Tom’s of Maine Natural Beauty Bars will get you in a lather

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The chemical-, synthetic preservative- and dye-free range of vegetarian and partially vegan-friendly products sold by Tom’s of Maine have been around for well over fifty years – in fact, you probably recall seeing one of their distinctive metal toothpaste tubes on your family’s bathroom counter at least once or twice while growing up. Rooted firmly in Tom and Kate Chappell’s philosophy that “people and nature deserve respect,” their extensive line of herbal-infused body preening goodies are still actually manufactured in a wind-powered Kennebunk, Maine facility despite the fact that the products have become as much of a household name as Noxzema and Oil of Olay.

It’s nice to see that some things stand the test of time -- and their formulas are certainly jam-packed with a comforting array of nourishing, plant-based emollients and cleansing agents – but then IT happened. Back in 2006, a mega conglomerate called Colgate-Palmolive scored a majority stake in the company, a move that instilled natural product fans with fear. Would this seemingly incongruent alliance compromise the integrity of Tom’s of Maine products, turning the whole brand over to the dark side in the process?

The good news is that the company continues to donate 10% of their pre-tax profits to a wide range of environmental, humanitarian and cultural causes such as the Nature Conservancy, assorted YMCAs and schools. In terms of green stewardship, they are also fully committed to maintaining their cruelty-free stance and a quick scan of the latest crop of Tom’s of Maine products sitting on the shelf of my local natural grocery store confirms that everything is still being packaged in 100% recycled paperboard printed with soy ink. To add to the good green vibe, they’re now sheathing their new range of six different natural beauty bars in sustainable and fully-compostable PLA-based plastic wrap.

Milled four times to go the distance, Tom’s of Maine’s hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested 4 ounce soaps – available in citrus oil-infused Energizing, sage-lemongrass-olive oil Deodorant, chamomile and vitamin E-filled Sensitive, lavender-jojoba oil Relaxing, olive oil-vitamin E Daily Moisture and apricot seed studded Gentle Exfoliating – are worth every bit of their suggested retail price of $3.19 since they do seem to contain Energizer Bunny properties (although with a sale or a quick internet search, frugal shoppers can score an even more phenomenal deal).

Despite the pigeon-holing name, Tom’s of Maine Natural Beauty Bars aren’t just for ladies who enjoy soaking in a bubble-filled tub while sipping on champagne and nibbling tasty little bonbons. According to the company, every bar in their new line is “clinically proven” to maintain the moisture of skin while cleaning it, and since we’re venturing into cold weather season, that is an especially appealing sales pitch for both men and women.

I see no evidence that Colgate-Palmolive has overshadowed the main crux of Tom's mission statement, and if that affiliation simply enables them to cover more ground across the country, perhaps consumers in all corners will slowly but surely shift their allegiance over toward healthier, chemical-free personal care options. We may be on the verge of 2011, but there are still far too many consumers who equate lathering up with chemicals a necessary evil in their quest to obtain clean skin. We might be in a far better situation if Tom's of Maine ultimately succeeded in putting Soft Soap, Irish Spring, Speed Stick and Colgate oral tooth care products out of business altogether! I'll raise an Energizing Beauty Bar to that.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: Screen capture tomsofmaine.com

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