It’s been a wild year for health and wellness. The booming sector consistently bleeds into more mainstream categoriesâ€“to the point where traditional retailers depend on it to boost slowing sales. Sephora, for example, is now flush with luxe dental floss, natural deodorants, and $38 collagen-enhancing beauty supplements.
But at the same time, vigilant consumers and watchdog groups are fighting back against the fakes and exaggerated claims. Earlier this fall, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop settled a lawsuit brought by 10 California counties that argued its product advertisements lacked reliable scientific evidence.
Then, in a rather controversial move, Facebook deleted dozens of pages dedicated to fringe or holistic medicine in an apparent crackdown on pseudoscience. Others, such as myself, rallied against the normalization of influencers who peddle snake-oil antics, such as Mehmet Oz, who was recently appointed to the President Donald Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.
Despite these controversies, the health and wellness industry witnessed amazing innovations that are spreading the gospel of self-care and affordable health solutions to more audiences. That’s a good thing. In the coming years, it is sure to be associated with more than yoga and green juice.
Telehealth gets more inventive
Telehealth has been instrumental in reimagining health care â€” be it mental health or elder care â€” with video conferencing, remote patient monitoring, and consultations via mobile communication devices like your iPhone. But these services still suffer some stigma that they are “less than” traditional methods.
A recent survey found that nearly half of consumers would feel less comfortable during a telehealth visit versus receiving an in-person diagnosis, while two-thirds weren’t even sure telemedicine was covered by their insurer.
That’s changing, says Chris Williams, a healthcare industry veteran who specializes in telehealth programs. Williams says physicians and nurses are steadily adopting telehealth, which has been championed by younger consumers looking for efficient, cost-effective solutions. For patients in remote areas or for people suffering from chronic ailments or issues that prevent them from moving â€”like arthritis â€” telehealth can be a crucial option.
According to a recent medical survey by Kantar Media, 2 out of 5 physicians participate in telemedicine or plan to within the next year. For those who don’t, 80% feel that a percentage of their patients could be successfully diagnosed or treated via telemedicine.
While certain issues (like physician reimbursement and licensing) are still being ironed out, several startups lead the way in how telemedicine can make your life so much easier. TytoCare, an at-home medical examination kit, allows parents to inspect their kids’ ears, nose, throat, lungs, and heart, and then video conference with a doctor â€” all from the comfort of home. Pediatric “visits” are now reduced to 10 minutes in length.
Roman, a telemedicine startup founded just last year, raised $88 million in series A funding to connect smokers looking to quit with licensed physicians.
Plant-based gets meatier
Impossible Foods (which produces the “bleeding” Impossible Burgers) will soon churn out 500,000 pounds of plant-based “meat” each month to satisfy demand from the 3,000 restaurants it supplies. Beyond Meat, meanwhile, recently opened a 26,000 square-foot food lab dedicated to re-creating everything from your favorite ballpark franks all the way to steak.
Today, plant-based sales account for 21% of food and beverage dollars spent by Americans, with beef alternatives making up 45% of that. In fact, a recent survey found that most Americans are even willing to give lab-grown meat a try.
It’s a new era for plant-based alternatives, and startups are thinking way beyond standard products (burgers), audiences (vegans), or accessibility (supermarket aisles). “Eerily convincing” faux eggs are already here, so don’t be surprised if you soon hear about the world’s first plant-based oyster shack â€” or a meatless steakhouse.
Good Catch, for example, released shelf-stable “tuna” made from lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans. The startup plans to deliver a range of products that reduce the environmental pressure brought about by over-fishing. It joins similar companies such as Wild Type, which is attempting lab-grown salmon, and New Wave Foods, a shrimp alternative made from algae.
Women of color have long been underrepresented in wellness. For too long, many people associated yoga and meditation with white Lululemon-clad juice enthusiasts. Now leaders are creating innovative ways to bring self-care to new audiences. Until mainstream companies catch on, they’re leading the way for inclusivity.
Stacey Johnson and Jasmine Johnson, cofounders of Black Zen, a free online meditation guide and weekly podcast, modify their content to incorporate their audience’s daily struggles.
Britteny Floyd-Mayo, also known as Trap Yoga Bae, introduces newcomers to yoga by transforming it into a party atmosphere. Based in San Francisco, the events draw crowds in the hundreds.
In Miami, Rina Jakubowicz established a bilingual yoga teacher training course for Hispanic women (described here), which has since been accredited by Yoga Alliance. Amazingly, despite a large Hispanic population, there were barely any yoga classes in the city taught by Spanish speakers. Her first students included a cleaning and cooking crew that worked at her yoga studio employer. “It’s empowering. Now they can go out and teach,” says Jakubowicz.
The Drybar effect
Acupuncture clinics exist in plenty of U.S. cities, but they aren’t always accessible or user-friendly. WTHN, a “Drybar of acupuncture,” intends to broaden the Eastern practice’s appeal by making it an affordably luxurious experience, much like a spa. That means studios with modern midcentury furniture, an online booking system, and chic vanity areas.
The startup joins other new companies lending the Drybar experience to niche sectors. Alchemy 43, for example, wants to take Botox and lip plumping out of the doctor’s office and into a nationwide chain of salons that does just anti-aging injections.
The affordable luxury experience has since been adapted for facials with Heyday, as well as massages with Squeeze. (The latter was actually founded by the team behind Drybar.) Then there’s the world’s first “face gym,” which blends fitness and beauty together for a new routine targeting the often-ignored facial muscles.
As the wellness industry continues to swell, expect it to take more cues from the beauty industry. For under-the-radar trends, it’s often a surefire way to woo consumers with disposable income.
Home fitness revolution
The popularity of Peloton has ushered in competitors in the $14 billion home fitness equipment market. There are now smart rowing machines, weight lifting systems, boxing gloves, even jump ropes. Peloton, meanwhile, recently announced it was expanding into yoga, in addition to rolling out new treadmills.
So, will Americans soon ditch the gym for their living room? A new report from user insights platform Alpha found that 55% of Americans who work out at least once a month are interested in buying an at-home fitness system. But there were a few issues that held them back, namely “no room in their home or apartment” (35%), high cost (23%), and preference for the live class environment (12%).
Prices will continue to drop as tech advances, more people buy, and the size issue is one the burgeoning industry is keeping in mind. A startup called Mirror reclaims living spaces with a $1,495 full-length connected device that comes alive with an LCD panel, stereo speakers, camera, and mic offering a range of one-on-one fitness classes. It’s essentially a virtual personal trainer the size of a yoga mat that turns back into a mirror when you’re done.
“Right now, this tech is very early in the adoption cycle, and it may never make sense for everyone,” explains Alpha cofounder Nis Frome, “but for early adopters, the enthusiasm is pretty next-level, so the tech looks promising.”