Hops For Your Pits

Innovation by | Apr 2008 | Issue #15

Tom's of Maine explores new uses for Humulus Lupulus

Hops, of course, are a key component in beer, adding necessary bitterness and aroma. They are the spices in beer recipes.

But while almost all the hop varieties grown in the world are used to flavor beer, the little green gems are used in other products—and for other reasons besides their well-known bittering properties.

Before hops were used in beer, they were used medicinally for a number of ailments. Even today, hops are sold as a sleep aid and natural relaxant. There is also a lot of research being done in the US, Belgium, Japan and Germany, among others, into further possible medicinal benefits hops provide thanks to their natural estrogen content, anti-inflammatory and cancer preventative properties. Potentially, hops could be used to ward off anything from hot flashes to certain kinds of cancer.

For now, though, the hops that don’t make it into your beer are most often used either as supplements to induce relaxing sleep or in hygiene and beauty cosmetics. Hops can be found in toothpastes, deodorants, shower gels, moisturizers and hair-styling products.

For the hophead, it’s probably pretty cool that extracts from their favorite green cone can be sprayed onto hair, rubbed into armpits or smoothed over junior’s bottom. But the big question is why?

According to many manufacturers of natural hygiene products, hops work as a skin astringent and hair softener. Hop extract is also prized for its ability to coat individual hair strands, allowing styling gels to work into the hair more easily. This helps hair seem more voluminous because, when coated, each strand appears thicker. Who knew those green globes could make for a poofier ‘do?

One thing any beer aficionado does know is that hops are a natural preservative. That’s why a certain highly hopped brew became India Pale Ale. Thanks to an entrepreneurial British brewer and a generous hand of hops, a higher-alcohol version of Pale Ale made it overseas to the thirsty men who were colonizing India. The antibacterial properties in the hops helped keep those nasty bugs at bay, which otherwise might’ve spoiled the brew.

Those same bacteria-fighting agents are now being used to keep underarms smelling daisy-fresh all day.

Probably the best-known natural hygiene company to use hops is Tom’s of Maine, a national brand that uses the flower in two of its products: Natural Original Deodorant Stick and its Natural Long-Lasting Deodorant Stick.

Susan Dewhirst, media and public relations leader for Tom’s, says the company chose an oily extract of hops in their deodorants because its antibacterial properties fit their needs on several levels.

“There are a variety of antibacterial natural products, but many of these are not potent enough—or too potent, if you consider products produced by bacteria or fungi—or have a pronounced odor,” Dewhirst says. “The advantages of hops are its efficacy, but also that it is quite easy to obtain from a sustainable source, and we can use it in our deodorants without compromising our fragrance bouquet.

“Additionally, the extraction process [from hop to extract], using carbon dioxide from a volcanic source, is a perfect fit for our company philosophy, as it doesn’t generate chemical waste.”

Hops are so effective in battling bacteria that an extract is being tested as a safe additive in large bodies of water to help eliminate algae. Hops extract has also been successfully used in chicken feed as a natural alternative to growth-promoting antibiotics.

“Hops is a wonderful ingredient and could potentially be used in a number of products,” Dewhirst says.

But will the impending hops shortage mean these products will have to be reformulated?

“Tom’s of Maine deodorants with hops are a highly efficacious product. We have no plans to replace hops in our deodorants,” says Bill Hetzel, supply logistics leader for Tom’s.

Hetzel says he also doesn’t anticipate the skyrocketing price of hops will affect the cost of their products.

“Tom’s of Maine has been monitoring the worldwide hops situation closely,” he says. Though demand is “relative to other companies that purchase hops, such as breweries, we purchase on a much smaller scale. We do not anticipate problems with obtaining the amount of hops needed for our deodorants. While hops prices have increased, we purchase a portfolio of ingredients, and we work hard to offset those increases with other savings opportunities throughout our supply chains.”

With so many promising uses for hops on the horizon, perhaps farmers will be wooed into producing more of these multifaceted flowers. Until then, if beer lovers can’t find enough hops in their brews, perhaps they can find a quick fix in some of their grooming aids.