Lather Up: More Men Switching To Shower Gels

Sales of bar soap have fallen 40 percent since shower gel was introduced in 2003. And women aren't the only ones buying body washes. Men are also pouring on bottled soaps amid marketing that pushes the gels' sex appeal.

Consider this as you sweat in the summer sun: Americans last year bought more bottled body washes to bathe with than traditional bars of soap. It's the first time that's ever happened. And while women have used body washes for years, more and more men are now making the switch.

Daniel Smith is a man's man. He's 26 and doesn't mind getting dirty. He happens to be a pit crew member for NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

Smith says on race days, he gets filthy hours before the race even begins. And after wearing a fire suit for five to six hours, he smells pretty bad when he gets home, he says.

Smith's team is sponsored by the men's grooming company Old Spice, so he gets free samples from time to time. But he says he's used body washes for about 10 years, long before Old Spice even made such a thing.

Back then, he had to use a shower gel made for women. But as soon as men's body washes started showing up in 2003, this self-admitted metrosexual switched, and he hasn't looked back.

"Dude, it's been so long since I used a bar of soap ... I don't even remember," Smith says.

'Search For Sex Appeal'

The magazine Advertising Age has reported that sales of bar soaps have fallen 40 percent since body washes were introduced.

And despite the economic downturn -- bottled gels still outsold regular soap, even though they're more expensive and consist largely of water. Gels are also more profitable, so it's no surprise that companies have stopped advertising bar soaps.

"It's the same guys that are making the shower gels and body washes as are making the bar soaps," says Jim Oakley, who teaches marketing at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. "And they want to push the body washes." So the manufacturers advertise the washes rather than the bars and make the washes look better, he says.

To get men to ditch their bars of soap for bottled gels, companies often focus on scent.

Oakley says most ads are aimed at young men because they're more impressionable and more willing to make a switch than, say, their fathers. And, Oakley says, a young man's constant search for sex appeal can't be underestimated.

Environmental Impact

But the bottles that body washes are sold in come with consequences.

"It does have an environmental impact," says John Kalkowski, the editorial director of the trade publication Packaging Digest. "People who are considering making that change from bar soap to body washes may want to consider what that impact is."

Kalkowski says the bottles can be recycled. But if they go into the trash can, those bottles create more waste than the small paper or cardboard packages bar soaps come in. And all that trash could add up to body wash's dirty little secret. Copyright 2010 WFAE-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wfae.org.

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