Sex Sells: How beauty brands are normalizing once-taboo products


Hair removal tools and sex toys were once hidden in shopping carts, but as women embrace these needs a crop of new beauty brands are capitalizing on the revolution.

When the shave brand Harry’s was founded in 2013 by Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeff Raider, it was geared solely towards men’s grooming needs. Today, however, the company reports that over one million women also rely on its shave subscription program, which – alongside an initial razor and shaving cream – regularly ships customers fresh blades based on how often they’re needed.

Sensing a void in the market for women, two of Harry’s employees, Allie Melnick and Brittania Boey, launched an offshoot brand called Flamingo earlier this month to better cater to female consumers. Their goal? To dispel the myth of feminine perfection and embrace women’s natural bodies – bumps, dry skin, body hair, and all. Products include razors, shaving gel, body lotion, and wax kits, all of which are marketed towards hairy areas – from the mustache area to toes – that have long been considered taboo topics for women.

Melnick and Boey are not alone in their mission: as more and more women launch beauty and wellness brands centered around their specific needs, these formerly hush-hush topics, like the state of one’s panty line or libido, are being brought into the limelight.

Fur, founded by Lillian Tung and Laura Schubert, has made the treatment of ingrown hairs positively chic with their stylish “Fur Oil” bottles which are regularly shared on Into the Gloss profiles and Instagram. Brands like Lola and Province Apothecary have created more relevant replacements for the typical drugstore lubricant, selling natural-leaning formulas that are vitamin-infused and organic. For women suffering from low libido, there are now popular supplement cures from companies like Moon Juice and Beauty Works West that have helped de-shame the issue. And adjacent to all of these grooming and health needs are brands like Dame and Unbound, which sell sex toys made for women by women.

What they all share is a mix of minimalist design-savvy, straight-talking marketing and an emphasis on natural and good-for-you ingredients. Most importantly, though, is their collective focus on being judgment-free, which Theresa Yee, a senior beauty editor at WGSN, attributes to the rise of both female empowerment and body positivity. In the words of Fur co-founder Lillian Tung, “[It’s] about creating a more inclusive definition of beauty, whether you think the bush is back or skin is in.”

Female empowerment has also led to an outgrowth of female entrepreneurs, which has been particularly key to the launch of these brands, according to Victoria Buchanan, a senior strategic researcher at The Future Laboratory. “Historically, female hygiene brands have been beset by lazy marketing euphemisms and a lack of innovation,” she said, hinting at classic products like Nair or KY Jelly which tend to sugarcoat female grooming or focus purely on male pleasure. “Now, women-led brands are challenging the notion that these types of products should be branded exclusively with male buyers in mind.”

These women-led brands have stormed the scene over the last few years: a recent report on the state of female entrepreneurship from the non-profit SCORE found that women today are more likely to launch their own businesses than men. That’s especially true in the healthcare space, within which 10 per cent of women launched their businesses, versus only 5 per cent of men. In the U.S. alone, businesses helmed by women generate roughly $1.6 trillion in revenues.

The timing of these newer brands is also ripe for female consumers at large. Amidst the fourth wave of feminism fueled by political upheaval and movements like #MeToo, women are no longer keen to leave their sexual health and wellness up to the whims of male-led brands that don’t always have their best interests at heart. “Women’s bodies are still scrutinized, but in the last decade we’ve seen them become more outspoken about their sexual wellbeing while rejecting gendered stereotypes, fueling a cultural shift towards openness and honesty around these topics,” said Buchanan.