Well Woman Weekly: Dr. Manuela Maria Vazquez on Shifting the Dialogue Around Menopause

Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman, and this week we’re excited to feature Manuela Maria Vazquez. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Manuela Maria Vazquez is an OB-GYN and founder of LaMaria, a brand that honors, respects and celebrates changes in a woman’s life by providing clean, effective and luxurious skin love for all we go through and grow through.

I love your founding story for LaMaria—as an OB-GYN, you were underwhelmed by the options for patients experiencing vaginal dryness. Can you talk a bit about the evolution of that experience from observation to action? 

As an OB/GYN dedicated to women’s health and wellbeing, I was underwhelmed with the options for patients experiencing vaginal dryness, a very common complaint heard by OB/GYNs. Twenty percent of women between the ages of 18-50 have complained of vaginal dryness at some point in their adult life and over 50 percent of women over the age of 50 suffer from vaginal dryness due to declining hormone levels. I felt very limited with what I could offer my patients for their symptoms and found myself—for the first time in my practice—recommending products that I wouldn’t recommend to my sisters or my mother, products with unnatural chemicals and unproven ingredients. I practice science-based medicine, meaning that I only recommend treatments that have the scientific research to back them up. I took the same approach to the formulations that I eventually created, making sure to use ingredients supported by scientific evidence with measurable results.

My patients also directly inspired the experience that I wanted women to have while using LaMaria products. As an OB/GYN, I am sometimes the only physician that a patient will visit in any given year, so our conversations often expand beyond feminine health to include general wellness, and even mental health. From recommendations from my medical community to my own experience, I have had resources at the ready for just about every topic or concern. But so often, when the conversation turned to vaginal dryness, the overall experience felt sterile, even shameful. As a healthcare provider, my goal is for my patients to leave my office feeling confident and assured, regardless of what brought them in to see me. After having the same painful conversation over and over again with the amazing women at my clinic, I felt that there had to be a better way to help my patients feel excited about their options rather than dreading them. This was the catalyst for creating an experience for a woman that made her feel pampered, honored who she is, and honored the journey that got her there.

When I created LaMaria, it was so that I could give my patients the products that they deserve: products that combine scientifically studied ingredients with sensuous design. I set out to found a different kind of wellness brand—one that honors, respects, and celebrates changes in a woman’s life by providing clean, effective, and luxurious skin love for all we go through and grow through. It would be a brand that would not only serve my sisters in their 30s but also my mother in her 70s, a brand that fully celebrated womanhood and the beautiful and natural transitions that occur through a woman’s life. 

I was lucky to chat with both you and your mom as part of our virtual event series, The Well. It’s clear she’s been such an inspiration to you in creating this line—can you talk a bit about your relationship and its importance in launching LaMaria?

My mother is the strongest person I know, and she has been my inspiration in many aspects of my life, from pursuing a medical career to raising daughters of my own. The sacrifices that she made throughout my childhood helped define my values and goals. My mother left her 10 siblings in Brazil to move to a country with a language that she couldn’t speak and a culture that she didn’t know because she believed that she deserved a better life for herself, and for her children. My mother would tell me stories about her compassionate mother, Julia, and her fearless grandmother, Vovó Marietta. What she didn’t realize is that for me, she embodied their compassion, their fearlessness. She always made it clear that we came from a long line of matriarchs, of womanly wisdom. By tapping into her own wisdom—her courage, her determination, her kindness—she thrived.

My mother has always been my biggest cheerleader. Even when I was filled with self-doubt, she continued to remind me of everything that I’m capable of and nudged me forward towards my dreams. Don’t get me wrong: to this day, I give her advice the occasional eye roll. But I will be forever grateful that I have her as my guiding light.

In that same conversation, we talked about the importance of working to destigmatize menopause in the way we’ve seen so many companies and movements attempt to tackle period shame. In your work as an OB-GYN and the founder of LaMaria, how are you working to change the conversation around menopause?

When we reinforce the idea that menopause and periods are shameful, we ask women to remain silent about their discomfort for the sake of other people’s squeamishness around women’s bodies. One of the most difficult aspects of the perimenopause and menopause years is how unpredictable the symptoms can be. Periods change and finally cease; some women experience hot flashes, mood swings, sexual changes, sleep disturbances, new joint pains, and they start to notice the decline in moisture in their skin, vagina, and hair. Many women have no idea what to expect and don’t feel like they get enough information from their physicians. Worse, the shame surrounding feminine health discourages them from asking for more! Fifty percent of the population will experience menopause in their lifetime. The more we can normalize, educate, and destigmatize, the better we’ll be able to change the conversation surrounding menopause to honor what our bodies are going through.

Let’s talk about the products themselves. You launched with a feminine moisturizer and a face moisturizer. Why these two to begin, and what makes them different from others on the market?

LaMaria’s products specifically target the lack of hydration that women experience due to their changing hormone levels. I focused on the face and the vagina because these two areas are estrogen-receptor rich and tend to suffer with respect to moisture as our hormone levels change. Estrogen is one of the most important hormones contributing to the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid—the crucial components to maintaining skin elasticity and hydration.

As our estrogen levels start to decline in our 30s and beyond, the estrogen receptors in our skin become depleted, and we don’t produce as much of these critical molecules. The resulting hormonal changes and the depletion of estrogen especially impact the skin and lead to dryness, thinning, fine wrinkling, and poor wound healing. LaMaria’s unique formulations were created using ingredients that have been scientifically shown to support the production of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid with synergistic anti-oxidant and ant-inflammatory properties. The creams are designed to be light yet feel rich and soak into the skin, allowing for long-lasting hydration without leaving an oily residue. 

LaMaria is different from other brands on the market because it is less about conventional beauty than it is about full-body wellness. Women of all ages are rethinking what “beauty” really means and for whom. Beauty is no longer outwardly facing. It’s about looking and feeling your best for you, rather than for someone or something external to you, and being well within and for yourself never gets old. LaMaria’s products are meant to commemorate this philosophy. Thanks to the science behind them, they’re among the only luxury skincare products designed to complement and thus truly celebrate the natural hormonal changes that occur in a woman’s life. 

And let’s end with a self care question, since we’re now at almost 1 full year of, well, the world turning upside down. You’re a doctor, a mom, and you just launched a brand—how are you making time for yourself and what does that self care look like?

When the pandemic hit, I—like so many women—tended to the needs of the people that I care for while neglecting my own. As a physician, it was my duty to join the ranks of healthcare providers taking on COVID-19, a disease about which we still knew virtually nothing by the time it made its way to California. As a mother, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to ensure the safety of my three daughters, and to make sure that they continued to learn and play and grow in the way that such young children are meant to. In both personal and professional areas of my life, I felt a level of stress beyond what I thought I could bear and a fear of the unknown that I had never experienced before. It was exhausting, and watching myself struggle to meet the needs of the people that are counting on me was extraordinarily humbling. 

But at some point, my eldest daughter said something that reminded me that all of this is a work in progress, an effort taken one task at a time, one day at a time. I sat down with her while she made a drawing, and when she picked up her pencil, she said “I’m just going to try my best.” I have told her countless times just to try her best, and in that moment, she reminded me to do the same, to show myself the same grace that she was able to show herself. “I’m just going to try my best.” My mother has taught me so much over the years; but I have so much still to learn from my daughters. (Lesson #1: intergenerational wisdom travels in more than one direction.)

As I get older, it’s become so clear to me that my mental well-being informs every aspect of my person and my life. It took me many years to realize that I am someone who needs 30 minutes to myself every day to be alone with my own thoughts. It took even longer to commit to giving myself those 30 minutes, every single day. I started running to make time to listen to my own inner dialogue and reflect on what I need to be the best version of myself. That’s the version of me that my children and my patients deserve, and it’s the version of me that I deserve, too.

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