I’m a big believer in hands-on learning. Exploration & experimentation are two of the most effective tools for gaining and retaining knowledge.
As a former teacher, I saw it again and again. When my students had to work on a problem, struggle with it, and finally come up with a solution on their own, they were more likely to remember the lesson.
Not only that...they were more capable of identifying common mistakes. They were more likely to apply the core principles of the lesson in new & interesting ways. And they were more confident in the way they talked about what they had learned.
Now that I’m an entrepreneur, I find that I’m the student who’s working. Struggling. Coming up with solutions. Being in business for yourself provides a lot of opportunities for hands-on learning—branding, pricing, packaging, marketing, and about 1,000 things more.
But the activity I enjoy the most is the research & development that goes into product development. It brings the business into a more scientific realm—performing experiments, logging my results and seeing an idea come to life.
Formulating the Baking Soda Free Deodorant Stick
Over the past three months, I’ve been working on our newest product: the SmartyPits™ baking soda free deodorant stick.
As you’ll read, it was far from a straightforward process. There were false starts and outright failures along the way. But take a close look at all those twists & turns. You’ll see the same kind of discovery that I witnessed in my students—and that I see in the girls who use our SmartGirl™ kits.
Hailey documenting one of our many baking soda free deodorant trials
Like any good research project, developing a new skin care formulation begins with three things: goals, requirements & constraints. Research is a journey of discovery—you need to know where you’re going (the goal), which path you plan to take (the requirements), and what mode of transportation you’re using to get there (the constraints).
For this particular R&D, my goal was to formulate a baking soda free probiotic deodorant. And I had one requirement—it had to effectively control odor all day long.
I had a decently sized list of constraints:
- It had to be a solid stick (as we have already developed a baking soda free deodorant cream)
- It had to apply smoothly, without being too stiff in the winter or too soft in the summer
- It couldn’t contain any baking soda, of course
- As with all of our products, the formulation could not contain any problematic ingredients—no phthalates, no parabens, no propylene glycol, no petroleum-based chemicals, and NO aluminum
- The price to create it, even though we'd be using more expensive ingredients, had to be close to our original formula deodorant
Test 1: Bentonite Clay
In my initial research of various natural odor-controlling ingredients, I found several sources that recommend using bentonite clay.
This makes a certain amount of sense. Bentonite clay is very good at adsorption. That is, it attracts dirt, oils & other foreign compounds away from the skin. Clay is often used to detox the armpits for this reason.
Bentonite clay has a pH between 8.3 & 9.1, making it slightly alkaline. Similar to baking soda or soap, the alkalinity of clay makes the surface of the skin less hospitable for odor-causing bacteria. In addition, clay helps to wick away moisture, reducing the medium where bacteria thrives.
All signs seemed to point to a winning replacement for baking soda. But when we tested out the formulation, there were critical problems. It didn’t control odor all that well. It went on too sticky. And although the clay did successfully wick away the sweat, it turned into a pasty mess under the arms!
No one likes to feel like pottery.
It might seem devastating, but in fact, this was fantastic news! Test 1 was a complete failure—which meant that we could move on to another alternative ingredient.
Test 2: Zinc Oxide
Several years ago, I developed a baking soda free deodorant formulation using zinc oxide. And while it represented a decent baking soda alternative, I had always wanted to take another crack at improving the recipe.
Zinc oxide works to control odor by converting sweat into a stable salt through a chemical reaction. No sweat equals no place for bacteria to thrive. Zinc oxide goes on white (picture the image of a lifeguard with a stripe of zinc oxide sunscreen on their nose). And it’s not absorbed by the skin due to its size.
But this trial ran into conflicting constraints. The amount of zinc oxide required to effectively control odor in a stick form was both cost prohibitive and made the formula incredibly sticky. But if we reduced the amount, we would fail to meet our one requirement—all day odor control!
Zinc oxide—at least on its own—was a formula that didn't quite do what I wanted it to do. Strike it off the list and on to the next option.
Test 3: Magnesium Hydroxide
Magnesium hydroxide is another common ingredient for controlling odor naturally. It’s the same compound contained as a suspension in Milk of Magnesia. In fact, some people use Milk of Magnesia topically as a DIY deodorant.
The initial research was promising, but I still had to see how this new ingredient would play with the rest of the deodorant formulation. As a result, this test batch actually consisted of several sub-trials as I worked to satisfy each constraint in turn.
The initial formulation felt too brittle and stiff, so I adjusted my oil-to-wax ratio. But that formulation went too far in the other direction and ended up sticky and too soft, so I tweaked the ratio again.
I had finally gotten the consistency just right, but there was another problem. The white magnesium powder was turning yellow when combined with the other ingredients! By experimenting on various reductions of the formulation, I worked on isolating the problematic ingredient. But then I needed to identify a suitable replacement in order to maintain the consistency.
Next we had to test on an appropriate test subject: my husband, Robert. Both he & I liked everything about this formulation—it applied smoothly, left no residue or discoloration on shirts, and most importantly, it worked all day long to eliminate odor. Plus the cost of materials would enable us to sell it for a price close to our original formulation!
It was time to gather more feedback. I started sending samples to many of our long-time customers. When they wrote back with extremely positive reviews, it was clear that Test 3 was a success.
The Research is Complete. Time for Development!
When moms write to me about how their daughters enjoyed their SmartGirl™ skin care kits, one comment comes up again & again. They tell me, “She felt just like a scientist!”
Whenever I R&D a new product, I get to experience that same feeling. It’s exhilarating to chart out my objective, learn the lessons of my failures, and develop the logistical details of manufacturing the end product.
When the dust settles on a good R&D session, I’ve got a reproducible, understandable formulation. It’s the result of preparation, experimentation & execution—creating another smart choice for a healthy body & brain.
If you’re interested in trying our newest baking soda free deodorant, it will be available for purchase on Wednesday, March 8!
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