Soap Opera

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | November 2, 2016

FDA’s recent antibacterial ruling has soap sector stakeholders scrambling to keep some ingredients in their formulation kit.

As a mainstay of basic hygiene, the personal cleansers market is a category on solid footing—although a recent ruling may very well impact what products consumers pick up next time they are in the supermarket or mass merchant store.

Over the years, sales of body washes, bar and liquid soaps, and hand sanitizers have ebbed and flowed with consumer preferences that center mainly on format, fragrance and benefits such as added moisture, improved cleansing and germ fighting. According to IRI’s most recent 52-week data, soap sales (including heavy duty hand cleaners and hand sanitizers) rose nearly 2% to more than $4.8 billion. Of the major categories reported by IRI, three enjoyed gains, but deodorant and non-deo bars soaps both posted declines (see chart).


While sliding sales are cause for concern in a category that’s accustomed to modest year-over-year growth, these days, soap stakeholders are in a lather about recent regulations. That’s because in early September, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule that over-the-counter (OTC) consumer antiseptic wash products containing certain active ingredients can no longer be marketed.

The final rule from FDA applies to consumer antiseptic wash products (intended for use with water and are rinsed off after use) containing one or more of 19 specific active ingredients, including two ingredients that for many years were the most commonly used—triclosan and triclocarban. The rule does not affect consumer hand sanitizers or wipes, or antibacterial products used in health care settings.

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the time of the announcement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

Since 2013 when FDA outlined its proposal rule, manufacturers have been phasing out triclosan and triclocarban. But according to the FDA, manufacturers did not provide the necessary data to establish safety and effectiveness for the following 19 active ingredients that are addressed in the final rulemaking:
  • Cloflucarban;
  • Fluorosalan;
  • Hexachlorophene;
  • Hexylresorcinol;
  • Iodophors;
  • Iodine complex, which is ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate;
  • Iodine complex of phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol;
  • Nonylphenoxypoly, or ethyleneoxy, ethanoliodine;
  • Poloxamer, an iodine complex of Povidone-iodine 5-10%;
  • Undecoylium chloride iodine complex;
  • Methylbenzethonium chloride;
  • Phenol greater than 1.5%;
  • Phenol less than 1.5%;
  • Secondary amyltricresols;
  • Sodium oxychlorosene;
  • Tribromsalan;
  • Triclocarban;
  • Triclosan; and
  • Triple dye.
FDA has deferred rulemaking for a year on three additional ingredients used in consumer wash products—benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX)—to allow for the development and submission of new safety and effectiveness data for these ingredients.

The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) was quick to issue its own statement following FDA’s announcement: “Consumer antibacterial soaps and washes continue to be safe and effective products for millions of people every single day. Antibacterial soaps are critical to public health because of the importance hand hygiene plays in the prevention of infection. Washing the hands with an antiseptic soap can help reduce the risk of infection beyond that provided by washing with non-antibacterial soap and water…
Consumers can continue to use antibacterial soaps with confidence as they have for decades in millions of homes, offices, schools, daycare centers and other commercial settings.”

ACI was not pleased with the language and messaging used by FDA when it released the rule.

“How they communicated this rule to the American public painted an unrealistically dark picture for this category,” Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication and membership and vice president of sustainability initiatives, told Happi in a phone interview. 

From ACI’s perspective, there are concerns about the already large amount of “misinformation” regarding this product category and how it could impact future rulings from FDA on the three other ingredients it will be evaluating over the next 12 months.

Moving ahead, ACI’s strategy will be to “preserve a palette of useful antibac ingredients that companies can use in manufacturing,” said Sansoni, noting that ACI has already laid out a detailed roadmap for submitting additional safety and effectiveness data on benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol.

In addition, Sansoni told Happi that ACI plans to step up its messaging to combat misinformation to make sure consumers and institutional buyers understand the ins and outs of the FDA rule.

What’s New?
As the sector readies for any potential fall out from the FDA antibac ruling, marketers of soap and body wash remain committed to formulating new SKUs that deliver other attributes consumers want in their personal cleansers: skin-caring benefits, improved cleansing and unique scent profiles.

Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice line, for example, has added new Dirt Destroyer Body Wash, billed as the brand’s most powerful body wash. It reportedly offers 15% more cleansers, a 30% thicker formula and 20% more scent. This thicker formula, according to Old Spice, results in more dirt-eliminating lather with less product going down the drain for an overall better shower experience. Scents include new Lasting Legend, Pure Sport Plus and Stronger Swagger.

Naturals brand J.R. Watkins entered the body wash category following its early summer rollout of new Daily Moisturizing Body Washes that include Lemon Cream, Coconut Milk & Honey, Grapefruit and Coriander & Cedar varieties. The foaming washes, which are said to gently cleanse skin without stripping away natural moisture, are formulated with 97% natural ingredients including plant-based cleansers and skin conditioners.

Method has been high profile with its new Rebecca Atwood limited edition packaging designs. For Fall 2016, Atwood-Method mashups include specially packaged gel and foaming hand washes in varieties such as Pink Persimmon, Blue Sage, Pumpkin Clove, and Violet. In addition Method is touting four varieties of its Refreshing Body Wash, which is enriched with avocado extract and vitamin E; a Moisturizing Body Wash in Coconut Milk; and Cherry Blossom Nourishing Hand Wash.

New at Dial is Dial Silk & Magnolia Body Wash, which is enriched with silk protein and magnolia blossom. This wash has an “advanced moisture-attracting” and clean-rising formula that delivers lasting, lightweight hydration, according to the brand, which is part of Henkel.

Also new is Dial Soothing Care Body Wash, which is hypoallergenic and pH balanced.

Dial has also rolled out a unique new bar—Dial Advanced Deodorant Bar soap, which touts Hydrofresh scent and special “lather pockets” that Dial contends deliver a new level of clean. The pockets provide a non-slip grip of the bar and increase the amount of lather. According to Dial, air trapped in the pocket is mixed with the soap and water, which increases the foam bubble.

Bars Crawl
A unique new bar from as mainstream marketer offers a glimmer of hope that there’s innovation headed where it’s needed most. After all, bar soap sales have been declining for several years. In fact, according to Mintel, fewer than two-thirds of US consumers use bar soap, and the sector is also suffering from (unfounded) negative perceptions. For example, almost half (48%) of all US consumers believe bar soaps are covered in germs after use—a feeling that is particularly strong among consumers aged 18-24 (60%) as opposed to just 31% of older consumers (65 and up), according to Mintel’s findings.

That’s not to say bar soap can’t be young and hip—just ask Rachel Mullen, the founder of Music City Suds, a Nashville-based specialty soap company. Her brand offers a collection of handcrafted soaps with names that take their cue from the sounds of the city where she is based—think Friends in Aloe Places (its No. 1 selling bar, which is has aloe vera oil extract and moringa leaf powder) and Take This Mop and Scrub It (a shampoo bar). Music City’s newest bars include Cedarwood Road (which has activated charcoal), Where the Lemongrass Grows, and a new shave soap that’s part of its new Tennessee Whisker beard care range.

“The best part of being a specialty soap maker is the creativity. I get to experiment with different ingredients, different scents and the most fun, in my opinion, different soap names,” Mullen told Happi. “Being able to make a product with my hands is an incredibly satisfying thing. I also love seeing the smiles on my customers’ faces when they read the soap titles and get a big ol’ whiff of one of our soaps.”

Specialty brands like Soaptopia revel in their creativity too. This Mar Vista, CA-based company, which sells bars online, in specialty shops and Whole Foods, has several new fall offerings that range from complex bars like Arnica Palmer (arnica, lemongrass, peppermint, clary sage, cypress, cedarwood and fir needle) to founder Jolie Chitwood’s newest favorite, Vetiver Underground, which blends vetiver with vanilla and sandalwood.

Even the biggest name in the handcrafted bath products category, Lush, continually steps up its game with hand-poured soaps, body scrubs, shower gels, bath bombs and “bubble” bars designed especially for the holiday season. Lush’s new options for holiday 2016 range from cute to quirky.

There’s Santa’s Postbox soap (which has a refreshing citrus fragrance with sweet orange flower, mandarin and bergamot oils); Igloo, a bright yellow and white floral-scented soap with rose and Sicilian lemon oils; and Salt and Peppermint Bark Body Scrub, which was inspired by the perennial holiday favorite, peppermint bark. Half of the peppermint-scented solid bar is made of salt for scrubbing while the other half features cocoa and capuacu butters that soften the skin, according to Lush.

Lush’s holiday collection also marks a milestone for the company in terms of formulation. For the first time, every product in the Christmas range (including gifts) is self-preserving, notes Lush, which said it replaced water with other moisturizing emollients like olive oil and cocoa butter, eliminating the need for synthetic preservatives.
Keeping true to a brand’s formulation tenants is key for specialty soap makers from large to small.

“We use only all-natural ingredients in our products,” said Mullen, noting that she formulates with only essential oils for fragrance and turns to spices, juices and teas as natural colorants.

“That is the foundation that the company was built on, but it does limit us at times. There are products that we would like to make, but because we can’t create them
cost-effectively with natural ingredients, we’ve chosen not to pursue them. The decision to stay all natural though is never one I question. I’d rather limit the number of scents I offer than sell products with synthetic ingredients.”

With the recent limits imposed by the FDA, it will be interesting to see how soap makers clean up their formulations in 2017.

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