MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
As we all swelter in the summer sun, take a moment to consider this: Last year, Americans bought more bottled body washes to bathe with than traditional bars of soap. It's the first time that's happened. And while women have used body washes for years, more and more men are now making the switch. From member station WFAE in Charlotte, Scott Graf reports.
SCOTT GRAF: Daniel Smith is a man's man. He's 26 and doesn't mind getting dirty. He happens to be a pit crew member for NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. Smith says on race days, he gets filthy hours before the race even begins.
Mr. DANIEL SMITH: Then, right along 1, 2 o'clock, now we've got to put on fire suits and go out and it's 90-something degrees outside, sweat around in that for about five, six hours. So when you get home, you smell pretty bad.
GRAF: Smith's team is sponsored by the men's grooming company Old Spice, so he gets free samples from time to time. But Smith says he's used body washes for about 10 years, long before Old Spice even made such a thing.
Back then, he had to use a shower gel made for women. But as soon as men's body washes started showing up in 2003, this self-admitted metrosexual hasn't looked back.
Mr. SMITH: Dude, it's been so long since I used a bar of soap, I don't even remember.
GRAF: And the numbers show Smith isn't alone. The magazine�Advertising Age�has�reported�that sales of bar soaps have fallen 40 percent since body washes were first introduced.
And despite the recent economic downturn, bottled gels still outsold regular soap, even though they're more expensive and consist largely of water. Gels are also more profitable, so it's no surprise that companies have stopped advertising bar soaps.
Jim Oakley teaches marketing at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
Professor JIM OAKLEY (Marketing, University of North Carolina, Charlotte): It's the same guys that are making the shower gels and body washes as are making the bar soaps. And they want to push the body washes. So they advertise these, don't advertise those. And by comparison, these look better.
GRAF: And to get men to ditch their bars of soap for bottled gels, companies often focus on scent.
(Soundbite of various ads)
Unidentified Man #1: Now it comes in a body wash of Irish Spring. Smell like you're worth exploring.
Unidentified Man #2: Finally, a body wash for grown-ups. Nivea for Men body wash has a fresh, subtle scent, and it's good for your skin.
Unidentified Man #3: Works for me.
Unidentified Man #4: Old Spice Body Wash - smell like a man, man.
GRAF: Oakley says most ads are aimed at young men because they're more impressionable and more willing to make a switch than, say, their fathers. And, Oakley says, a young man's constant search for sex appeal can't be underestimated.
Mr. OAKLEY: If you want to be attractive to a woman, you can't just stink. You've got to have some control over what you smell like as well. And the better you smell, you're going to be more appealing.
GRAF: But the bottles body washes are sold in come with consequences. John Kalkowski is with the trade publication�Packaging Digest.
Mr. John Kalkowski (Editorial director, Packaging Digest): It does have an environmental impact. People who are considering making that change from bar soap to body washes, may want to consider what that impact is.
GRAF: Kalkowski says the bottles can be recycled. But if they go into the trash can instead, those bottles create more waste than the small paper or cardboard packages bar soaps come in. And all that trash could add up to be body wash's dirty little secret.
For NPR News, I'm Scott Graf in Charlotte.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.