Absorbency and Protection Are No Longer Good Enough

By Tom Wilson, CenterBrain Partnership | April 12, 2016

Skin sensitivity driving need to improve personal care products.

For more than 20 years, I was responsible for marketing a range of leading selling personal care brands including Huggies, Kotex, Depend, Poise and Pull-Ups. During this time, I developed a good understanding of the positioning of each of these brands and learned what consumers wanted in terms of benefits. For example, whenever a change was made to Huggies diapers, there might be thousands of moms contacting the company about rash and skin health concerns. Skin health is a top of mind issue with many consumers who wear personal care products.

This can lead to skin sensitivity issues for babies, moms and seniors when wearing baby diapers, feminine care products and incontinence products, respectively. Today’s consumers appreciate natural products that are transparent and authentic.
Here are consumer insights from CenterBrain and Cotton Inc.’s own research regarding skin sensitivity and cotton:

In 2015, CenterBrain Partners, Inc. conducted a national study among women and found that 54-64% of women using light to medium incontinence pads were concerned about skin sensitivity.  Several claims that have been used to describe skin sensitivity have included: ‘cottony,’ ‘natural’ and ‘hypoallergenic.’  Women found that ordinary absorbency-only claims were obsolete because protection is multi-faceted and is not just about leakage. Protecting sensitive skin is vital also.

- 95% of disposable absorbent products users aren’t even aware that cotton is absent from the products they’re utilizing for bladder control.
- 61% percent said they would rather these products be made of cotton.
- 78% said they would be willing to pay more to get it.

Between two-thirds and three-fourths of these consumers associate cotton with some of its strongest attributes: softness (74%), comfort (71%), absorbency (68%) and skin irritation prevention (68%).

A Cauldron of Chemicals
Today’s personal care products are made with chemicals, dyes, inks, strong fragrances, plastics, and more. personal care products have mostly solved absorbency/leakage protection issues, at least in consumer’s minds.  This has led consumers to begin segmenting their purchase decisions based on secondary benefits like skin sensitivity.  Price and cost are always factors, especially during recessionary periods. Over time, however, most consumers have preferred to purchase brands that offer a real benefit versus private label products that are primarily cost and price driven.

A Pioneer in Converting Cotton into Personal Care Products
Following World War II, a company in Milan, Italy, named Corman began manufacturing a range of absorbent products using cotton - beginning with wound care dressings. Over time, as they became highly skilled in the processing and converting of cotton, they identified an opportunity to use 100% cotton in personal care products.  Since then, they have expanded into a number of global markets with both feminine and adult incontinence products marketed under a range of brand names such as Elyte incontinence pads in the U.S.  Consumers rate the brand highly in online ratings.  

Corman quickly caught the eye of the big box stores in the U.S. who wanted cotton pads. To keep prices low, the big box stores had their vendors make pads with just a hint of cotton - only 15%. As the famous founder of Ogilvy advertising in New York once said, “The consumer isn’t stupid, she’s your wife.” They are trying to pull the ‘cotton’ over consumers’ eyes with an inferior design. CenterBrain’s own research clearly indicated that consumers preferred 100% cotton, even at a higher price.

Cotton’s Past Deficiencies Overcome
Some have argued that cotton makes a poor absorbent structure compared to current designs because it can turn into mush (and is more expensive). However, developments in the processing of cotton have improved. For example, one cotton converter, Barnhardt, leaves some oils and waxes on the cotton to make it more hydrophobic so that it only absorbs a prescribed amount of moisture, resulting in a drier top surface. Their product is called HyDri. It is 100% hydrophobic, dry against the skin, offers the softness and comfort of cotton, is breathable, and is a natural fiber. These all represent great enhancements, especially when compared to the extruded films and poly-based materials that are typically used in most of these products today (and that are less eco-friendly, too).

There are a number of studies in Europe and elsewhere demonstrating the efficacy of cotton in personal care products. These are available from Corman on request.

Cotton is an effective reason for consumers to believe that a product will be better for sensitive skin. However, the untapped consumer insight identified by CenterBrain is ‘more complete protection.’ Not only does a consumer get a product that functions well with cotton and super absorbents, but it goes beyond ordinary protection, to actually protect sensitive skin.  

With more than half of all women believing they have sensitive skin - this makes sense to them and that’s why 77% say are interested. Eighty-seven percent say a 100% cotton product like Corman’s offers them a benefit over what they are currently using with 80% saying it’s a major benefit.

In summary the major factors that are driving the inclusion of cotton in today’s personal care products include:
Manufacturers have largely optimized products along the lines of absorbency and leakage protection.
With primary needs having been met, consumers are now looking for additional benefits:  ‘Respect for sensitive skin’ has come to the forefront. Consumers believe that cotton can deliver both absorbency and protection against skin irritation and this is now a new definition of more complete protection.

The majority of consumers already believe they have sensitive skin and that cotton is both natural and authentic.
Cotton is continually being improved to better meet consumer needs in personal care products.

Related Application: