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Body Care

It’s Vulva, Not Vagina — Rael Founder Yanghee Paik Gets Real About Feminine Hygiene

by Julia Gibson

@_skylartaylor

• By Julia Gibson

Truth is, we owe Yanghee Paik a whole lot. The co-founder of holistic personal care brand Rael is carrying the brunt of re-defining our vulva and period health one non-toxic, high performing tampon at a time. Having grown up partially in South Korea, Paik saw that America held an untapped market for healthy female products, with a K-beauty twist. This journey brought her to the forefront of a very potent discussion about what clean beauty really means, all over the body. We chatted with Paik about providing menstrual hygiene for women everywhere, Rael’s new Soothing Vulva Care line, and why transparency and sustainability are essential for safe period care products.

MD

Can you tell us a bit about your origin story?

YP

I was born in Seoul, Korea, but also lived in France and the US growing up due to my father’s job. After graduating from college and working for a few years in Korea, I came to the US to go to Harvard Business School. Back then, I had a huge passion for the entertainment business and working in Hollywood, so I moved to LA after school, joined the Boston Consulting Group to gain media consulting experience, and eventually moved to the Walt Disney Studios. I had a lot of fun selling Disney movies, including Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. However, after working at a big corporation for over 7 years, I was getting thirsty for a new challenge and inspiration. Around that time in 2017, I met my co-founders, who inspired me to switch my career completely and start Rael so we can help empower women to choose healthier and safer options for their body and skin.

MD

What brought you to founding your feminine care line Rael, which is built upon an ethos of clean ingredients and sustainability?

YP

My co-founder, Aness, told me one day that some conventional pads and tampons contain harsh chemicals and how few women knew about this issue. Until then I had never questioned what my period care products were made of, and I felt so ignorant that I had never paid attention to the products that touched the most intimate part of my body. We wanted to do something about it so people can be more educated and choose options that are better for you and better for the environment.

Another thing we were passionate about was bringing this novel technology from Korea that makes feminine care products more effective and high performing. The three co-founders of Rael all grew up in Korea using Korean pads, and we missed them a lot after we moved to the US. We sourced the highest quality organic cotton from Texas but manufactured our pads in Korea so our customers don’t have to sacrifice performance or comfort while choosing a healthier option.

MD

We hope that many more brands take on this ethos as we aim to lessen our collective carbon footprint. As a founder in the clean-beauty space, what would you tell other entrepreneurs hoping to break into sustainability?

YP

I’d like to say that nowadays every entrepreneur and every company can play a role in driving sustainability, whether it’s through their products or how they operate. It’s important to define what sustainability means to you, come up with execution plans to make them happen, and continue pushing yourself to do more. When we started Rael, our goal was to use eco-friendly raw materials that are more biodegradable and compostable than conventional products. But we didn’t settle there and brought more sustainable period care options such as reusable pads, period panties, and menstrual cups to bring less waste to this world. I just want to say that it’s a constant effort that every company must make, and we never stop looking for opportunities to make more sustainable products and packaging.

MD

 In your hands-on work in the female health space, what disparities stood out most when it came to the education and resources women are offered related to sexual health and hygiene? 

YP

This is not specific to a certain region, but I see a lack of education and resources around sexual health and hygiene pretty much all over the world. In fact, this is a personal experience, but I only got to truly understand the hormonal changes that a woman’s body goes through each month after I became an adult and started seeing an OB-GYN doctor. I wish there was more engaging education for young students to learn how amazingly our body works, so we can embrace all the changes and celebrate them. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about periods but be rather open about discussing our experiences and ways to take care of our body. I’m hopeful that the engaging educational content we provide through our social media and blog helps our customers get educated and feel empowered.

“The vulva needs to be cleaned and taken care of, just like we take care of the skin on our faces and bodies.

MD

Rael recently launched a Soothing Vulva Care line, and with it ignited a discussion surrounding the often overlooked yet anatomically correct use of the word vulva. Can you speak to why it felt important to educate your audience on the difference between a vulva and a vagina?

YP

Through various comments on social media, we noticed there’s a lot of confusion about the terms vagina and vulva, which are two separate parts of the body. The vagina is the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the vulvar area, so it’s on the inside of the body. The vulva on the other hand is external and encompasses the labia, clitoris, mons pubis, and the vaginal opening. It is a known fact that the vagina doesn’t need to be washed, as it is a self-cleaning organ. However, the vulva needs to be cleaned and taken care of just like we take care of the skin on our faces and bodies. We wanted to make it clear why clean vulva care products are needed by first clarifying which part of the body it is for and sharing how sensitive the vulva skin is.

MD

Is vulva care something that Korean women prioritize in their self-care routines?

YP

I won’t say Korean women are more open about discussing vulva care in public. However, given the multi-step routine most Korean women use for their skin care, a lot of them use specialized products for the vulva care. They’re very particular about the ingredients that touch their intimate area, so many vulva care products in Korea are gentle and made with natural ingredients.

MD

What are some of the most common vulva concerns women are confronted with that the Soothing Vulva Care line can help combat?

YP

I would like to call out itching, irritation, and dryness among others. Due to various reasons such as hormonal fluctuations, sex, shaving, exercise, and allergic reactions to chemicals in the feminine care products, our vulva can often lose its pH balance and feel irritated and dry. Our Soothing Vulva Care line is designed to help maintain the ideal pH balance at 3.5 to 5 with Lactobacillus Aloe Complex. It’s also made with natural ingredients such as Hibiscus, Pomegranate, and Mugwort Extracts, which help calm and soothe irritated skin. The popular K-beauty ingredients used in this line, Cica and Hyaluronic Acid, also help hydrate and moisturize dry skin.  

MD

What do you hope to see for the future of sexual health education and feminine hygiene?

YP

I wish we can normalize this type of discussion about sexual wellness so we can openly talk about the issues we deal with around the vulva area and the self-care routines we can adopt to better take care of our health.
rael

MD

Can you tell us more about period poverty and Rael’s efforts to provide period care worldwide?

YP

It is sad, but period poverty is a problem happening not only in developing countries, but also here in the U.S. One of our philanthropic partners is #HappyPeriod, founded by Chelsea Vonchaz, who saw a homeless woman in Skid Row in Los Angeles bleeding through her shorts because she didn’t have access to period care products. Inspired by her story, we’ve donated period care products to their organization and participated in their packing events to deliver essential product kits to homeless shelters in LA. We also collaborated with them to develop our First Period Kit, which includes educational content for young girls. We donate 100% of the kit’s proceeds to #HappyPeriod. 

During the pandemic, we also worked with a non-profit organization called I Support the Girls to help women who couldn’t access period care products due to the domestic violence they experienced while quarantining at home. We’ve also been very active in Korea, helping and donating products for single moms, underprivileged girls, and natural disaster victims over the last few years. To live up to our mission to empower women with better feminine care products, we’re committed to fighting period poverty and giving women the dignity to be out in the world. 

MD

This leads us nicely into my next question, as Rael just launched their updated organic tampon. Congratulations! I’ve been researching and writing about the darkside of the tampon industry for years, and I’ve found many women don’t have the same access to the truth about the industry. Can you share more about what the market looked like you saw when you first began developing your organic tampons?

YP

First, I’d like to remind everyone how delicate the vagina is. It’s a very permeable and absorptive organ, so whatever you put into your vagina, there’s a chance that harsh chemicals can go directly into your bloodstream. Given this fact, it was a surprise to learn that in the U.S., brands have not been required to indicate the full list of ingredients used for their pad and tampon production. There has been little transparency in this market due to this reason.

Traditionally tampons were made with rayon or a blend of rayon and cotton, which could contain irritants from bleaching processes or added fragrances. While it could be a very small amount they contain, if you think about the number of hours you use tampons each month and the number of years you menstruate, it’s worth considering switching over to 100% organic tampons, so you don’t need to worry about questionable ingredients going into your body.

MD

What was the necessity for our personal and planetary health to provide an organic tampon?

YP

Just like we care so much about eating organic food and using clean beauty products, we wanted to make it a norm for people to consider organic tampons for their reproductive health. Moreover, organic tampons are more compostable than conventional products. Also, farming of organic cotton doesn’t use pesticides, so it makes it healthier for the planet and farmers. In addition, transparency was a big part of our values. We wanted to let our customers know exactly what they’re putting into their body so they can feel empowered and assured.

MD

What’s in the pipeline for Rael as you continue to redefine the period industry?

YP

We’re also very excited about expanding our distribution beyond Target this year. We just launched our feminine hygiene products, including our Soothing Vulva Care Collection, and selected beauty items at Walmart. We also launched various skincare products at select CVS and Walgreens doors. We’re looking forward to expanding our reach and continuing our innovation to deliver clean and effective solutions to women all around the world.
rael

Interview courtesty of Yanghee Paik.