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What’s the Big Stink? Battling BO … Naturally

April 24, 2008

6 Min Read
What’s the Big Stink? Battling BO … Naturally

Everybody?s guilty of it—a quick sniff under the arm to gauge the stink factor. Nobody wants bad body odor. That?s why many of your customers who buy natural toothpastes, body washes and creams may be reluctant to give up an effective conventional deodorant. They know natural is healthy, but bad BO is taboo.

Many consumers, though, would like to ditch the aluminum-laden, pore-clogging products for a healthy alternative, but they need a confident retailer who can assure them a natural deodorant will work—and can tell them how. Here?s some information to help you do the job.

Dissecting deodorants
Perspiration is the body?s primary means of controlling body temperature, eliminating waste and maintaining moisture in the skin. So why is underarm sweat accompanied by an unpleasant smell? Underarm sweat itself is actually odorless, but when the secretions from sweat glands mingle with the skin?s normal bacteria, odor is produced.

Enter deodorants and antiperspirants, the primary weapons against armpit odor and wetness. Deodorants use antiseptic and antibacterial ingredients to break down sweat and inhibit odor-producing bacteria, but they have no effect on the sweating process. They work superficially on the skin and are therefore classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as cosmetics.

Antiperspirants, on the other hand, contain ingredients that block the pores to reduce the amount of sweat released. Because antiperspirants alter body function, the FDA classifies them as over-the-counter drugs. Most mass manufacturers market antiperspirant-deodorants that contain perspiration-inhibiting and antibacterial ingredients to fight both wetness and odor.

But many of these odor- and wetness-fighting ingredients also carry potential health risks. For example, the aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum zirconium used in many commercial antiperspirants to block pores and inhibit sweat are soluble compounds that may be absorbed by the liver, kidney, brain, cartilage and bone marrow. And the elevated aluminum levels present in the brains of Alzheimer?s patients creates an uncomfortable potential correlation for many.

Those with sensitive skin can have allergic reactions to deodorant ingredients. Triclosan (trade name Irgasan DP 300) is a broad-spectrum antibacterial that has been shown to cause allergic contact dermatitis, a condition that can produce itching, redness, inflammation and swelling (Contact Dermatitis, 1975). Similarly, propylene glycol, used to carry and retain moisture, is considered a skin and eye irritant, and a possible carcinogen. (Hautarzt, 1982).

Recently, researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom found traces of parabens—preservatives frequently found in deodorants and cosmetics—in breast-tissue samples. The study, published in the January/ February issue of the Journal of Applied Toxicology, proves that these estrogen-mimicking substances can accumulate in the body, but a direct link to breast cancer has not been proven. The authors conclude that further studies to compare paraben levels in both healthy and tumorous cells are necessary.

Natural alternatives
Personal care product manufacturers are combining a wide variety of natural substances that have inherent antiseptic, germicidal and moisturizing properties to produce natural deodorants that perform the way consumers expect. ?It is very important to make sure the ingredients used in deodorant products are as innocuous as possible, but will still help address the host of issues associated with odor problems,? says Diana Kaye, co-founder and owner of Terressentials, an organic personal care company based in Middletown, Md.

From natural mineral salts to clays and plant-derived botanicals, manufacturers are finding many natural substances that are well-suited for use in deodorants, and they are combining them in creative ways. ?The key to success for natural deodorants is identifying the right mix of ingredients that work effectively,? says Lafe Larson, president of Deodorant Stones International, based in Austin, Texas. In its ?gentle? line of deodorants, Tom?s of Maine includes lemongrass oil and sage extract.

?Lemongrass oil is used as a fragrance component and is widely thought to have analgesic, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties,? says Kathleen Taggersell, spokeswoman for the Kennebunk, Maine-based company. ?Sage is also well-supported by scientific demonstration to have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.?

Tom?s seven varieties of stick and roll-on deodorants all contain chamomile, witch hazel and aloe vera. Chamomile and aloe vera both have skin-soothing properties, and witch hazel is an astringent, Taggersell says.

Terressentials uses natural clay minerals, yucca and white willow in all four varieties of its organic deodorants. ?The clay minerals in our deodorants help absorb moisture and serve as a suspending agent,? Kaye says. Yucca has anti-inflammatory properties, and white willow bark contains salicylic acid, which imparts antibacterial and preservative properties, she says.

Many consumers are opting for crystal rock deodorants. Deodorant Stones International?s crystal deodorants contain potassium alum, a safe and effective alternative to aluminum. Alum, a class of mineral salts that includes potassium alum, aluminum ammonium and potassium sulfate, works by leaving a layer of salt on the skin to inhibit bacterial growth, Larson says.

?There is a significant difference between naturally occurring alum and synthetic aluminum compounds,? Larson says. ?Naturally occurring alum is a large molecule that kills bacteria on the surface of the skin. Because of its size, it is generally not absorbed through the skin. It works by killing the bacteria, which is the cause of odor.?

Many stone and crystal deodorant products must be applied wet. ?Wetting these products is required to release the dry mineral salts from the stone or stick and transfer them to the surface of the skin,? Larson says.

Deodorant Stones International also adds hemp seed oil to many of its deodorants. ?[Hemp seed oil?s] high concentration of essential fatty acids gives it superb moisturizing properties,? Larson says. Customer response to the hemp oil line, which includes Powder, Lavender, Active and Unscented formulas, has been very positive, Larson says.

There are options, however, for those who feel that wetting their deodorant is a little too far afield. Gardiner, N.Y.-based Kiss My Face, for example, has a line of roll-ons called Liquid Rock. Available in Scented, Lavender, Patchouli and Fragrance-Free, the products feature a mix of potassium alum with lichen and white willow bark extracts.

Earth Science, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., is another manufacturer that relies heavily on botanicals in its deodorant products. The company combines calendula oil and lichen in its Rosemary Mint and Lichen deodorant sticks. Company President Ken Grand says calendula oil, which is derived from marigold flowers, ?imparts anti-irritant and skin-soothing properties.? Lichen, a unique marriage of algae and fungus organisms, ?is used for its antibacterial, odor-fighting properties.?

Deodorant sales smell sweet
Market research indicates consumer demand for natural deodorants is on the rise. The natural deodorant market saw a 14.3 percent growth in sales last year, exceeding $11 million for the year ending April 2003, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

?We have seen significant double-digit growth each year over the last five years in this category,? says Tom?s of Maine?s Taggersell.

?There is more competition in the natural deodorant category than there has been in the past,? Larson says. ?Going forward, the key to success in this industry is going to be continuing to research the raw materials used to ensure we are all creating products that are truly effective.?

?Even in this growing market, we need to let consumers know there are natural alternatives out there, that they work and to make them part of the public consciousness,? Grand says.

Kristen Lewis is a free-lance writer based in Arvada, Colo.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 3/p. 100

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