Dried up is not the phrase to use when describing the natural personal care market. The category has sustained three straight years of double-digit gains, reaching $5 billion in 2004, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. The firm also asserts that within the personal care market, skin care is the leading segment, accumulating $3 billion in sales in 2004. But the fact that your shoppers are buying a lot of skin care products does not necessarily mean that they are using them to their fullest effect?or that there isn't room to sell more.
Take moisturizers, for example. Moisturizing is one of the most important steps in a healthy skin care regimen, but despite the virtual flood of effective products on the natural market, customers still come to your store complaining of skin that's, well, dried up.
"If people knew more about the factors that influence the efficacy of moisturizers, they would get more out of the products they're using," says Jennifer Barckley, a spokeswoman for Weleda USA, a Congers, N.Y.-based personal care company. In the moisturizing game there are three main players: oils, lotions and creams, each with its own benefits. Read on to learn how to moisturize the right way—and pass that knowledge on to the ones who need to absorb it the most: your shoppers.
Because body oils do not contain water, they do not require a preservative system beyond an antioxidant, such as vitamin E. That means they are often the purest of the moisturizing options. On the other hand, oils are heavier than lotions and if not applied correctly, can leave a greasy feel on the skin that is off-putting to some customers.
When to apply: To avoid the heavy feel that some oils can create on the skin, it's important to apply them to the body "as soon as you get out of the shower or bath, while the skin is still slightly damp," says Barckley. She explains that the combination of the water and oil will allow the oil to emulsify and absorb more easily into the skin. "You also want to massage the oil into the skin, which will stimulate circulation and make pores more receptive to absorption," she says. Because they offer more intensive moisturizing properties, body oils may be better to use in the winter and fall, when the air is drier.
Where to apply: Most oils can be applied over the entire body, though people with oily skin should avoid certain areas. "The face, chest and scalp contain a higher concentration of sebaceous glands. Those areas will tend to become clogged if a moisturizer is heavy and noncomedogenic. Body oils are better left to the extremities if you're prone to breakouts," says Dr. Marci Street, a dermatologist in Lansing, Mich.
Ingredients to look for: Depending on your moisturizing MO, there's most likely an oil out there to meet your needs. "Avocado oil is a good blocking oil that is very protective, but doesn't absorb easily. Coconut oil, on the other hand, goes right into the skin. It's all about finding a balance and deciding what properties you want in a product," says David Bronner, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Dr. Bronner's Sun Dog's Magic.
Barckley asserts that almond oil has the lightest feel and works well for those who want a quickly absorbed product. Furthermore, "jojoba oil is great because it has similar properties to the makeup of healthy skin and is very easily absorbed. Wheat germ oil is high in essential fatty acids, which promote healthy, glowing skin," says Barckley. Weleda's body oils also contain plant extracts that add to the unique benefits of each product. "Sea buckthorn extract is nourishing, lavender is relaxing, aloe is soothing—all of those plant extracts can have maximum impact once they are absorbed into the skin with the help of the oil," says Barckley.
Lotions are the most common and versatile moisturizers. Since they are water-based, they require a more complicated preservative system, though more companies are coming up with ways to maintain shelf life without adding chemicals and synthetics.
When to apply: Because lotions are water-based, it is not as important to apply them to wet skin. "The water content in lotions allows them to easily penetrate and be absorbed into the skin," says Barckley.
It is still better to moisturize when you first get out of the shower, however, since "the skin has been stimulated and is more prone to absorption," says Street. Because lotions are lighter and leave less residue on the skin, they are better for the warmer, more humid seasons of summer and spring.
Where to apply: Lotions are the most flexible moisturizers and can be applied anywhere, depending on their consistency and ingredients. For instance, Street suggests using a lighter, oil-free moisturizer on your face if you are acne-prone.
Ingredients to look for: It's important to look for a lotion that does not contain many chemicals. Focus especially on eschewing any preservative system that includes parabens or other drying and potentially harmful synthetics. Some companies use grain ethanol, a form of alcohol, to naturally preserve their lotions, an ingredient that has sometimes been accused of drying the skin. Many natural skin care manufacturers, however, say that it is not detrimental if added to products in small amounts. "Our product uses a food-grade emulsifier, rice-bran extract, and a minimal amount of grain ethanol as a preservative," says Bronner. "We created our lotion using a high amount of oils, which means we are able to use a level of grain ethanol that is not drying to the skin and has no bad effects."
Barckley recommends looking for lotions that contain essential oils. "Because natural essential oils are not immersed in a chemical compound that the body has to break down, they are great carriers for other moisturizers and quickly bring their healing, soothing and invigorating properties into the skin." Weleda's Wild Rose body lotion contains rosehip seed oil and calendula, which have nourishing and harmonizing properties, while Dr. Bronner's Sun Dog's Magic body lotion contains hemp oil, which is high in essential fatty acids, a crucial ingredient for healthy skin.
Creams and balms
Creams or balms are essentially lotions or oils taken up a notch or two. Thicker, heavier and more protective and restorative, creams and balms are great for healing extremely dry areas of the body.
When to apply: Using the rule about when to apply lotions and oils, find out if the product is oil or water-based. If it contains water, you can apply it to dry skin and still reap benefits. If it is oil-based, it's best to apply it to still-damp skin for full absorption. These heavier products are also good for outdoor enthusiasts who endure harsh conditions on a regular basis. "In the winter, when you're exposed to sun, cold and wind during activities like skiing and snowboarding, a heavier-duty cream is the way to go," says Barckley.
Where to apply: Bronner suggests his company's body balm for "really cracked skin and/or fresh tattoos—really intense conditions." In general, most creams and balms are used for just that—body parts that need a little extra TLC, such as elbows, knees, feet and hands—and for minor skin irritations and conditions like psoriasis.
Street explains that uncomfortable skin conditions are common and can be brought about by myriad causes. "Things like eczema, itchy rashes, sensitive skin and allergies are all related. Sometimes they can be hereditary, other times they're stress-related." Whatever the cause, an intensive cream will usually help to ease the symptoms.
Ingredients to look for: Bronner's Organic Tattoo and Skin Balm is "beeswax-based and contains jojoba oil, which is extremely protective and rejuvenating to the skin," says Bronner. Weleda carries two heavier creams: Everon Face Balm and Skin Food, which is a body cream.
"We use plant extracts in these products to soothe and nourish, and also heavier ingredients like beeswax or lanolin for protection. The Everon balm contains almond oil and pansy extract, which are extremely healing and also anti-blemish. Skin Food includes chamomile to sooth irritations," says Barckley.
Packaged Facts projects that by 2009 the natural personal care market will climb to $7.9 billion. Showing your customers how to get the most for their money by showing them the right way to moisturize can help you reap healthy profits. It will also help push that dollar figure even higher as naturals shoppers learn the unique benefits of your personal care aisle.
Christine Spehar is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 118-119