July 2024

The new phenomenon of ‘menowashing’

In recent years the menopause has taken the spotlight with more women and healthcare professionals highlighting the impact of the menopause on women’s lives. Though this is a fantastic breakthrough in terms of supporting women through this time it has also led to an explosion in over-the-counter products targeted at menopausal women. It is estimated that the menopause market was worth $16.93 billon globally in 2023.

Though there are many companies that take their research seriously and aim to deliver products that will genuinely help menopausal women, this isn’t always the case. Behind the glossy labels and persuasive marketing is a phenomenon known as ‘menowashing,’ where products are being heavily marketed to women sometimes with limited or insufficient evidence of their efficacy or safety and often at an inflated price. In this blog, Dr Claudia Degiovanni tells us more about the phenomenon of menowashing.

The menowashing phenomenon

Menowashing can be described as the aggressive marketing and promotion of menopausal products without adequate scientific support. The impact of the menopause can be huge for some women, leading to impairment of their daily quality of life and their ability to work. In the Menopause and the Workplace report (2022) it was found that 77% of women found at least one menopausal symptom “very difficult” and 1 in 10 women had left their job because of menopausal symptoms. These women, desperate to maintain their quality of life, are vulnerable to clever marketing strategies that claim to deliver. These products can range from dietary supplements to topical creams, all promising to ease the discomfort and symptoms associated with menopause, yet many of them lack rigorous clinical trials or scientific backing to validate their claims. Sometimes the claims are published based on the experience of just a few women and the products may not provide anything specifically for menopausal women. For example, a moisturising cream may work equally well on dry skin for a man. Often these products are marketed as high-end products with beautiful packaging and elevated price tags. In addition to the financial cost of these products, there is concern from medical professionals that women may not seek medical help while they are trialling different over the counter unregulated products, and they therefore miss out on receiving prescription-only medications that can properly help them manage their symptoms.

Types of supplements and creams

Menopausal supplements come in various forms, from herbal blends to synthetic compounds. Many claim to be 'natural' or 'organic' which implies superiority but in reality means very little in terms of clinical efficacy and safety. In fact, it is difficult to determine the formulation, dose and delivery of natural products and very difficult to compare the efficacy of such products. Some claim to regulate hormones, while others boast of relieving hot flushes and mood swings. Similarly, menopausal creams may promise to rejuvenate ageing skin and combat dryness. However, the evidence supporting these claims is often anecdotal or based on limited studies. In some cases, the products may even be viewed as detrimental to menopausal women’s health. Peddling a chocolate bar to menopausal women who can have an increased risk of insulin resistance, or heavily fragranced creams that can potentially cause contact allergies in sensitive skins are just a couple of examples. All of this leaves women struggling to navigate the market to find the products that have a true evidence base and are appropriate for them.

Skin care ingredients that may help

The skin becomes drier and more sensitive through the menopause. This is because the skin barrier (the bricks and mortar that hold the skin cells together) doesn’t work as effectively. This leads to water loss through the skin, dry skin and increased inflammation. Several moisturising ingredients can help. Greasy emollients like liquid paraffin-based products act as a physical barrier preventing water loss but these can be difficult to use and may increase other skin conditions like acne. Humectants are low molecular weight molecules that penetrate the outer skin layer (stratum corneum) and attract water, thus increasing the water content of the epidermis (top layer of the skin). Humectants used in moisturisers include urea, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, lactic acid and glycolic acid. However, only small molecular weight hyaluronic acids will be able to penetrate into the skin, so the formulation of the cream is really important here.

It is also important to know that lactic acid and glycolic acid can irritate the skin so if you skin is more sensitive in the menopause and you want to use these products, be cautious starting a few times a week and build up slowly. Finally, lipids called ceramides help to strengthen and protect the skin barrier and can be very helpful for dry irritated skin. All of these ingredients can be helpful for women through the menopause but they can be found in many moisturisers on the market, you do not necessarily need a ‘menopause’ moisturiser to incorporate these ingredients into your skin care regime. Recently social media has been awash with reviews of phytoestrogens – plant-based compounds with oestrogen like activity that are promoted to improve collagen and hyaluronic acid levels in the skin and thus improve dry skin and wrinkling. This is an interesting concept but, in my view, there isn’t enough robust clinical evidence for their efficacy either topically or orally, and there isn’t enough safety data. This doesn’t mean that they may not be helpful, but I would like to see more evidence before recommending.

The ease of producing supplements and cosmetic products

One of the concerning aspects of menowashing is the ease with which supplements and cosmetic products can be manufactured and marketed without stringent regulations. Recently, Dr Jen Gunter, a menopause specialist demonstrated how easy it is to produce and market a supplement without any robust evidence of its safety and efficacy at all. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, dietary supplements face fewer regulatory hurdles, allowing manufacturers to bring products to market with minimal oversight. This more relaxed regulatory environment creates an opportunity for some companies to capitalise on women's vulnerability during menopause without robust scientific evidence to substantiate their claims.

What women should look out for

It is important to note that not all menopause products fall into this category. There are many companies that are serious about manufacturing products that will actually help women during this phase in their lives and they will invest in research to prove it. So how to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Here are a few things to consider:

Do your own research: Scrutinise the claims and marketing slogans. For example, ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean it is superior or even safe. Study the ingredients on the back of the packaging. These are far more important that the miracle claims on the front. Do the ingredients actually deliver something specific for menopausal women and are these ingredients worthy of the price tag?

Scientific evidence: Look for products backed by reputable research studies preferably published in peer-reviewed journals. Be wary of claims that sound too good to be true without supporting evidence.

Transparency: Choose products from companies that transparently disclose their ingredients, manufacturing processes, and any potential side effects. Beware of proprietary blends or undisclosed ingredients that conceal the true composition of the product.

Consultation with healthcare providers: Before starting any new supplement or cream regimen, consult with your healthcare provider. They can offer personalised advice based on your medical history and help you make informed decisions about managing menopausal symptoms.

Quality standards: Opt for products that adhere to good manufacturing practices (GMP) and have undergone third-party testing for potency and purity where appropriate.

Key takeaways on menowashing

Menowashing has permeated the menopausal market, inundating women with a multitude of products promising relief from symptoms. However, amidst the marketing frenzy, it's crucial for women to remain vigilant and discerning consumers. By prioritising scientific evidence, transparency, and consultation with healthcare providers, women can navigate through the noise of menowashing and make informed choices that prioritise their health and well-being during menopause.


1) The Fawcett Society with Channel 4 Menopause and the work place

2) The money in menopause supplements Dr Jen Gunter 

Please note: The British Skin Foundation are not responsible for any external links. 

Dr Claudia DeGiovanni, Consultant Dermatologist

Find Claudia here and here.

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