When it comes to female self-care, knowing how to truly take care of the area "down there" may not be something we're aware of, nor do many of us feel comfortable discussing it. But understanding how our female parts function is key to full-body health, and we're on a mission to learn more. We had the pleasure of chatting with femcare expert and advocate, Therese Clark, Founder and CEO of Lady Suite, who's changing the way we, as women, think about our bodies, starting with our vulva. After Therese experienced changes to her lady parts due to a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, she created Lady Suite to help other women regain a healthy, happy and comfortable vagina. Lady Suite empowers women through education, real conversations and clean, effective intimate care. To learn more about the brand, Therese’s personal story and some of her self-care rituals, read our latest Everviolet Chats below.
Tell us a little bit about Lady Suite and what sparked the idea of starting your own company?
Lady Suite is a woman-owned femcare company that offers premium, plant-based vulva skin care solutions for daily skin struggles associated with pH imbalance and skin barrier dysfunction. These struggles range from ingrown hairs and razor bumps to dry, itchy skin, redness, skinning thinning and abnormal odor.
What solutions were you not finding when you were trying to cure your side effects from hypothyroidism?
In general, there wasn’t a lot of information about hypothyroidism back then and how it affected my well-being, both physically, emotionally and mentally. After a couple of years without a diagnosis, it affected my skin everywhere, including skin down there in the form of dryness, itchiness and redness. This also made grooming harder (and more painful) because dry skin makes common skin struggles like ingrown hairs worse.
Most women (including myself at the time) don’t think about their vulva and vulva skin (i.e. labia majora and labia minora) as part of our immunity to help to keep unwanted bacteria from infecting our vaginas. This is especially important when you choose to remove your protective pubic hair like I do.
I couldn’t find a healthy, lady-parts worthy solution to soothe skin inflammation and improve skin dryness while minimizing the surface struggles like skin itchiness or ingrown hairs. Most products were geared towards menopause (which is important but I was in my 30s) or formulated with known endocrine disrupting chemicals. Certain essential oils (like tea tree or lavender) have been shown to be xenoestrogenic and essential oils, in general, are too active for vulva skin when they’re not balanced with the right amount of carrier oils.
I realize that many doctors probably don’t like grooming down here because it can cause folliculitis and other skin issues over time. But so many women like me choose to do it for our own reasons. I’m half Asian with coarse hair and I prefer to groom because it feels better on a daily basis. I definitely think it’s our choice whether to groom or not. I also think there should be better intimate skin care solutions, outside of steroid creams, that can help with the side effects of pubic hair removal – let alone other vulva skin pH disruptors, from lifestyle choices to hormonal changes, etc. which motivated by decision to create Lady Suite.
What are three things we, as women, should all know about our lady parts?
1. It’s just as important to know our lady parts as well as the rest of our bodies, so that we can be a better detector of our overall health.
2. The vulva and vagina are more emotionally-loaded areas than any other body parts. More medical experts are validating the reciprocal connection between sexual health, mental and emotional well-being. One of these medical experts is a neuroscientist and skin expert, Dr. Claudia Aguirre, who we recently collaborated with to bring light to vulva skin health.
3. Not everyone needs vulva skincare solutions. But if you do, it’s important to make sure it's supported with the more acidic nature of pH in this specialized area. Women in their productive years, average a 3.5 - 4.8 pH, so most body products (like body wash or personal lubricants) can be too alkaline for the vulva/vaginal area.
When it comes to intimate skincare and wellness, why is pH something we should understand?
Most inflammatory skin issues are linked to pH imbalance. We hear a lot about vaginal pH but not a lot about vulva pH. Healthy skin has a more acidic pH and bad bacteria can’t easily thrive in an acidic environment. Some common vulva and vaginal skin disruptors come from hormonal changes, daily shaving, periods, friction, consistent exposure to the wrong personal care products, a high sugar diet and more. The skin is resilient and can bounce back but overtime, and with daily assaults and normal aging, pH can be compromised. Ingredients like essential fatty acids in our Rejuvenating Botanical Oil can help restore moisture, soothe inflammation and improve barrier function and skin elasticity.
If you’re more prone to vaginal yeast infections, bacteria vaginosis or other bacteria-related infections, we suggest to talk to your gynecologist/doctor about an ongoing vulva/vaginal health plan.
Why are clean products just as important for face as our lady parts?
The vagina is 100 times more absorbent than the mouth. The labia minora is lined with a mucous membrane, which is also highly absorbent. Any product that we put on our vulva/intimate skin or inside our vaginas should be formulated with safety at the forefront. While every woman’s chemistry is different with the potential to be sensitive to 1 or more ingredients, formulating with the correct pH, and with ingredients at lower levels, is important since ingredients penetrate more here. So using face products down there, even if they’re “clean,” are often too harsh for vulva skin.
Unfortunately, there has been so much miseducation, old methods (like douching), and taboos/old school thinking around lady parts from the industry, society, parents, teachers and even some doctors. I think just as important as clean ingredients is knowing the proper terminology of our lady parts – like understanding the difference between vulvas and vaginas because for example, most cleansers are for the vulva (external female parts) and not meant to be used inside the vagina (internal canal) that is (usually) already self-cleansing.
What makes your products special? Can you tell us about your ingredients and how you create your products?
I’m a product developer by trade so I have a really keen understanding of the formulation process and just like creating. It’s also about working with the right formulation experts. I co-founded the first probiotic bioactive skincare line in the medical channel in the mid 2000s along with a renowned biochemist who was one of the first to apply DNA microarray testing to skincare ingredients to understand their mechanism of action and effects on cellular health. This biochemist still helps me on the formulation side of Lady Suite. For example, our Probiotic Refreshing Cleanser is formulated with probiotic bioactives (postbiotics) fermented bioactives from good bacteria like lactobacillus with scientifically-known benefits around safety, stability and efficacy to help improve barrier function and combat inflammation.
I also worked with a plant expert versed in the science and benefits of essential oils and their safe and effective application for the Rejuvenating Botanical Oil because not every plant-derived ingredient is ideal for sensitive intimate skin. We worked on that formula for a year then I took it to an FDA-approved and eco-certified lab to scale the formula.
We formulate to support skin’s optimal pH by avoiding conventional sulfates and surfactants, endocrine disrupting chemicals like parabens, synthetic fragrances or dyes. We also limit the use of essential oils, we don’t use typical glycerin which can be a source of nutrition for unwanted bacteria. Our products are made without animal byproducts and gluten. Our water-based products are formulated with 4.0 pH to help maintain the acidic nature of vulva skin.
Which key intimate care ingredients make you cringe when you see them on the back of a bottle?
High amounts of PEGs, known endocrine disruptors like parabens or phthalates which are usually in synthetic fragrances. I cringe when I see other femcare products loaded with fake floral ingredients. Our vulvas shouldn’t smell like fake flowers! Other ingredients are FD&C dyes, animal products, and glycerin especially in lubricants meant to be used inside the vagina.
What do you hope to see shift in the femcare wellness world?
That the (tired) taboos that keep women in the dark about their lady parts health are a thing of the past. That investors will value this world like they do conventional beauty sectors. I know other femcare and femtech founders struggling to find the right investors. All women need accessibility to elevated femcare and sexual health and wellness products, and easier access to women’s health care, especially our BIPOC communities.
What does your daily self-care ritual look like?
Self-care ranges, but I try to do things everyday to make me feel better. I noticed my nervous/anxiety levels go up in 2020 and 2021 – that’s new for me so it’s something I’m dealing with.
I’m a prayer person, so I spend time in the morning praying and visualizing positive outcomes and thinking about the day ahead. Self-care for me is also about taking care of my body/thyroid. I take supplements first thing in the morning, so they can work their magic before I have my coffee and breakfast. I also love our No Drama Drops CBD + adaptogens tincture that calms me down without feeling drowsy.
I try to get a workout in on most days (love the Peloton app and Cody Rigsby for motivation). Then, I spend 10-15 minutes on skin-caring including my intimate skin. I especially love the Rejuvenating Botanical Oil after a hot shower or bath. I also do a longer relaxation ritual when I have time, usually a (ridiculously long) CBD bath soak with a face mask on, music and an infrared light lamp after for skin and muscle rejuvenation. Also included in my self-care routine is spending time with my husband, good friends and my pups, which always grounds me. My dog Lenny seems to have this quirky sense of humor and makes me laugh everyday. Laughing to me is so important and I need to do it more often.
What are your go-to mantras?
I have many but the ones I seem to say the most/focus on the most right now are:
"I’m not afraid to be wrong."
"The right thing always happens for me and for our collective highest good."
"Everything I do is a success."
I feel most beautiful when…
...I’m going with the flow instead of tryin to resist it (and golden hour helps, lol).