Philip Davis sees a youthful generation that is fresh, clean and smells of "cool spice" or "rose petal." He has just the thing to make children smell that way: He is marketing the nation's first deodorant for children.
Davis, president of BertSherm Products Inc. in Cleveland, has introduced Fun 'n Fresh solid deodorant for children 7 through 12 years old. For boys, there is the cool-spice scent in the earth tones-striped container proclaiming, "Boys at their best." For girls, there is the rose petal scent in the pastels-striped container bearing an equivalent message.
The existence of such a product, which began selling nationally in May and is available at K mart, poses the question, Do children need deodorant?
Many do, says Davis. "When you're in a roomful of third graders, at the end of the day the room smells very aromatic, to say the least," he said on a recent visit to Chicago to sell Fun 'n Fresh to local stores.
Still, selling deodorant to children raises the specter in some minds of forcing children into adulthood long before they are ready.
"I would never talk about it to children age 7," said Mary Schmittgens, school nurse for Park Forest District 163. "You're talking about babies. I think they would be confused. Their minds should be on other things, like being kids.
"Most of them have got a lot heavy things on their minds broken homes, child abuse, sexual abuse, violence on TV. Why add something else that to me is irrelevant?"
But a group of 4th graders at Disney Magnet School said they would welcome a deodorant made just for children. Several already borrow their parents' deodorant, and have been doing so for years.
"We're all sweating," said a 10-year-old girl who has been using deodorant since she was 7. "It, like, stinks in the place where we change after gym."
A 9-year-old girl said it was her parents who got her to start using deodorant when she was 7.
"We would be ready to go to a birthday party, and they'd say, 'Do you want to be the smelliest person there?'" she recalled. She did not.
Indeed, a survey by the marketing firm of Yankelovich, Skelly and White Inc. has found that 58 percent of 9-to-11-year-old American girls regularly use deodorant.
One third of 7-to-12-year-old girls and boys surveyed used deodorant. And while the percentage of deodorant-users rose with age nearly 80 percent of 12-year-olds used deodorant there were also some very youthful aficionados. More than 10 percent of 7-year-olds used deodorant.
Using deodorant, Davis said, can boost children's self-esteem: The child who smells good feels good. And children are proud to have a deodorant of their very own, he said.
"Fun 'n Fresh is more than a business. It is a philosophy," Davis said. "We are not just saying, 'Say no to drugs.' We're saying, 'Say yes to personal hygiene.' "
Pediatricians say that children need deodorant only after they have undergone puberty. Puberty generally occurs at about 11 in girls and 12 in boys, according to Dr. Thomas DeStefani, a pediatrician with Loyola University's Oakbrook Terrace Medical Center. Body odor is one of the first signs of puberty's onset.
"A clean, pre-pubertal patient does not have significant body odor that can be detected by other people," he said.
Teachers, who get to smell plenty of children, say they welcome deodorant use by children after puberty.