In Safe (Clean) Hands

2020 . 05 . 08 | written by Karen Marin

Add to my selection





As hand sanitizer disappeared off the shelf at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, it has been no surprise to see sales of liquid and bar soaps grow exponentially. With the emphasis on frequent hand washing, the whole world has had to stock up. This unanticipated shift in global consumer demand has led to long-shot, unpredictable business opportunities.

Luxury and prestige hand soap sales have flourished both online and in-store. Suddenly, brands and retailers started sending dedicated emails featuring these formerly sleepy items which had morphed into hero products. Along with promoting a bevy of tempting choices at all price points, consumers were reminded to respect the guidelines – and sometimes were even treated to tutorials on how to wash your hands effectively. It is surprising to see that the sales of hand cremes and moisturizers, though booming, are not seeing the same spike as the cleansing products. No one has been hoarding hand crème. Kitting the two together in sets and coffrets is an easy move to build sales and grow the category since, for the foreseeable future, hand hygiene and care will stay top of mind.

These growth trends are not limited to products as there is a halo effect on ingredients as well. It was reported that the price of isopropyl alcohol, used in the production of hand sanitizer, had more than doubled in March. Even those with the capacity to produce the goods were faced with shortages. Plants, which of course have the added benefit of being natural, have a long history of being used to treat disease and heal infection. Lemon myrtle is recognized for its antibacterial properties that also fight against fungus and microbes. It also has a fresh, zesty, lemony scent that many cultures associate with cleanliness. When distilled into an essential oil, this plant can be used in personal hygiene and cleansing products, including hand sanitizers. According to a representative from Australian Native Products, Australia’s biggest producer of lemon myrtle, the company has made a 100% shift from producing dried leaves from the crop to distilling essential oil, all due to demand. Studies show that products containing as low as 1% lemon myrtle oil are low in toxicity and can be used to make topical antimicrobial products. Lemon verbena is another natural healer with proven antibacterial and antioxidant properties. The leaves and the small white flowers are used for medicinal purposes as well as in herbal teas, fragrances and tonics. Traditionally in South America the plant was used to stimulate sweating to break fevers. The lemony aroma comes from the leaves which along with the stalks are distilled into the essential oil. Also know as Verveine, there are numerous lemon verbena fragrances and hand care products available from mass, mid-tier and luxury, artisan brands.

Although fragrance sales worldwide are experiencing challenging times, there is the phenomenon in Turkey that is kolonya. For centuries, the Turks had used rose water for culinary, beauty, medicinal and hygienic purposes. In the 19th century eau de cologne made its way to the Ottoman Empire through traders from Cologne, Germany. At the court of Sultan Abdulhamit II (1876-1909) eau de cologne was blended with the traditional rose water creating kolonya and ushering in a trend for the light scent which was also recognized for its antiseptic and cleansing properties. To this day kolonya plays an integral role in Turkish hospitality and health. It is sprinkled on guests’ hands when they enter homes, when finishing a meal at restaurants, when people gather for religious services and even when they are patients or visitors to hospitals. This simple gesture is also common in barber shops, dating back to the 16th century when the highly respected barber also performed medical services. Offering kolonya is seen as a way of tending to your guests’ comfort and health by refreshing them and ridding them of any bacteria picked up during the trip to you. It is even customary for people to have a bottle in the bedroom, the bathroom, and the living room so it is always close by. Turkish media has suggested that the widespread use of kolonya may have helped contain the spread of the virus.

Kolonya is traditionally sold in pharmacies, grocery stores and small shops although some top brands are experimenting by opening their own boutiques, including heritage brands Atelier Rebul and Eyüp Sabri Tuncer. Best known brands produce lemon kolonya at 80% alcohol while other blends such as jasmine and lavender top out around 70%. It should be noted that, to be effective, colognes and hand sanitizers must be at 60-65% alcohol. On March 13th, the Turkish government stopped requiring ethanol in petrol to bolster greater production of kolonya due to skyrocketing sales both in Turkey and in Germany where there is a large population of Turkish descent The scent is hard to find outside of Turkey, but the health crisis may help spread the notoriety of this hidden gem.