Natural Foods Merchandiser

New Scrubs Show True Grit

If the only bath scrubs your customers know about are made for tile or porcelain, get ready to introduce them to a whole new world. As the popularity of health and beauty spas inspires more and more people to create or re-create a spa experience at home, body scrubs are becoming an essential element for therapeutic skin care, luxury and relaxation. And just as with other skin care products, natural ingredients are the preferred choice in the quest for peace, health and beauty.

It's difficult to gauge the size of the body-scrub market, for several reasons: The category is comprised of many relatively small manufacturing companies and some large ones; it overlaps personal care, beauty, health and specialty gift markets; and the skin care products market is highly competitive. But anecdotal evidence says the demand for high-quality natural scrubs is growing fast.

Converging trends are contributing to category growth and consumers are eager to reproduce the spa ambiance at home. In addition, the lifestyle trend toward "cocooning," or spending more time at home with family, means consumers are investing more in making their homes into sanctuaries. Anything that relieves stress and enhances self-esteem, health and beauty attracts consumer spending. And the bath is a natural, calorie-free setting in which to bathe in serenity.

Heightened awareness of skin care in general is also making scrubs more popular. "It has to do with beauty, but also with health," says Donna Baase, president and "Queen of the Ranch" for Cowgirl Enterprises, a personal care products firm based in Boulder, Colo. "People are thinking about cleansing, seeing the skin as an organ, the whole spa treatment—and it's not just the face anymore."

Salty Or Sweet—What's In A Scrub?
Proponents of body scrubs say they are effective exfoliants, eliminating dry, dead skin, helping the body release toxins and stimulating circulation. With dead skin buffed away, the skin is left smooth, soft and glowing. Scrubs usually contain a granular ingredient for exfoliation and oils for ease of application and moisturizing.

Formulations often include essential oils for aromatherapeutic benefits and fragrance, as well as other nutrient-rich ingredients. With blends including salt, sugar and plant oils, scrub ingredients sound kitchen-ready. In fact, natural do-it-yourselfers may shop a natural products store for ingredients to make their own scrubs and other skin care products.

When scrubs first began to appear on the market, often as facial exfoliants, crushed or ground walnut shells or apricot kernels were often used as the granular ingredient. If not properly ground, these can have sharp or irregular edges that may cause micro-tears in the skin. Today, salt is the most popular granular ingredient for body scrubs. Not only are salt crystals uniform for gentle exfoliation, but they contain skin-nourishing minerals.

Well-in-Hand Epic Herbal Care, a company based in Forest, Va., recently introduced Moisture Rescue scrubs based on sea salt for invigorating and refreshing the skin. "Salts are so mineral-rich," says Linda Doby, Well-in-Hand's president and herbalist.

Although some products advertise the use of Dead Sea salt, known throughout the ages for its dense mineral content and beneficial properties, Doby's concern about the Dead Sea's ecosystem led her to source elsewhere. "We use salts from the San Francisco Bay, with pure essential oils and a very high concentration of kelp and spirulina [for minerals]," she says.

Trillium Herbal, a Sturgeon Bay, Wis.-based company, also uses salt as the abrading ingredient in its scrub line. "Sea salt has amazing and absolutely miraculous healing properties," says Karen Ciesar, Trillium's president and founder. Believing that every product ingredient should have more than cosmetic value, Ciesar chose salt both for its "good scrubby grit" and for its therapeutic properties. With the addition of certified organic plant oils and pure-grade essential oils, Ciesar says, even those with painful skin conditions have successfully used her scrubs. It's a good idea, however, for those with such conditions to check with a health practitioner before using scrubs.

Despite Ciesar's devotion to salt scrubs, she's also formulated a sugar scrub, using certified organic sugar and oils, due for introduction this fall. "Sugar is a little exfoliating on a different level," she says. "It's high in glycolic acid, and it will dissolve, so it's not just exfoliation by abrasion but also on a chemical and molecular level."

Kelly Walsh, president and founder of Soul Scents, based in Palos Verdes, Calif., found through her work as a massage therapist that she and her clients preferred sugar scrubs. Although the company makes both sugar and salt scrubs, its line is primarily sugar-based. "The biggest difference with sugar is that you don't have any sting," Walsh says. The richness of Soul Scents' scrubs mean that they can be applied after soaping up, and then a razor can be used, she adds, "so our scrub can be body scrub, shaving cream, lotion and exfoliant all in one."

Baase of Cowgirl Enterprises also sees her Cowgirl's Soak and Scrub as a multiuse product. "Sometimes just adding it to a tub is enough, softening the skin and softening the water. We add essential oils to make it stimulating yet calming."

Ingredients Added
Pure essential oils, certified organic plant oils, kelp, spirulina and more—the ingredients added to the granular salt or sugar are natural for a reason. The absorbent nature of the skin, the body's largest organ, makes it especially important to go natural. "Your skin not only eliminates but absorbs," Baase says. "If you put a bunch of weird chemicals or petroleum products on it, it'll absorb things it has to later eliminate."

Consumers with chemical sensitivity aren't precluded from using scrubs, but they should consider unscented scrubs, such as those made by Well-in-Hand, Trillium's fragrance-free body polish, or others. At least, those with allergies or sensitivities should be especially careful to avoid any synthetic fragrances.

Ecological Exfoliation
Natural skin care products manufacturers often build their companies with an environmental and/or social ethic. Using certified organic ingredients, carefully sourced granular ingredients and wildcrafted herbs helps guarantee a safe and sustainable world in the future. (Well-in-Hand's products are certified vegan, for example.) Refusing animal testing is an important added value for many customers.

In addition, companies that are socially conscious can make a selling point of their support for causes and organizations. Kelly Walsh of Soul Scents allows customers to choose the organizations that the company will support with a percentage of proceeds; but if they don't name one, her "default" cause is City of Hope, a charity that helped save a friend's life. Walsh is working with spa owners in Las Vegas to persuade them too to donate a percentage of proceeds from spa services to causes they believe in.

Elaine Lipson ( is a Colorado-based writer and editor. She is the author of The Organic Foods Sourcebook (McGraw-Hill Contemporary Books, 2001), a consumer guide to buying and understanding organic foods.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 66

Do-It-Yourself Scrubs at Home

Many consumers enjoy formulating and blending skin care products in their own kitchens. It's a good way to avoid allergens and chemicals, and for some, it's just plain crafty and fun.

Retailers can aid these customers by selling books with skin care recipes and selling quality ingredients such as essential oils and organic base oils. Because home crafters will likely make small batches and use them quickly, they can also use ingredients that don't have a long shelf life, says Donna Baase, "Queen of the Ranch" for Cowgirl Enterprises, based in Boulder, Colo.

"I love fresh crushed papaya and pineapple, maybe blue corn meal, but these things have no shelf life," Baase says. "Or a really 'live' yogurt, or flours like rice flour and chickpea flour. These things are hard to integrate in a preservative system."

Sound yummy? It's a reminder that sometimes the refrigerator is the best storage site for all-natural skin care products that won't be used up right away, whether store-bought or homemade.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 66

Safe Scrubbing

Some tips for using scrubs successfully:

  • Easy does it! Let the scrub do the work and rub gently.

  • Look for high-quality natural ingredients.

  • If skin is irritated or broken, avoid scrubbing until skin heals. Check with a health care professional if you have a skin condition.

  • Don't use body scrubs on the face. Look for scrubs specially formulated for more delicate facial skin.

  • Don't use salt scrubs right after shaving—they can sting!

  • Children probably don't need scrubs.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 66

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