause a complete change and they end up with infection and inflammation in the area. It may not be their first time doing such treatments, just one day they experience problems because the microbiome changes.”

In addition to these external factors, research show that the vaginal microbiome can vary intrinsically based on factors such as ethnicity.

“Ethnicity plays a role in the vaginal microbiome. In the evidence, you can literally see two groups, even if they are healthy groups, with different microbiomes. This is quite interesting for us because we still do not have clear evidence how ethnic plays a role in the skin microbiome,”​ said Dashi.

The company hopes to be able to support cosmetic companies in developing effective products and educating the public.

Moving forward, it hopes to further its research into the vaginal microbiome and find out how it has an impact on various areas, such as skin, gut, and even brain, said Dashi.

“We know the gut plays a role on the skin and that the skin has an important effect that’s directly linked to the immune system. We’re trying to understand now how the vaginal microbiome has an impact on all these aspects? Could there be a gut-vaginal axis? We believe there is and there is some evidence.”

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