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We Invented Cleo For You

Chia Chia Sun

Posted on March 01 2017

When my partner, Gardiner Smith, and I co-invented Mae, we did it for me. I wanted an all-natural suppository for vaginal dryness that I could use for 30 years. Having worked for a combined 5 decades in the pharmaceutical industry, we have always been conscious about the need for safe and effective products. Launching Mae into pharmacies was a no-brainer for us: I wanted a vaginal dryness product, we believed we needed to make the product available to all women and there’s nothing like it on the pharmacy shelf.

We invented Cleo, however, for you. You know who you are – the woman who was gutsy enough to talk to a complete stranger (me) about your needs. Every woman who is now using Cleo and finding benefit can thank the dozens of women who spoke to me about the need for an external labial moisturizer to help with dryness. It’s only by talking about these issues can we all start to understand them and invent solutions together.

After Mae started selling in drugstores, we began receiving enquiries about an external cream from our customers. Labial dryness still isn’t a well-documented condition yet affects so many women for so many different reasons. In doing the research for the product, I spent a long time reading through microbiology texts that were 40 years old. I read a lot of scientific articles about a lot of other related conditions – the funniest one being a study that was done on women wearing tight underwear. I remember feeling very frustrated because no one was studying labial dryness yet someone had studied the effects of wearing tight underwear!

Labial dryness can occur for a number of reasons, including cancer therapy, postpartum, peri-menopause and menopausal dryness in particular, which used to be called vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA). The term is now described as genitourinary syndrome of menopause, changed from VVA, as it more aptly describes many genital and urinary tissues (labia, clitoris, introitus, vagina and bladder) that experience dryness and atrophy (tissue loss).

What is Cleo exactly? Cleo is a cream version of Mae, the suppository. In order for Mae to hold its suppository shape, we had to formulate the product a certain way to ensure it doesn’t melt too easily. So when our customers called and asked if they could melt Mae, we had to go through a laborious explanation of why it’s not easily melted. After explaining this to about twenty women, I finally got the courage to ask someone about her particular condition. She had no hesitation in explaining to me what was happening: her labial dryness was so bad that she had trouble even walking sometimes or using tissue paper after urinating because it could lead to bleeding. That’s when I had the “Aha” moment that we needed to make Cleo, which has another important attribute in that it is properly pH balanced for the labia (5.5) and appropriately has a higher pH than Mae (pH of 3.7).

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the 1963 film.

At Damiva, we name our products after our heroines and Cleo is named after Cleopatra. At the time, I was fascinated by a myth-busting biography of the Egyptian queen that Gardiner had given me to read. She was objectified by the Romans as a sexual object, when she was more importantly a ruler and also a scientist. Lip balm was one of her inventions and we were already calling Cleo the “lip balm for your other lips” so naming our labial moisturizer after Cleopatra was a natural fit.

Thank you to all our customers who willingly speak to me or email me all the time, with great feedback, lovely messages and so much support. We made Cleo for you – and we hope that you will continue telling us about your needs so that we can try our best to fulfill them with natural, innovative products that can be used for a lifetime.

Chia Chia Sun,
CEO of Damiva Inc.

Chia Chia Sun

Chia Chia Sun

Chia Chia is a women’s health entrepreneur, CEO and taboo abolisher. Her three graduate degrees (master’s in genetics, master’s in bioethics and MBA in corporate finance) culminated in a career spent mostly in the pharmaceutical industry and now as the brains behind Damiva, a women’s health company that makes natural pharmacy products. Trained as a clinician and genetic cancer researcher, she’s an Expert at presenting data and giving risk. Chia Chia has developed expertise and a wealth of knowledge about the importance of hormonal health at every stage of life. She loves to share her knowledge and use it to break down taboos and change the ways in which we make products for women, interact in our daily relationships and portray women in media. As an invited expert to Hollywood, Health & Society -- the organization that consults to Hollywood about portrayal of medical issues -- Chia Chia’s expertise is being disseminated across the entertainment industry.

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