The old adage says: "Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow." But no matter which one a person does, chances are it doesn't smell that good. While some consumers may have been turned off by the thought of scraping a deodorant crystal around their underarms, there now are a myriad of natural deodorant choices. Manufacturers now offer stick, roll-on and nonaerosol sprays. There are even effective unscented deodorants.
Natural deodorant was the second-fastest-growing personal care product in 2005, according to SPINS, a market research provider for the natural products industry. Manufacturers are also reporting similar numbers. Lafe Larson, owner and president of Lafe's, an Austin, Texas-based natural deodorant company, has seen consistent growth in natural deodorants since he started his business in 1992. In 2005, he watched his sales jump 47 percent. Jennifer Barckley, communications and public relations manager for Weleda, a Palisades, N.Y.-based natural cosmetics company, reported approximately 20 percent growth in her company's deodorant sales. In the rapidly growing arena of natural health and beauty products, natural deodorant is coming up roses.
For a while, antiperspirants seemed like the perfect cure for body odor. Yet in recent years, consumers are beginning to wonder if "not sweating it" is such a good idea after all.
"My mother always said, 'If you can't pronounce it, avoid it,'" Larson says. "Paraben isn't too hard to pronounce, but studies have called its safety into question." Parabens are used as preservatives, and their molecules have turned up in cancerous tumors and in breast milk. Consumers have become cautious about parabens and are beginning to look for labels that say 'paraben-free.'
"Many products have a lot of chemicals in them," Larson adds. "People don't really understand what they are, what they do and what the long-term effects may be. It's not that any one product has a lot of parabens or glycols; it's that everything has a little bit in it. These are things that most people use every day, and there is the effect of all those chemicals building up."
Propylene glycol is another chemical that is causing health concerns. A humectant, or an agent that prevents things from drying out, propylene glycol is also found in antifreeze, de-icers, and brake and hydraulic fluid. It is derived from natural gas, a nonrenewable resource. Even though making products without parabens or glycols is more expensive, many manufacturers are now "PG-free."
"We hear many complaints that natural deodorants don't work," Larson says. In the past, many natural deodorants attempted to mask the smell of body odor rather that eliminate it, and the results were akin to being on a Parisian train with several competing colognes. Effective weapons against body odor found in natural deodorants like Weleda's include sage or citrus. These ingredients kill odor-causing bacteria and contribute a gentle scent. Some natural deodorants, such as Lafe's, use alum (not to be confused with aluminum) as an antibacterial. Alum is an element found in the earth's crust. Its uses include treating drinking water and preventing infection. The molecule is too large to enter the body through pores, and it is considered a safe odor-killer, Larson says. Deodorants made by Jason, the Culver City, Calif.-based natural and organic personal care company, use baking soda, rice starch and cornstarch.
Whatever the natural ingredient used, the important part is that it kills the odor-causing bacteria rather than just trying to mask the smell. Some natural deodorant companies also claim that their deodorants have aromatherapy benefits and can be used as body sprays, not merely for the underarm.
B.O.rganic and B.iO.dynamic
Many natural deodorants use organic ingredients. The search for organic products is probably what brought many consumers into a naturals store in the first place, so the organic label is very important. Some natural deodorant manufacturers have taken it a step further and use biodynamic ingredients as well. The concepts behind biodynamic farming are still relatively new in the United States, but certification firms like the Demeter Association and the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association are beginning the push to educate Americans about biodynamic farming, a philosophical approach to farming developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner that takes into account the whole picture. On a practical level, this means maintaining the integrity of the soil structure by not plowing in the traditional way, and planting and reaping at certain times.
"We are trying to introduce the consumer to biodynamics and what that means and educate them how it's different from organics. Consumers in the U.S. look for aluminum-free, noncarcinogenic, paraben-free and phthalate-free products," Barckley says. "[Weleda is] trying to introduce the American consumer to biodynamics and what that means, and educate them [about] how it's different from organics."
Green all the way
Consumers are also looking for recyclable and earth-friendly containers. Natural deodorant manufacturers are responding with glass spray bottles and recycled packaging.
According to Angella Green, brand management associate for Jason, the best way to sell deodorants is in their own category rather than grouping them with their brand. However, within the deodorant section she encourages brand blocking, noting that consumers are likely to be attracted to certain scents and enjoy having options. Green also recommends shelf talkers to educate consumers about concerns they may have. What it comes down to is that today's consumers are looking to avoid certain ingredients, and they are choosier about the origins of the ingredients they like.
"I believe that growth has been driven by the consumer's demand for cleaner product and also deodorants that work in terms of eliminating odor," Larson says.And that doesn't stink.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 8/p. 40-41