Over the past couple of decades, the importance of women’s health and care has come to prominence. The days of sweeping ‘lady issues’ under the rug are coming to an end, and we’re witnessing the rise of female technology, also known as femtech. It’s an umbrella term encompassing innovative products and services geared towards improving women’s lives. These include fertility and period-tracking devices, reproductive system health solutions, as well as pregnancy and nursing care innovations.
The goal of femtech is to make women feel more empowered and eager to take more control over their bodies and health. Women today have an influential role within the healthcare industry. In fact, the consulting company Frost & Sullivan reports that 80 per cent of household healthcare spending is done by female consumers. The same source also reveals that women are 75 per cent more likely to use digital healthcare tools than men. All this created a massive surge of femtech solutions on the market. What’s more, femtech has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Frost & Sullivan predicts that the global women’s health market could reach a value of $50 billion by 2025.
Cora’s organic feminine hygiene and care products meet the needs of modern women
Investors have recognised this opportunity and are pouring billions of dollars into femtech startups and companies. As a result, new companies are getting on the marketplace, offering innovative solutions and services fitted to female consumers’ needs. One of those companies is Cora. This San-Francisco based firm was founded in 2015 by Molly Hayward and Morgen Newman, who wanted to help women feel more comfortable during their menstrual cycle. Cora provides women with a menstrual product subscription service. Once a customer signs up on the website, she’s required to fill out a short quiz about her period. The quiz is designed to help customers select the right products, adjusted to their needs and preferences. The selected products can be changed or cancelled at any time. Cora’s solutions, which are manufactured in Europe and the US, are made from organic cotton, which is a healthier alternative to non-organic materials. The products are also fragrance-free, so they’re suitable even for people with sensitive skin.
In 2019, Cora expanded its product line, and introduced bladder leak liners for women. Also known as urinary incontinence, bladder leakage is still a taboo topic. And this problem is far more common than people think. In early 2019, Cora conducted a survey involving 1,000 women from the US between the ages of 30 and 50. The survey reveals that 41 per cent of women in their thirties experience urinary incontinence at least once a week. Though two thirds of women rely on traditional period pads to cope with bladder leaks, they would like to have more appropriate products. This inspired Cora to develop pads made from organic and hypoallergenic materials. The product can absorb 20 times its weight and will fit any woman’s body.
Besides providing women with solutions that are healthy and safe to use, Cora also works with organisations in India and Kenya to educate young girls about menstruation and feminine care. And for every monthly supply of Cora’s products that a customer purchases, the company donates a monthly supply to a girl in need.
Smart tampons could help in diagnosing endometriosis
Besides making menstrual cycles more comfortable, femtech solutions play a much larger role in women’s healthcare. For instance, smart technology could detect dangerous diseases and conditions before it’s too late. One such solution is being developed by a healthcare startup called NextGen Jane. The idea is to use a smart tampon to detect the early signs of endometriosis. This condition decreases women’s chances of getting pregnant, and it’s more common among women who are in their 30s and 40s. It occurs when tissue from the lining of the uterus starts to grow in other places outside the uterus.
Today, laparoscopy is used as a reliable way to diagnose endometriosis, and it consists of inserting a small camera through an incision near the belly button. This invasive procedure, along with being somewhat unpleasant, comes with risks such as bowel injury and scarring. But smart tampons could make the process of diagnosing endometriosis a lot safer and easier. The person will only be required to wear the customised tampon for two hours, and it will come as part of a home kit. After using the tampon, women will store it inside a test tube and send it to the lab, and that’s pretty much it. Before commercialising the product, NextGen Jane needs to test the innovation and get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to The Silicon Review, this process could take around two years.
Fitbit added a period-tracking feature to its app
Irregular and painful periods can be symptoms of often serious health problems. For this reason, it’s important that women keep track of their monthly cycles. Days filled with numerous tasks tend to make us forget that health comes first, and tracking their period is a task most women don’t pay attention to, but should. The solution is accessible and doesn’t require much time to set up.
To simplify the period-tracking process, Fitbit added a new feature to its iOS and Android app. The feature, released in 2018, enables users to know more about their “periods, fertile windows, ovulation days, and female health symptoms”. Based on the information that the user provides, Fitbit’s app uses an algorithm to present accurate predictions. The app features a calendar containing cycle information, and each stage of the user’s menstrual cycle is indicated with a different colour. For instance, light pink is used for the predicted period date, and solid blue for the estimated fertile window. If a user decides to receive reminders about upcoming periods, she’ll be notified two days before her period starts. Fitbit also paid attention to the security of the data, so users can’t share their data directly from the Fitbit app.
And Fitbit isn’t the only period-tracking method out there. In fact, numerous free mobile apps such as Clue and Flo help women around the world to become more familiar with their cycles and periods in general.
Natural Cycles is the first digital method of contraception
There seems to be an app for everything today. But with so many apps on the market, it can be hard to identify valuable solutions from useless ones. With Natural Cycles, this isn’t the case. This fertility-tracking mobile application is “the first digital method of contraception available in both the US and Europe”. The app has been approved by the FDA, and it also meets EU’s safety and health requirements. Just like Fitbit’s app, Natural Cycles relies on algorithms to predict when a woman is fertile, helping her to become intimately familiar with her reproductive system. This allows women to avoid unwanted pregnancies, as well as increase their chances of getting pregnant if they’re trying to.
To make the app work, women measure their temperature using a basal thermometer and enter the data into the app. This should be done at least five times a week. Users should also insert period dates for each month. Smart algorithms will analyse the data, while taking into account factors such as temperature fluctuations and variations in cycle length. If the app detects ovulation, it will mark the user’s fertility status in red and notify her to be especially careful and use a condom. To prove the effectiveness of its app, Natural Cycles conducted a two-year study that included 22,000 women. The results, published in the journal Contraception, show that the effectiveness rate of Natural Cycles is 93 per cent. On its website, the company gives a disclaimer saying that “no method of contraception is 100% effective,” and “even if the app is used correctly, a woman can still have an unintended pregnancy”.
The Bluetooth-enabled Kegg device tracks women’s fertility
Natural Cycles isn’t the only fertility-tracking solution on the market. The San-Francisco based company Lady Technologies claims it’s developed an even more sophisticated tool. A sensor-equipped device called Kegg is Bluetooth-connected and made from silicone that’s completely safe for the human body. Once the device is inserted into a woman’s vaginal passage, it emits electric pulses to detect and analyse changes in the cervical mucus, which indicate whether ovulation has started. To produce a reading, the device should be worn for no longer than two minutes.
Besides tracking fertility, the device can be used to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which is recommended to women as part of their postpartum recovery. Once Kegg collects the relevant data, it’s sent to the cloud, where it’s analysed and turned into accurate predictions. The method of measuring fertility through mucus viscosity has been around for decades, claims Lady Technologies’ founder and CEO, Kristina Cahojova. However, we haven’t seen a lot of products built on this concept. Those that exist are larger, more complex, and their price isn’t affordable for many women. But Kegg is designed to change that.
The future of femtech
For a very long time, the selection of products for women’s health and feminine hygiene was limited. The industry wasn’t innovative, and people rarely talked about this issue. But the rise of femtech companies offers great potential to remove the stigma surrounding women’s health. This wave of change is bringing a variety of healthcare solutions designed specifically for women’s needs. As Natalie Cooper, a lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, notes, “people are becoming more aware of the things that we put into our bodies, products that have contact with our bodies, and their effect on the environment.” Along with removing social taboos, new solutions on the market will empower women and give them freedom of choice. Since femtech investments will continue to grow in the future, the industry could become the next big disruptor in the global healthcare market.