Portlander aims to eliminate toxics from our armpits

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jaime Schmidt pours ingredients into jars of  Schmidts Deodorant, which she makes at her Portland home. She uses nontraditional scents such as cedarwood and juniper, and ylang-ylang and calendula. I would like to speak with you today about a very serious issue: Body odor.

Twenty-first century personal hygiene products have not reached as high a level of modern scientific perfection as one might hope. Some contain potentially toxic chemicals. Some don’t work. Some just don’t smell very good.

Jaime Schmidt decided to tackle these issues firsthand, and the result is Portland-made Schmidt’s Deodorant, a cottage industry that, Schmidt says, is thriving.

Schmidt’s background is in business and the nonprofit sector, rather than in chemistry or pharmaceuticals. When she was laid off her job three years ago, she decided to strike out on her own. 

“I wasn’t very eager to jump back into the work force,” she says, “so I starting thinking: What is it that I really enjoy, what am I most interested in, and what would be really rewarding? I started to think about body care products, and ... my frustration with some of the chemicals that were in a lot of products on the market.”

Armpit hazards

Mass-market lotions, shampoos and deodorants typically contain a potpourri of petroleum derivatives, carcinogens and potential pollutants. One of the most well-publicized concerns is a possible link between parabens (a class of preservative) in underarm deodorant and breast cancer.

The National Cancer Institute offers this un-reassuring assessment: “Research studies of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer have been completed and provide conflicting results.”

Another issue specific to deodorant, Schmidt says, is aluminum.  

“Any conventional antiperspirant is made with aluminum,” she says, “and aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s and to cancer.”

She adds: “Aluminum blocks your pores to keep you from sweating — that’s why it’s so effective. But we need to be getting rid of those toxins. Our body has to go through the natural process of sweating.”

Many consumers have turned to products in the health food aisle, but for Schmidt, the answer was to do it herself. She began experimenting with lotion, foot cream and hair care products at home, and sold the best results at local farmers markets and craft shows. The product that kept people coming back was her deodorant.

“That was where I was getting most of my positive feedback,” she says. “People were really passionate about it and really thankful.”

So about a year ago she began to focus exclusively on making deodorant.

“I’ve been really happy with the decision,” she says. Her customer base has expanded. She’s still working from home, but she’s started scouting for a commercial kitchen. She has a number of wholesale accounts, mostly at natural food stores including People’s Food Co-op, Food Fight Grocery, and Market of Choice.

At the Alberta Cooperative Grocery in Northeast Portland, Schmidt’s is the top-selling brand of deodorant.

“People come in, asking for it by name,” says Micki Waddell, the co-op’s wellness co-buyer. “We love Schmidt’s Deodorant so much that it’s a permanent Staff Pick. Many of us are devoted customers of Jaime’s.”



Dollars and scents

The product currently is available in three varieties: unscented; cedarwood and juniper; and ylang-ylang and calendula. Schmidt also debuted two additional varieties — bergamot and lime, and lavender and sage — at the recent Better Living Show in Portland. She chooses the aromatic ingredients for their scent and for their other virtues. Cedarwood and juniper, for instance, are natural antiseptics, while ylang-ylang and calendula soothe skin and promote healing.

Coming up with the formulas was a matter of trial and error.

“It took a really long time,” Schmidt says. “I wanted to look at not only the medicinal value of the oils, but also what smelled good ... There’s definitely a lot of testing, and you need people you can test them on.”

All the deodorants contain baking soda to neutralize odor, arrowroot powder to absorb wetness, and hops extract to kill bacteria. Cocoa and shea butters provide the thick, waxy consistency.

The deodorant is sold in glass jars, and it’s not as easy to apply as a roll-on. You have to use your fingers, and it tends to be a bit crumbly. But, Schmidt says, the glass jar is more sustainable than a plastic applicator, and the consistency of her product doesn’t lend itself to a stick.

Of course, she has competition in the natural deodorant field from national players.

“The issue that a lot of people have with natural deodorants is that they’re not very effective, or you have to keep putting them on multiple times during the day,” Schmidt says. “A lot of my customers have told me that this is the only one that’s worked for them.”

(In an unscientific test, Schmidt’s seemed to be less water soluble than another natural deodorant, and to keep its scent longer.)

Schmidt says that positive feedback is what keeps her going. “Just knowing that my product is part of people’s daily life, that’s kind of cool, too.”

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