An adult matter

© Kimberly-Clark
© Proctor and Gamble
Incontinence products for adults are increasingly resembling regular cotton briefs as a result of sophisticated constructions and innovations in nonwovens, elastics and films. Not too long ago, sufferers had very restricted choice – the products available were little more than larger versions of baby diapers, bulky and often with serious fit issues. As a result, they were less effective and users had to dress around them.

Today’s products can be virtually invisible under even the tightest of clothing, providing the three qualities that users most need – comfort, security and discretion.

They are available in different sizes, shapes and functional performance levels, required to address different levels of the problem, as well as coming in gender and age-specific variants.

One of the key innovations introduced into pant-like products over the past few years include better elastic components. The elastane yarns employed in such products can gather together in hot atmospheres, and the laminate within the product becomes relaxed, giving the pant unwanted bulk. Some manufacturers have solved this problem by adding additional closely-positioned rows of thinner elastane yarns. Others are employing laminates of plastic films and nonwovens to provide flat, cloth-like stretch. The use of apertured films also adds breathability.

Both apertured elastic film/ nonwoven laminates and apertured film acquisition and distribution layers (ADLs) have been successfully introduced by several leading adult incontinence product manufacturers, and polyolefin elastomers have been introduced as the primary stretch material in elastic film formulations.

Ultra-thin absorbent cores have, without doubt, been another major development, with superabsorbent polymers increasingly replacing bulky fluff pulp and some cores even becoming completely fluff free. Combinations of airlaid nonwovens and superabsorbent polymers have also contributed to reducing the size of the cores.

Some of today’s products are also being engineered to be as ‘cotton-like’ as possible and are heavily promoted as such. The use of “cellulosic” materials (made of viscose, which is more accurately described as regenerated cellulose) to replace spunlaid polypropylene topsheets is also currently finding favour. Before the advent of polypropylene spunbond, which, for a number of years have been the material of choice for topsheets  as a result of evident  cost and performance benefits (especially in terms of fluid management), the previous mainstream technologies for this end use had been carded polypropylene thermobonded nonwovens, and before these, carded viscose-or viscose/polyester based webs. Now, however, the textile-like qualities of viscose-based nonwovens – especially the more hydrophobic, spunlaced variants – are increasingly promoted.

As visitors to INDEX™ 17 – the next edition of the leading nonwovens show which takes place at Palexpo in Switzerland from April 4th-7th 2017 – will discover, innovations in product designs and material applications for adult incontinence product solutions continue to accelerate market penetration.

The potential global market for adult incontinence products is now growing faster than those for either baby diapers or feminine hygiene products, at an average of 8% per year.

It is well known that the world population of people over the age of 65 continues to grow. Back in 1950 this segment of the world’s consumers represented just 5% of potential users, and by 2050 will represent 16%, or 1.5 billion people.

For many of them, increasingly-sophisticated adult incontinence products will contribute positively towards maintaining active lifestyles and even to being able to live independently at home.

It is therefore unsurprising that this year the consumer products giant Procter & Gamble has decided to re-enter this market, building on the success of its ‘Always’ femcare brand; the market has become simply too big to ignore.

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