While there is no shortage of tampon subscription startups in the Femtech space, none have addressed the main pain point involved with periods, which is pain itself. Staying in bed and popping pain killers every month is the traditional way of dealing with menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea — an affliction that affects more than 80% of women. With governments taxing sanitary products and pharmaceutical companies thriving on pain medication sales, it’s up to visionary entrepreneurs to find innovative solutions for women.
Valentina Milanova took it upon herself to lead the way with Daye, a women’s health brand that manufactures CBD-infused tampons to soothe menstrual cramps. With $5.5 million raised and a waitlist of more than 20,000 women, Milanova’s mission seems to resonate.
“We wouldn’t use a car from the 1940s, a phone from the 1950s, nor rely on a health recommendation from the 1960s,” Milanova told me in an interview. “Yet we all still use tampons that were designed in the 1940s because we see them as a banal, generic product. Our biggest insight at Daye is to dig deeper and see tampons for what they are: an exciting opportunity to bring higher standards and innovation to a product used by billions of women.”
The young Bulgarian entrepreneur founded London-based Daye in 2018, launched out of beta earlier this year and is now shipping to women across the UK (Milanova says they acquired 1,000 paying subscribers in week one post launch). Consumers can choose between the Naked tampon, which is made with organic, toxic-free and sustainable cotton, or the Ultra-soothing tampon, which, in addition to having all the benefits of the Naked tampon, has an added layer of high-potency CBD. The cost of a monthly box ranges between £6 and £14 ($7 to $16).
Milanova had her first painful period at age 9 and spent most of her teenage years researching papers on female health and industrial hemp. She got her “Eureka!” moment when she discovered the plant’s fibers were not only absorbent, but that its extract had analgesic properties too.
Although the EU does not regulate tampons as medical devices, Daye states that its pilot manufacturing facility in South London self-regulates to pharmaceutical-grade standards. In addition to this, the startup says it has implemented an extra sanitization step using gamma rays to eliminate the presence of bacteria, yeast and chemical residue in tampons.
“Gamma rays kill bacteria like staph, which causes Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS),” explains Milanova. “Our tampons also have a protective sleeve that prevents fibre loss and decreases the risk of vaginal infections such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis (BV), commonly experienced after a period.”
In light of the COVID-19 situation, Daye recently sent out an email to its customers to reassure them about the measures it takes to ensure its tampons are safe from contamination. This includes an ISO 7 certified cleanroom, production operators wearing full-body cleanroom suits and having their temperature taken at the start of each shift.
Making The Tampons
Although it initially outsourced its manufacturing, Daye now manufactures its tampons in-house. By raising $5.5 million in capital, Milanova was able to hire top engineering talent and build her own proprietary tampon-coating machine. Raising this amount of money is no small feat as many (male) VCs still cringe when hearing the words “vagina”, “tampons” and “periods”. Daye’s backers include Index Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Kindred Capital and Atomico’s Sophia Bendz, who is a seasoned Angel investor in the Femtech space (she invested in Daye herself, not through Atomico).
“I haven’t seen many people or companies innovate within female health in the ambitious way Valentina and her team do,” Bendz told me in an email. “It’s about time we upgrade the products and services needed for women throughout our different life stages. I invest patient capital and I think that the bigger problem you are solving the bigger value you’re building in your company. I have no doubt we’ll see big returns coming from the Femtech space.”
Milanova says Daye tampons have been cleared by the European Medicines Agency and have recently been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clearance in the U.S. The team works closely with a select group of clinical institutions, doctors and researchers to carry out its research and development (R&D).
The CBD Industry
Using CBD for specific purposes is nothing new, especially in the U.S. According to CB Insights, cannabis-related startups raised more than $1.3 billion across 160 equity deals in the first five months of 2019, compared to $590 million over 127 deals during the same time frame the previous year.
When it comes to CBD application in women’s health, however, there hasn’t been much innovation (shocker). Some brands have created CBD-based products, like Moon Leaf’s tincture and Ohne’s Holy Cramp oil. There are also CBD suppositories to be inserted vaginally that are sold by brands like VSpot and Miss Grass. Finally, Israeli startup Gynica recently announced that it will commence testing for cannabinoid-based treatments that target endometriosis.
But Daye’s tampons have a dual function: absorbing blood and releasing CBD locally.
“Daye’s clinical data points to effectiveness on par with pain medications, but with a faster onset of action,” says Dr. Melanie Bone, a board certified ObGyn who owns a Florida-based medical marijuana practice for women. She is on Daye’s Medical Advisory Board and has reviewed the startup’s clinical data.
“The majority of cannabinoid-containing products on the market today have too low of a dose to produce a therapeutic outcome. Daye’s dosage (100mg of high-potency, full-spectrum CBD with 0% THC) shows effectiveness in placebo-controlled human trials, and the high concentration allows for therapeutic effects of Daye’s cannabinoid formulation to be bioavailable (i.e. entering the circulation when introduced into the body and so able to have an active effect).”
Milanova says that her team atomizes the CBD so it stays on the surface of the tampon, where it’s in contact with the vaginal mucosa, which is saturated with cannabinoid receptors. When agents are administered vaginally, they are processed through the first pass uterine effect, rather than systemically, which means they are recycled through the pelvic organs and do not have an impact on the digestive system, kidneys or liver.
“It is so exciting to see people get creative with how to integrate CBD into daily lives,” says Ozzie Ozkay-Villa, a professional doula and mom blogger who runs a lifestyle and wellness media that focuses on the benefits of cannabis. “There are so many women that suffer each month from PMS, to the point where they can’t leave the house. Alternative or natural options that actually work are hard to come by. I’m super excited to welcome a CBD-infused tampon to the market and can’t wait to try it!”
In addition to manufacturing CBD-infused tampons, Milanova says she is on a mission to close the gender gap in medical research and product innovation — something she refers to as the “gender pain gap”.
“Over-the-counter painkillers have never been tested on the female physiology and carry a plethora of side-effects, like gastrointestinal inflammation,” she says. “Women are more likely to be prescribed sedatives rather than painkillers because our pain is still seen as hysteria.”
She adds that endometriosis, a condition where the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus starts growing on the outside, affects 10% of women and costs the economy £2.5 billion ($2.9 billion) each year — yet diagnosis takes over 7 years. And despite affecting the same number of people as diabetes, it receives significantly less funding and attention — around $1 of research funding for every $200 invested in diabetes.
Daye recently launched a campaign in the UK to raise awareness around this discrepancy in medical research and funding. Pay attention and #MindThePainGap.