I’m on my second ileostomy, fashioned for me during an operation in January of this year (my first was in 1996 and was temporary for about six months while I recovered from J-pouch surgery). It’s going to be part of me for life, so the products I use for it are important for a number of reasons. Of utmost importance is obviously function; I need products that will work well and treat my skin well. Output from an ileostomy stoma is pretty toxic to your skin, so ileostomy bags, wafers and barrier products need to stick well enough to protect your skin, but be removable easily enough that you don’t tear the skin when you’re removing them.
Once function is addressed though, form is also important. Wearing an ileostomy bag (or colostomy bag, or urostomy bag) is a lifestyle adjustment. If the choice to have one is made due to years of pain and illness due to Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, rectal or colon cancer, Hirschprung’s disease or other disease, then you may see it as an improvement in quality of life, but there still may be some feelings of shame involved. If you’ve received a stoma due to an accident or emergency surgery, the adjustment may be even more difficult. This is why the appearance of ostomy products — how they look and how they make you feel when you wear them — is actually super important.
With my first ileostomy, I pretty much used the products that were initially supplied to me by the hospital, and continued using them until my stoma was reversed. Interestingly, my city’s hospitals supplied the exact same products to me 20 years later with my second ileostomy. Those products were/are made by Hollister, and while they served me well enough, and are functionally reliable, they’re not especially attractive.
Twenty years ago I didn’t really research other products (and the internet didn’t exist as a reliable resource), and I wasn’t really concerned with what were the best products — I just wanted to get through my time during recovery and wasn’t worried about using them for a lifetime. This time around, I am a bit more picky. I want products that I’m not afraid to show off and I want to feel good about using them. And I want them not to be beige.
I suppose the idea behind beige medical products is that it’s ‘skin’ colour. But almost no one has skin that colour (even those of us who are theoretically ‘beige’) and the idea itself is pretty racist. The other reason for beige is that it disappears under light clothing — BUT there are other colours that also disappear under clothing, so it’s definitely time to expand the notion of what ostomy products ‘should’ look like.
Coloplast, who initially also had only beige products (other than their see-through ostomy bags), has been at the forefront of this paradigm shift, and introduced their grey ostomy bags, the Sensura Mio product line.
I know grey doesn’t sound super exciting – but it’s a huge cultural shift that’s reflected in how Coloplast’s products are designed as a whole. Their products look good and are designed to reflect ostomates’ differing needs — whether it’s the average ostomate or a more high-performance athlete. Beyond the products themselves, Coloplast’s packaging has a great look that is clinical, without feeling medical or geriatric.
The accessories in their Brava line in particular remind me of expensive skin care products. The design of the bottles and the packaging is simple white with turquoise accents. They’ve also had a shift in the barrier products themselves, with newer products being fashioned out of polymers that again, are white instead of beige. Have I mentioned how much I hate beige? Yeah.
The truth is that I will even sacrifice a bit of function for form. It’s not that I don’t care about function — a good product will give you both. But if I’m excited about a product, I’m much more likely to use it. A bit part of managing an ostomy is skin care — you need to be attentive to the changes in your skin and treat them in a timely fashion because they can escalate quickly. So anything that is going to make you avoid dealing with your ostomy, like hating the products you use, can have pretty severe consequences. You’re also going to avoid certain activities if you’re worried that someone might see your ostomy bag because you’re embarrassed by it.
I’m more likely to be loyal to a company who offers me products that make me feel good using them. Coloplast gives me the impression that they are constantly trying to find new ways to accommodate not just the physical but also the emotional needs of their customers, which actually makes me excited to see what they come up with next.