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Business and Finance

Selling skincare without the stereotypes

Sam Farmer
Breaking down gender binaries in the cosmetics industry with an affordable, unisex range

It’s not every day a deodorant changes your life but, a few years ago, that’s exactly what happened to me. My daughter had reached an age when deodorant had become an essential item. I’d been a ‘stay at home Dad’ or ‘House Husband’ or ‘Home Hubby’ (pick generic term for the man who stays at home while his wife earns the money) for eight years helping to look after our children, Emily and William.

As a father, dealing with your daughter’s transition into womanhood is a privilege. Even though it’s occasionally daunting it’s an experience I’d recommend. Part of this involved buying her first deodorant that would, in Emily’s words, “get her through the school day.”

Play it sexy

Confident at the prospect of being able to help, I strolled into the supermarket thinking it would be a straightforward task. As I scanned the shelves, the products were segregated into gender. Eventually, I found the section devoted to teenage girls and was surprised at how much pink was used in the packaging. Everything still seemed to be aimed at very young girls: pink and sparkly, hearts and flowers but with a sinister addition of names like Minx, Tease, Be Sinful, Play it Sexy, Touch. This is my 12 year old we’re talking about.

A bit disconcerted, I went to see if there was a men’s deodorant she could use, without those submissive sexualised messages. The products for teenage boys were no better. They were all blue, grey or black with names like Adrenalin, Control, Force, Power and Adventure. Apparently, in the world of personal care, power and adventure were not deemed suitable for girls.

These were products that would be used on intimate parts of my children’s bodies. Products that would be kept in their bedroom, in their bathroom. Private spaces. What was the message being sent to my kids? At this vulnerable time in life, my daughter was being advised to be a ‘minx’ and ‘play it sexy’ and my son to dominate, force and generally behave like a macho control freak. I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ve always treated both my daughter and son equally, yet here I was in the 21st century, looking at a shelf that was full of messages from the 1970s.

Gendered armpits

I left the shop, empty-handed. On arriving home I started to think about why it was that the boys’ and girls’ deodorants weren’t in the same aisle. Were the ingredients gender specific? Maybe the formulations were startlingly different because of a physiological difference between the male and female armpit. I intended to find out and joined the Society of Cosmetic Scientists enrolling on the Diploma in Cosmetic Science, immersing myself in the chemistry of ingredients and the structure of the skin and hair which, by the way, are essentially the same regardless of gender.

I’ve discovered how often we’re manipulated by misinformation and bad science in the marketing of cosmetics and personal care products. The language of chemistry has been hijacked. Even the word chemical now seems to have negative connotations, which is ridiculous. Everything consists of chemicals: water, plants, wood, sand, TVs, hairdryers, cakes, tea and the air we breathe. Our fear of the unknown is being exploited to great effect. The use of meaningless marketing phrases like “No Nasties”, “Chemical Free”, “Natural” and “Organic” swamp the industry.

Keeping it fresh and clean

I don’t want to be part of that. I will never compromise on my formulations. I create them for my teenage children and will always use scientific evidence and, in my opinion, the most appropriate ingredients. I’m responsible for this range and I take this very seriously. That’s why my name is on the front of every product and my mobile number is on my website.

I simply can’t understand why sexually aggressive and sexually submissive messages still exist in personal care. It seems crazy to me that, at such a vulnerable time in young people’s lives when they’e trying to make their own way, work out their own sexuality and deal with growing up, we’re still sending out these messages. This is a difficult age and our products are relied upon to perform a basic but essential task: keeping young people clean and fresh. I don’t want to contribute to that part of the industry that targets young people and makes them feel more insecure about themselves in a world that’s tough enough as it is.

I’ve created an alternative. An affordable, unisex range differing both in message and formulation. If you’ve got a question, my name is Sam Farmer and my telephone number is 07775 783 339. Roll on equality.

Maybe the formulations were startlingly different because of a physiological difference between the male and female armpit



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