An Interview with Co-Founder and CPO, Sandy Vukovic
Let’s talk about getting glam for a minute. If you had to take a wild guess about how much time and money you spend on hair and beauty products every month, what would you say? Sephora, trips to the salon, skincare, anti-aging, hair removal… add it all up.
Let’s see how your numbers compare. One research company estimates that the average American woman spends about 50 minutes per month online researching beauty and skincare products. Another survey estimates that American women spend an average of $3,756 per year on beauty products and services. That adds up to almost a quarter of a million dollars over the course of your lifetime! Whoa… whoever said that the price of beauty is high wasn’t joking!
Now we’re going to get a little more personal. How much time and money would you guess you spent this month on lube? Not much? Not at all? That’s on your partner’s to-do list?
See where we’re going with this?
Looks, check. Vaginal care…not even on our radar. But it should be. Especially when we’re talking about a substance that’s going inside your body near an area that’s, um, pretty sensitive. Not to mention what a little extra TLC will do to rev up your sex life. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t like that?
It’s time to think (and talk!) more about the sexual wellness products we use, and two women are on a mission to do just that. Sandy Vukovic and Catherine Magee are the founders of Playground, a clean, plant-based personal lubricant designed by women for women. For this article, we sat down with Sandy and learned about how and why Playground was developed. Prepare to be wowed by the effort these two entrepreneurs invested in developing Playground lubricants. If you haven’t thought much about what lubricant you’re using and what’s in it, you certainly will after reading this.
What inspired you to develop Playground?
When we looked at the personal lubricant category, we saw that the formulas currently out there aren’t cutting it when it comes to what women are looking for these days. We looked at the big players: K-Y, Astroglide, and they've all been around forever. K-Y Jelly was actually created even before women could vote. But, neither the products nor the branding is very exciting. The category as a whole isn’t catering to women and doesn’t motivate them to want to buy. We thought that was kind of crazy because lubricant is a product designed for women to use.
We knew that we could offer a better product, so that’s what we set out to do. We focused on a better formula assortment with a modern approach to lubricant ingredients, performance, and efficacy. The entire time, we kept our eye on keeping our products safe, healthy, and non-irritating.
How did you make Playground different from other lubricant brands?
First, we took a look to see what formulas are out there. We were very surprised to discover that there really aren’t many. Typically what many brands do these days is white label an existing formula. So, you’ll have one formula being used by 20 to 25 different brands across all different platforms.
We also saw that existing formulas were created decades ago. The ingredients had not changed, yet so many advancements in high-performing ingredients have been made. So, the first thing we did was remove all of the garbage that wasn’t needed in the formulas.
Everyone seems to be using the word clean these days, but what does that really mean?
We discovered that the meaning of the word “clean” is different for every brand that uses the term. For Playground, clean means formulating products that contain ingredients that are good for you, proven to be safe, and proven to be gentle. We omit ingredients that are known allergens, endocrine disruptors, and irritants.
We also make it our business to understand where our ingredients come from. Not all ingredients are created equally. We audit all of our raw material suppliers and all of our manufacturers. For example, when we use Vitamin E, we go a step further and ask questions such as where is this vitamin E sourced? Is the source sustainable? Is this coming from a trusted raw material supplier?
We only work with manufacturers that practice Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMP). GMP is basically an FDA guideline that certifies that manufacturers are producing products with integrity, using proper documentation, using correct testing procedures, and ensuring that they are adhering to the highest quality standards in the marketplace.
Is it true that not all lubricants are FDA approved?
That’s correct. The FDA puts products through a rigorous process to determine that formulas are safe. Gaining approval means that the product has passed the testing process. Playground products have gained the FDA seal of approval, but unfortunately, not all lubricants have been through the process. Some manage to slip through the cracks.
Why is Playground water-based?
We chose a water-based formula because, during focus groups, we were told that most women prefer it for a few reasons. First, women believe that water-based lubricants are more friendly to their vaginas because it’s water-based. Customers also told us that they don’t like how silicone and oils can stain.
As much as our customers said they prefer water-based lubricants, many told us that they tend to be sticky and don’t last. So, we developed a formula that specifically addressed these two issues by adding ingredients to help with silkiness, slip, and texture.
Is the water-based formula actually made out of water?
Yes, a large percentage of the formula is water. Although water isn’t usually a topic raised in the context of personal lubricants, it’s something we really should talk about. People think water is water and don’t give it much second thought. That’s not true though. You want the water in your lubricant to be filtered. If all of the contaminants aren’t removed, bacteria can grow and thrive. That’s why we selected and worked with a manufacturer with a highly sophisticated medical-grade water filtration system.
What are the other key ingredients in Playground lubricants and how do they enhance the product’s performance?
Playground personal lubricants are primarily plant-based. One of the key ingredients is fermented bamboo that’s very gentle and proven to be safe for the skin. We tested it both at the raw material level and as a finished product. What fermented bamboo does is provide that long-lasting silky slip that a lot of water-based lubricants initially have, but evaporates over time. One of the best features is that the fermented bamboo gets reactivated once your own lubrication kicks in. You don’t need to reapply.
We also added hyaluronic acid, which is great for the skin and for the vagina because it helps with hydration. It adds to Playground’s slip as well. Vitamin E is added as a skin soother. We also included adaptogens, which are something you may not have heard of before. If you’re not familiar, adaptogens are herbs that are known for helping regulate your internal system. The specific ones we chose are celebrated in sexual wellness across all categories because they help stimulate libido, increase blood flow, and help balance your hormones.
When you were developing Playground, you intentionally omitted ingredients contained in other lubricants. Can you share what wasn’t included and why?
Many ingredients found in traditional personal lubricants are just not necessary. We chose not to include what I call the three Ps in Playground products: Petrochemicals (or anything petrochemically derived), propylene glycol, and parabens. You may be familiar with propylene glycol, which you’ll find in many products ranging from soaps and shampoos to lubricants. It’s what other lubricant brands often use to give silky slip and increase the lubricant’s performance. However, it’s been tested, and based on what we know, it’s just not something we feel should be going inside the body.
Preservatives of some type are necessary for a water-based formula. You want to ensure that nothing gets contaminated or can cause bacteria to grow. Instead of parabens, Playground contains sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, two gentler preservatives.
Why do you offer scented lubricants and how did you select the fragrances you use?
We call our scented lubricants essences because the fragrance is very soft and subtle. We love our essences because they smell good, but they actually have a deeper purpose. When Catherine and I asked women why they don’t buy personal lubricants, we were surprised to hear many respond that it’s a product that makes them feel like something is wrong with them. Many said that it makes them feel icky or not good enough on their own, so they need to use something. The essences help break down those misconceptions. The essences and cheeky names make Playground fun and enjoyable rather than medicinal. The objective was to help people get excited and get in the mood.
The sense of smell is powerful because it can establish a connection. So, we thought it would be fun to create some of those scenarios and fantasies via the essences. Each essence tells a different story based on the feedback we got from our customers. Champagne and vanilla were two scents that were mentioned repeatedly when we asked men and women about arousal. So Date Night was designed to make users feel flirty and friendly. It turned out to be a real crowd pleaser.
Mini Escape was inspired by vacation and a yearning to get away. We wanted to give users a feeling of escapism. The smell of sea salt, coconuts, and sandalwood were designed to take your mind someplace else. Everything goes away on vacation, the kids, the job, the stress, so we wanted to have an essence that evoked that. After Hours is a little bit more of a gender-neutral musky woody essence that’s very clean and sexy.
We specifically designed our essences to be safe for the vaginal area and not irritating. We did that by adhering to the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) guidelines. Our essences are also approved by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the governing body that regulates the fragrance industry. The organization ensures that particular fragrances are used for specific body parts. It was important for us to know that our customers wouldn’t have reactions.
Is Playground’s lubricant compatible with condoms and sex toys?
Absolutely. One of the FDA approval requirements is a condom compatibility test. As part of the process, we did third-party testing to ensure that our formula does not break-down condoms. Our formula passed for latex and polyisoprene, which is good because 99 percent of the condoms that are purchased these days are latex. In regard to toys, our formula is compatible with silicone and other materials.
Whether it’s lipstick or lube, it’s always good to know what’s going on (and into!) your body. Who knew that reading labels could improve your sex life? Now that you know, keep learning, talking, and making educated choices. It’s time that women take control of their sexual wellness.