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Therese Clark of Lady Suite

The intimate skincare founder on the best lady-loving ingredients for our bits, why regular body oils don’t cut it, and why we should go commando when we sleep.

Let’s get down to business. Intimate care is one of the most, if not the most, overlooked areas on our bodies when we think about skincare and wellness. But Lady Suite is looking to change that. Founded by Therese Clark, an industry veteran with over 20 years of experience as a beauty brand and product developer, and pioneer of probiotics in medical skincare, Lady Suite’s offerings are tailor-made for our lady parts. Starting with the Lady Business Botanical Oil.

Seeking to impart the same glow below as we do to our complexions, the brand’s pink formula is crafted from a slew of wholesome essential oils to smoothen, rejuvenate and beautify. Since using her own product for two years now, Therese has not had to deal with any ingrown hairs either. “I wanted to put the same love I do into the skin on my face into the skin on my lady parts,” she says.

With more personal care products in the pipeline, Therese also plans to create awareness and direct more attention south so as to lift the taboo that surrounds our intimate parts. For one, a foundation to build a community of education and connect with other women is in the works. After all, “intimate skin is still skin” as Therese points out, which, we are keenly aware of, but somehow reading it or hearing her describe it as such makes us wonder why we haven’t been caring for our lady garden as we have for our faces all this while.

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Tell us how the key ingredients of jojoba seed, meadowfoam, carrot seed and tamanu oils, as well as eclipta prostrata extract, care for our lady parts.

I worked with a world expert in botanical science (who asked to remain anonymous at this stage) to create a formula specifically for intimate skin. Knowing that the vulva is in close proximity to the vagina lined with mucosa, which protects the vagina and provides lubrication, the goal was to impart skin rejuvenating benefits to the vulva (external skin) without disturbing the mucosa and pH balance.

During the process, I learned that most essential oils can be too sensitising for intimate skin and that the use of fatty acids was the ideal solution for my skin issues — from thinning skin, to skin clarity and ingrown hair troubles, to overall dryness and loss of elasticity. They’re skin BFFs and we need them topically as well as in our diets. Our bodies don’t produce EFAs (essential fatty acids) like omega-3 and 6 but we can produce omega-9, a non-essential fatty acid. Omega-3 and 6 are amazing for the skin and omega-9 adds to these benefits. The oils we chose are high in fatty acid content.

Jojoba seed oil closely mimics human sebum so it’s well-received by the skin and imparts natural anti-inflammatory properties to help control bacteria growth in hair follicles. It’s also soothing and moisturising.

Meadowfoam has become one of my favourites. It’s similar to jojoba in mimicking human sebum, but it’s amazing for dry, sensitive skin to lock in moisture and nutrients. There are a lot of ladies who experience skin dryness temporarily or chronically, whether from harsh cleansers, hormone changes, dry climates etc, and this is ideal for that. It’s also perfect for conditioning hair. So whether your lady garden is bare or has hair, meadowfoam is multi-tasking.

Carrot seed oil has natural youth-giving benefits and is known for its natural content of vitamin A, E and beta carotene for skin repair, brightening, toning, tightening and smoothing abilities; and without the typical irritation from conventional retinols.

Tamanu is also very healing and a little goes a long way. It has been shown to increase the production of skin tissue and also has antibacterial components. I love this for helping to prevent ingrown and soothing skin post-ladyscaping (shaving, waxing or laser hair removal).

Lastly, eclipta prostrata extract has a history in Ayurvedic medicine and also helps combat skin inflammation, skin itching, minor discomforts and ingrown troubles.

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How exactly does the Lady Business Botanical Oil benefit and beautify the skin in that region, and can we use other body oils interchangeably?

Intimate skin is still skin and if you do ladyscape, skin can become more sensitive and of course, more visible. First and foremost, I wanted to focus on skin rejuvenation for the vulva and give it the same attention we give our faces, but with ingredients designed for it. The skin is more delicate and responsive so less is more. The benefits are brightening, toning, moisturising and overall resilience; while effectively preventing and soothing discomforts like ingrown hairs. The stronger the skin, the better immunity.

As far as other body oils, I would just be cautious that they aren’t super essential oil heavy and are safe for intimate skin. Our Director of Education, Michelle Calabrese is an experienced Aveda-trained aesthetician who invented the Lady Bits Aesthetic Treatment out of New York, and has been testing this oil for over a year on her patients. We also paid for a dermatologist test that passed with 100 per cent of the women who tested it. While there is always an exception to any topical care, it was important to me that the product was formulated for our lady garden.

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The ritual involves massaging the oil onto the vulvar skin from the outer to inner labia, but ensuring that the oil doesn’t seep inside. How can we avoid this?

This is a great question. First and foremost, I personally have used it everywhere with no issues. That being said, I did not formulate this to be a lubricant for sex or a vaginal moisturiser. But it’s been deemed safe for the entire lady landscape so if it does seep inside, it should be ok. However, if you experience any irritation or discomfort, stop use immediately and contact your health expert. This goes for any topical care product.

Shaving, waxing, lasering or sugaring — which methods would you favour over the others, and why?

I’ve done them all and have since lasered. But laser didn’t work 100 per cent because I only had six sessions. I shave out of convenience and it’s definitely not my favourite but more a necessary evil in between appointments or during travel — when I can actually get to an appointment that is! Waxing is effective but hurts like hell. Some women are more brave than I am when it comes to waxing. And like any service, going to the right “waxer” is key. I think sugaring is great and less invasive. Plus, sugaring sticks to hair and not the skin like wax does. Less pain!

What is the best way to wash our feminine parts and with what kind of soap?

The good news is the vagina is self-cleaning so you don’t really have to worry about cleansing inside the vagina. But the external lady parts can definitely use a refresher on a daily basis. I’ve been in the world of probiotics for a long time and co-founded the first probiotic-based skincare line in medical. This made me aware that the vagina houses a lot of good bacteria and so I look for probiotic-based cleansers that are pH balanced for this area. There are also some good intimate wipes out there for in between showers or throughout the day.

I prefer liquid cleansers versus soap. Not all soaps are created equal, but bacteria tend to like to grow on soaps left in the shower. They’re still effective but I just don’t like the idea of it. Definitely a personal preference!

Besides your Botanical Oil, what are some of your favourite feminine products, and are there any you stay away from?

Well I do have some new products in the works that are quickly becoming my favourites! Insert teaser! The first intimate hygiene products I ever used were SweetSpot Labs cleansers and wipes. I like that they avoid harsh sulphates and have a more natural profile.

For periods, I switched from conventional tampons to LOLA organic tampons and I’m having luck with them. I also like Thinx underwear at night-time so I don’t have to insert anything and feel better sleeping tampon-free.

I stay away from douches and synthetic lubricants that increase the chances of yeast infections. I also stay away from really harsh acids (I have friends that use glycolic acid to avoid ingrown hairs but I’m too sensitive for that) and hair removal creams. That had to have been the worst pain ever, when I used a hair removal cream down there! It was beyond awful and it felt like I literally burned my lady parts!

Besides applying skincare products, what else can we do to care for our lady parts to protect against problems like smells, ingrown hairs, skin elasticity, skin discolouration, smoothness and more?

First and foremost, know your lady parts! Get familiar with them. I know it’s weird for some to look at their lady parts in a mirror but just like anything, education helps undo the taboo. Once you know this area and begin to incorporate it in a wellness routine, you begin to understand when something is “off” like recognising smells. Some smells are normal and others are not, and can indicate a bacterial infection.

Other things to do include avoiding harsh or abrasive ingredients that are meant for other body parts.

Wear cotton underwear and let it breathe at night — maybe avoid it altogether while you sleep.

Take probiotics and eat fatty acids or take supplements to balance microbiota, fend off bad bacteria and keep skin soft and supple.

Don’t wear skinny tight jeans all the time and make sure athletic activities like “spinning” don’t put too much pressure on the lady parts. That’s happened to me and I thought something was wrong. I changed my seat to a lady parts-friendly situation!

Lastly, while shaving is convenient, it isn’t always a friend to the lady parts and leads to razor burn, ingrowns and general sensitivity. I still shave but it’s not my go-to if I can help it! Less ingrowns mean less discolouration, especially ethnic skin types like mine (I’m half-Asian and half-Caucasian). I haven’t had an ingrown in two years since I started using the Lady Business Oil. It’s been heaven not to have to deal with them.

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What is one myth about vaginal health that you want to debunk once and for all?

There is no standard for perfection. Sure, just like flowers or fruit, everyone has their preferences but they’re all unique and lovely. It’s just not a good idea to compare yours to someone else’s. The vulva, including the labia majora and minora vary so much in size, shapes, smells and colours. And variety is all good in my book.

“There is no standard for perfection. It’s just not a good idea to compare your lady parts to someone else’s.”

What’s next for Lady Suite, and what is your ultimate goal for the brand?

I’m enjoying the unfolding of the brand and its reception at retail. I truthfully didn’t know what to expect and it’s still so new. I just launched in Free People in January this year and they’re our exclusive retailer until April. They’ve been incredible in supporting women’s health and wellness.

I will be launching additional intimate skin/vulva-focused products. Unlike other cosmetics or skincare brands I’ve worked on, I don’t feel it’s essential to launch so many products at once. Vaginal skincare is still a new concept for most and it will take some time for this to become a daily part of a skin and wellness routine. Of course, I hope not! Luckily, I’m getting so much positive responses with women telling us they’ve been waiting for a brand like this.

I’d like to also focus on the self-love, educational and community aspect of the brand in ways that are digestible for the woman who isn’t as attuned to their lady parts. Sometimes it’s fun and enlightening to talk lady parts and other times — whether it’s out of embarrassment, insecurity, shame or even due to rape or being violated — it doesn’t always feel comfortable or safe to talk about our lady parts or our experiences. I’d like to change that through a future foundation.

The owner of @womenempower is someone who I’m collaborating with right now. We’re in the beginning stages but she’s amazing and is inspiring me to make minding your lady business a movement.

What does conscious living mean to you?

I used to make beauty products with a marketing hat on — will this sell, what are the hero ingredients, how does this stack up against the competition, does this feel good? And while that matters, it wasn’t until I went through my own health issue with an undiagnosed hypothyroid condition back in 2008 that I realised I was making products that literally could change someone’s health and well-being, including my own, for better and for worse. That’s crazy when you think about it, considering how many millions of women buy beauty or wellness products every day. I had to stop and rethink what I was doing. More importantly, I had to own what I was doing and not just go through the motions.

One of the most important virtues to me and to those I surround myself with is self-awareness. When you know better, you simply have a responsibility to do better for yourself and for others, and that’s a thought that really grounds me in every part of my life. I think this is conscious living to me.

Images courtesy of Lady Suite