When former Into The Gloss co-founder Nick Axelrod was looking to launch his next beauty act, a direct-to-consumer personal-care brand called Nécessaire with business partner Randi Christiansen, he decided the body-care category was ready for disruption. “Body products are some of the least sexy and uncool out there,” he said.
Nécessaire, which debuted this month and is backed by Imaginary Ventures, Forerunner Ventures and Maveron, is trying to change that. The online-only brand has a limited hero product assortment, which includes just a body wash (that comes in three scents: fragrance-free, sandalwood and eucalyptus), a body lotion and a sex gel — the lineup retails from $20 to $25.
While Nécessaire’s sex gel might seem like an outlier in traditional beauty assortments, co-founder Christiansen said the brand thinks about the body “holistically.” “We went to a CVS store, and we had this aha moment where we thought body [care] did not have to be about just a basic bar of soap,” she said. “If you think about it more broadly, what does it start to include? Why does body wash have to be in aisle 4 and lube was at the very bottom of aisle 12?”
Axelrod and Christiansen are not the only ones thinking about how sexual health products are beginning to infiltrate the larger beauty and wellness categories. Market research firm Technavio reported that the global sexual wellness market is expected to grow to $32 billion by 2019, due to to growing mainstream acceptance.
“Having a sex gel in the line was important because sex is not just something we do with our bodies, but it is a way for us to change the conversation culturally — it does not have to be illicit,” said Axelrod. Nécessaire’s lube, along with its other products, are also riding the ongoing preoccupation with clean beauty – the lineup is non-irritating, non-sensitizing and pH-optimized.
Fashion influencer-turned-beauty-founder Katie Sturino’s Megafresh Wipes (feminine wipes), which launched in August, are also hypoallergenic, pH balanced and free of parabens, alcohol and phthalates. The wipes, which are currently sold out on MegababeBeauty.com, are also sold at Ulta Beauty — they are the only sex products sold at the retailer. “Our wipes are flushable, biodegradable and are not in some gross, shameful packaging. They’re well-designed,” she said.
Though Sturino admits the Megafresh Wipes are not a top seller, like her Thigh Rescue anti-chafe stick or Rosy Pits aluminum-free deodorant, she said, “selling has been consistent.” Megababe would not break down its percentage of wipe sales at Ulta Beauty versus DTC, but Sturino explained the beauty retailer validated her product idea. “It does not make sense for beauty retailers to lose that customer who is looking for sexual health. It is just as important as wellness,” she said. “We know there is an opportunity to grow this category.” Furthermore, having a physical retail presence has allowed Megababe customers to stop into stores last-minute for “on-the-go” reasons, said Sturino, whereas shopping online-only requires more planning.
Dr. Hedieh Asadi, co-founder of Swedish skin-care brand DeoDoc agreed. “Everything in this sexual category has been stuck in the ’80s and made by men in big pharma,” she said. “These subjects and products have been taboo, but women are getting over their embarrassment and wanting better.”
Four-year-old DeoDoc, which sells ph-balanced feminine wipes, intimate washes, deodorant-like sprays for nether regions, and shaving oils, foams and balms, has increased its retail presence in step with larger cultural trends. It has doubled its revenue year-over-year since 2014. In addition to being sold on DeoDoc.com, it is available in 600 Scandinavian pharmacies and beauty stores, like Apotek Hjärtat and Kronans Apotek. It launched exclusively in the U.S. with Violet Grey as part of its Sexual Health and Feminine Care section in July and partnered in all 18 Sephora Germany doors in November.
“We really believe that partnering up with the right retailers, who have our same values, is right for our growth,” said Asadi. In Europe, the e-commerce to third-party retail split is 50 percent for each, according to the company.
Though DeoDoc only sells its intimate washes and wipes in the U.S. through Violet Grey, it has already sold out 15 times in the company’s singular store and VioletGrey.com. Violet Grey called that “unprecedented” and also said that a vaginal editorial story featuring the brand had an email open rate that was 150 percent above its site average. The story now ranks in the top 15 stories for Violet Grey for the year. Given this success, DeoDoc will be launching a new intimate oil wash in February with the retailer.
Violet Grey is also looking to expand its sexual wellness assortment with more brands — currently, it also sells Fur intimate oils and a Crave vibrator that looks like a necklace. “Sexual health products do not have to just be sold in a sex shop. Why couldn’t they be in a place that you already know and felt comfortable shopping in,” said beauty director Jayme Cyk.
Still, missing from the assortment is a lube, said Cyk, which Violet Grey is looking to add in January. “We do not want to get too crazy about the intimate category and add hundreds of toys, but washes, oils and lubes are products that every beauty shopper already wants.”