The women making menopause sexy

Rachel Felder

A couple of months ago, Sonsoles Gonzalez, a former Procter & Gamble Co executive, introduced a line of haircare products she had been working on for several years. The upscale collection, which includes shampoos, hair masks and conditioners, comes packaged in trim boxes of marine blue and goldenrod in a blobby pattern that could call to mind a Marni print.

The company, Better Not Younger, is targeting women with the kind of hair issues, like thinning and dryness, that frequently accompany menopause and perimenopause. It was inspired in part by Gonzalez’s own hair, which, about a decade ago, was noticeably losing volume. Existing products, she felt, didn’t address her demographic or were simply aimed at hiding a perceived problem, like going grey.

At the same time, Gonzalez, now 54, saw that friends around the same age were tackling similar concerns. But, unlike their mothers or grandmothers, they saw themselves, in middle age, as alluring, not matronly.

“It’s a whole different mindset,” she says. “They feel sexy. They feel secure.”

By next year, more than 50 million women in the United States will be over the age of 51, the average age that menopause hits, according to an article in The New England Journal of Medicine. Yet in some ways, menopause is the last taboo subject among women, many of whom are hesitant to talk about hot flushes, hormone imbalances and a type of thinning hair that’s different from that of women in their twenties and thirties. But times are changing.

“Women in their fifties, they don’t feel like they’re in their mother’s middle age, and indeed it’s not your mother’s middle age,” says Candace Bushnell, whose new novel, Is There Still Sex in the City? will be published in August. It looks at the adventures of middle-aged women with the buoyant frankness that may be expected from the writer who created the character Samantha Jones.

“It might not be that acceptable in society, this idea of women over 50 wanting to have sex and feeling like they should be able to have sex, but women definitely seem interested,” Bushnell says.

It might not be that acceptable in society, this idea of women over 50 wanting to have sex and feeling like they should be able to have sex, but women definitely seem interested

Candace Bushnell, author

Better Not Younger is far from the only brand targeting menopausal women in a way that’s frank, a bit luxurious and, sometimes, even sexy. Rory, a recently introduced website, offers a personal lubricant to lessen the vaginal dryness many middle-aged women suffer, along with, among other things, prescription and over-the-counter remedies for hot flushes (there’s an online doctor option on the site through which users can get prescriptions). The packaging is sleek; items arrive in a muted pink zip pouch that could pass for a business-class airline amenity kit., another slickly designed new site, offers products such as hair loss serum and a multivitamin that includes ingredients like wild yam and black cohosh, which small studies suggest can help reduce hot flushes.

Ristela, a plant-based product aimed at menopausal women that promises to increase sexual pleasure, was introduced on the women’s wellness website Bonafide a few weeks ago. Bonafide said that sales of Ristela in its first 10 days surpassed expectations for three months, and another menopause-focused product is planned for early next year.

Pause Well-Aging, a collection introduced on June 3, is also aimed at the demographic. The line consists of three skincare products, including a $39 mist spray to reduce hot flushes.

Procter & Gamble Co has introduced Pepper & Wits, a line of products for menopausal women that includes a vaginal lubricant that comes with an applicator that suggests a Beautyblender makeup sponge. Like Better Not Younger, the packaging looks upscale and elegant.

Prices are upmarket, too: The Pepper & Wits supplement to address middle-age sleep loss costs $30 for a month’s supply. Better Not Younger’s products cost $24 to $46, a price range that’s on par with upmarket haircare brands such as Oribe and Ouai.

The stylish, unmedicinal presentation of these products is unlike, say, that bottle of red clover extract purchased furtively at a health food store. “We designed our packaging to make it feel beautiful and luxe and a part of your everyday life, just like your La Mer skin cream is,” says Rachel Blank, a founder of Rory.

Some sites avoid the word “menopause” and its potential stigmas altogether. Better Not Younger calls its customer an “accomplished woman past her forties”. Rory uses the word “midlife”. In the Groove, another new website, describes itself as “A lifestyle destination for age-defying women”.

“I think we’ve come through to a different time,” says JoAnn V Pinkerton, the executive director of the North American Menopause Society. “Twenty years ago women didn’t want to admit they were going through menopause.”

The new terminology echoes the midlife experiences of women like Maria Kalomenidou, a friend of Gonzalez who was one of a wide range of people who gave feedback on Better Not Younger as it was being developed.

“I’m 54, but I really feel very young,” Kalomenidou says. “I don’t think I’m at the end of my journey.”

© New York Times