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28 Oct

Wellness Brands Reply to Inequity in Women’s Health Research

Wellness Brands Reply to Inequity in Women’s Health Research

When Devin McGhee Kirkland, cofounder of adaptogenic wellness brand Deon Libra, received the clinical testing results for the brand’s hero topical product Big Up Body Glaze, $63, she was surprised. The participants were all white men between the ages of fifty and 65. She immediately told the team, “Return and do it again because that’s not my goal market.” 

Deon Libra’s current product range.


McGhee Kirkland founded her wellness brand after losing her father to a stress-induced heart attack and discovering that Black individuals are disproportionately affected by stress. That assessment is backed up by data. In keeping with Mental Health America, Black adults “usually tend to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness,” in comparison with their white counterparts. While McGhee Kirkland needed to redo her clinical testing to reflect the brand’s audience, her experience isn’t unusual. It’s pervasive across brands’ clinical trials and inside the normal health care system. 

Women and minorities weren’t required in clinical research until 1993 when Congress passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act. Prior to that, females were considered small versions of men for the sake of findings. While they’re included now, most clinical research continues to be conducted on a comparatively homogenous group. Typically the number of ladies included in clinical research is slim and the number of ladies of color is even smaller, leading to products and medicines not analyzed fairly for all people. 

For instance, a study from Cell Reports Medicine shows that between 2017 and 2020, 2 percent to five percent of participants in oncology trials were Black and 4 to six percent were Hispanic or Latinx; women in total accounted for lower than half of all participants. Moreover, in accordance with research published within the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 2015 and 2019, Black women accounted for six percent of participants in cardiovascular studies. That is pervasive across categories, whether it’s pharmaceutical drugs, skin and body care products, injectables and fillers or mental health. 

“It’s estimated that we’re still underrepresented in three out of each 4 clinical trials after which whenever you have a look at minority data, it’s even worse,” said Dr. Somi Javaid, board certified OB-GYN and founding father of HerMD, a clinic focused on women’s health. “A few of it has to do with the incontrovertible fact that distrust of the medical system is more pervasive in minority groups. Historically, it’s due to the best way they’ve been treated by the medical system.”

Digging deeper into the statistics reveals that the quantity of research into women’s health specifically is even smaller. In keeping with the National Institutes of Health, clinical research for conditions that predominantly affect women is widely underfunded, especially as compared to those which only affect men. 

“The explanation that ladies’s health care is where it’s at is due to lack of information, lack of funding, lack of female decision-makers, so regardless that we outnumber men within the health care workforce, we don’t outnumber them in decision-making groups,” said Javaid. 

McGhee Kirkland agreed. “The inequity in health with women and with Black people, individuals are talking about it,” she said. “The problem is no person’s doing anything about it.”

Without taking motion, this research gap can result in delayed diagnoses and adversarial results for girls and ladies of color. “By not having the info you might miss a diagnosis now because you might not recognize it in that population because it might present otherwise,” Javaid said. 

Because the health care system seems to slowly prioritize women in testing and research, wellness brands, like Deon Libra, Evvy, The Honey Pot and Mavida have taken matters into their very own hands to effect change. 

“There’s this interesting phenomenon in women’s health specifically where start-ups are doing what you’d assume the health care and medical and academic institutions would do for us,” said Evvy cofounder and chief executive officer Priyanka Jain.

For Evvy, a vaginal microbiome test and care company, all of it goes back to the very fact women weren’t included in research until 1993. 

Evvy Vaginal Health Test

Evvy Vaginal Health Test


“There’s just a lot we don’t learn about how health and disease manifests in uniquely female bodies,” Jain said.

This lack of information kick-started Evvy’s first product: a Vaginal Health Test, $129, to check the bacteria for common conditions and supply users with one-on-one telehealth care. The brand is offering women and folks with vaginas specific treatments, while the normal health care system may chock symptoms as much as a standard condition, like a urinary tract infection. Through this model, Evvy is compiling comprehensive data on the vaginal microbiome, as research on women’s health specifically has been slim; up to now, 97 percent of Evvy’s users have opted in to have their data collected. It’s the world’s largest data set on the vaginal microbiome, in accordance with the brand. 

This research can be reflective of the U.S. population, unlike most clinical trials. 

“Our patient population reflects the racial diversity of the US already. What we’re seeing is that we usually are not only capable of offer our services to a wider diversity of individuals, but that signifies that the info that we’re collecting on the back-end also reflects that diversity,” Jain said. “What we’re seeing is, unsurprisingly, health and disease look barely different on various kinds of people.” 

With this business model, the brand, which recently raised $14 million in a series A round, can be launching sexually transmitted infection testing and care, and plans to launch additional offerings in the long run to proceed to shut the research gap. 

The research gap isn’t unique to traditional health care. It also affects the wonder category, most notably fillers and injectables. In keeping with dermal filler Restylane Refyne’s package insert, only 9 percent of participants were Black and 15 percent were Hispanic within the product’s testing. California-based aesthetic nurse practitioner Ginille Brown recognized this inequity and began her own practice, Ginille Beauty Aesthetics.

Ginille Brown with a patient.

Ginille Brown with a patient.


“There are individuals who seem like me that wish to get these treatments and are getting the treatments, they usually wish to learn more about it… The products that we get launched in the US which can be FDA-approved, I used to be just finding they weren’t serving my patients of color,” she said, noting she uses most products off-label to raised address the concerns of her patients. 

To coach on how she is using the products, Brown has taken to social media, where she’s received an outpouring of support. 

“[Patients say,] ‘I discovered you on social media. I saw Black and brown girls in your page. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve never seen one other Indian woman do treatments. I’ve never seen a Black girl who gets lip fillers,’” she said. “I try to indicate real patients in my social.” 

While most of the clinical trials predominantly include white women, the industry is slowly responding, in accordance with Brown. For instance, she is on the Allergan Aesthetics Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion board aiming to enhance research and marketing. 

This research gap has also led to an education gap. With anti-sex-education initiatives coming into play and expected to proceed increasing this yr, in accordance with the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS), females are increasingly misinformed about their bodies and sexual health. That is perpetuated by doctor’s visits becoming shorter and shorter, leaving limited time for questions. In keeping with the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, “youth of color have a disproportionate risk of negative sexual health outcomes.”

Brands like The Honey Pot are leading with accessible and equitable sexual wellness education, while also conducting 130 of its own clinical trials with greater than 3,400 diverse participants. The brand has recently doubled down on its back-to-school initiative, with 2,277 Walmart end caps, emphasizing the campaign across social media and email and hosting a tour of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). 

The Honey Pot HBCU Tour

The Honey Pot HBCU tour.


Through this tour, the brand popped up at five schools with a decked-out dorm room, where students could find out about sexual health, top off on products and ask questions. 

“You’re conditioning them to make certain that they’re taking good care of their body and that’s why back-to-school is so essential,” said Bea Dixon, The Honey Pot’s founder and CEO, noting the brand employs skits, comedy and diverse imagery across its educational materials to talk to a wide selection of consumers.

Mission-driven initiatives like Black Girls Guide to Surviving Menopause have also popped up to offer women’s health education and the way it impacts women of color otherwise. Specifically, research from Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation shows Black women are prone to start menopause earlier and experience more severe symptoms than their white counterparts. 

“We’re providing a political framing across the menopause experience and the way it will possibly be exacerbated or stereotyped due to systemic oppression like racism and patriarchy and homophobia,” said Black Girls Guide to Surviving Menopause founder Omisade Burney-Scott. 

Through this project, the brand holds global community events, hosts a podcast and releases digital zines. 

While menopausal education is lacking, especially for girls of color, there’s also a significant gap in relation to maternal mental health care, which led Dr. Sarah Oreck to start out Mavida Health. In keeping with the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, 50 percent of cases of postpartum depression amongst women of color go undiagnosed. 

“Black and brown women are disproportionately impacted by maternal morbidity and mortality. Mental health issues are the number-one complication of childbirth, but we don’t know what therapy modalities work for one or what works for the opposite or what varieties of treatments are higher,” said Oreck. 

Through Mavida Health, which provides mental health clinical look after recent moms, Oreck is aiming to deal with this lacking amount of research through its own findings and by partnering with academic institutions in the long run. 

With constructing the platform, ensuring providers reflected a various group of ladies was essential. 

“We’d like the people who find themselves actually doing the work to also reflect that diversity, after which to recruit patients which have that diversity, so we might help those populations in a more nuanced way,” Oreck said. 

While wellness brands are responding to those growing inequities, further support is required. “If the responsibility goes to be placed on the shoulders of small brands, how does the medical world support us, the small brands doing the research, or how do investors and folks get behind that a part of the business,” said McGhee Kirkland. “A part of the wellness industry ought to be also on the medical industry. It shouldn’t just be on brands to conduct the research.”

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