How one Kiwi is transforming the image of natural deodorant - one pit at a time

Mel Lewis launched Ultrella, New Zealand's first ever demi-perspirant, the day before lockdown. It was a bold move but one that has paid off in spades.

On Friday 20th March, as Covid-19 was grasping at our country, Mel Lewis took a deep breath and pushed the button on her new business, Ultrella. Just five days later, New Zealand was in Level Four lockdown. Luckily, however, people were still sweating.

Ultrella makes New Zealand’s first ever demi-perspirant – 100% chemical-free deodorant using a revolutionary natural Botox-like ingredient called IBR-Snowflake®, derived from summer snowflake bulbs. The ingredient acts as a sweat deterrent, with a clinically proven 36% reduction in sweating.

Within weeks of launching, one of Mel’s products - the CalmPits Detox Mask - had completely sold out and she found herself hastily arranging to manufacture more. A unique armpit mask that helps people transition to natural deodorant and is also ideal for people with sensitive skin, CalmPits flew out of the door. A promising start for this young Kiwi owned health and beauty brand.

We caught up with Mel to find out why interest in natural deodorant is skyrocketing, what we should be looking for on the label and her top tips for Kiwis wanting to give it a go.

What inspired you to launch Ultrella?

I wanted to create products that would help my customers make the most of every day. The way I see it, if the little niggles and nags, like sweating and B.O. are taken care of, then it’s much easier to concentrate on the big things in life.

Tell us a little bit about the process that went into developing Ultrella. How did you discover that IBR-Snowflake® acts as a sweat deterrent?

Well, I had all of these ideas for products but I didn’t have the technical skills to create them. Then I met an amazing woman who just happened to be one of New Zealand’s leading product formulators - Stacey Fraser, the brains behind Trilogy’s formulations.

It was meant to be. I put together a business plan and applied for a Callaghan Innovation R&D grant to get financial assistance to create a body product range. We spent all of last year creating the products.

People with heavy sweating issues actually inject Botox into their armpits to reduce sweating. IBR-Snowflake® has traditionally been used in facial creams and preparations as a natural Botox alternative. The manufacturers put two and two together and decided to run a clinical trial to see if the ingredient would make a difference.

They ran the trial and found that after seven days of morning and evening usage, there was an average reduction in sweat of 36% across the group. That really got our attention and we decided to start trialling it ourselves.

We already had a pretty good idea of what we did and didn’t want to include in our deodorant. We did a tonne of research and decided that we had to include prebiotics to feed the good bacteria on the skin (and crowd out the ‘bad’ bacteria that causes B.O. to grow), along with minerals like magnesium and zinc.

There was no way baking soda was making the list. Baking soda, or bicarbonate soda, is a common deodorant ingredient. It’s a really effective deodoriser but it’s super alkaline and over time it damages the acid mantle, the skin’s protective layer. I had a really bad reaction to it when I first started using natural deodorants, and I suspect it's why a lot of people go back to the chemical based options after a while.

Why is it so important to use products that don’t contain chemicals, parabens and aluminium?

It’s important because these things can have a really negative impact on our systems. For example, parabens are known endocrine disruptors and as someone who’s the mum of two girls and has had endometriosis, that’s particularly scary.

Aluminium compounds work by temporarily plugging your sweat glands. Another commonly used deodorant ingredient is propylene glycol, that’s essentially the same as the antifreeze solution you’d put in your car.

At the end of the day, sweating is a vital body process. It our body’s way of controlling the situation when we get too hot, when we exercise or when we’re in a stressful situation. It's important that we let this process happen.

The market for natural deodorants seems to be growing worldwide. Where do you think that shift in awareness and attitudes is coming from?

You’re so right. I started making and selling natural deodorants back in 2018 and it has changed so much in that time. Consumers are definitely a lot more aware of what they’re putting on their bodies, which is a really great thing. I’d say they’re more sophisticated about what they’re choosing and they’re asking more from their products too.

There’s a huge body of research out there now that talks about how bad some ingredients can be and the implications of using them. People are more aware of this and they’re changing their buying patterns as a result.

Personally, my habits changed when my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a big wake up call and really made me think about the products I was putting on my body.

What are your future plans for Ultrella? What is the dream for the company?

Our goal is to be there for our customers and to continue creating innovative products that make a real difference to their days. We have two mottos. ‘Smell Good, Feel Good, Do Good’ is the first. The second is ‘Happy you, happier us’. The way we see it, if we can remove the physical niggles that can derail someone’s day, then we’re paving the way for them to feel amazing - happy and content - about themselves, and a community full of happy, content people has got to be a good thing.

What would be your top piece of advice for Kiwis wanting to transition to using natural deodorant?

Over time, I’ve stopped counting the number of people I’ve talked to who have started using a natural deodorant and then entered the dreaded ‘transition period’ as their body adjusts to life without an antiperspirant. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If you’ve been using an antiperspirant for years, or even decades, then it’s going to take your body a while to get used to sweating naturally again. Often people sweat a lot, they smell a bit whiffy and rashes and skin irritations are really common too. Of course, they blame this on their new natural deodorant and after a week or so, they give up and go back to their antiperspirant. It’s a vicious circle.

To counteract this, we created CalmPits Detox Mask. Just as you’d put a clay mask on your face to draw out the impurities, we created one for your armpits. We recommend people use it once a day for seven days to draw out the nasties. By reducing the capacity of the sweat glands, it will make the transition to using a natural deodorant as seamless as possible.

For more information about Ultrella visit