How a Trip to Ecuador Inspired Two Sisters to Launch a Deodorant Company

Sisters Emily Zollinger and Ann Ahl recently launched nfuse™, a new all-natural, magnesium enriched deodorant.

Two sisters have put their friendship to the test by going into business together to launch a brand new product they say is unlike any other on the market.

Kennett Square resident Ann Offutt Ahl and her sister Emily Zollinger launched nfuse™, a magnesium enriched deodorant last summer, and already their product is gracing shelves at health and beauty retailers as well as fitness studios across the country and here in Delaware.

Three years ago Ann, a media professional, and Emily, an MBA, decided to pool their resources and come up with a business offering with the goal of improving the lives of their own family members and make a difference in their communities.

After a few years of research and product development, the sister team launched an all-natural, patent-pending deodorant infused with magnesium, an essential mineral that over 50% of Americans do not get enough of in their diet.

Why deodorant?

That’s not where the sisters started. Initial ideas included developing a tea drink and gummy bears infused with magnesium. A family trip to Ecuador changed everything.

“Emily and I saw residents of Ecuador buying and using Milk of Magnesia as a deodorant, which was really fascinating to us,” said Ann Ahl.  

nfuse™ uses essential oils in their 3 scented roll-ons. They also sell an unscented variety.

That’s when Ann and Emily sensed an opportunity. The pair had long known the health benefits of magnesium and together decided they wanted to come up with a way to make it easy for men and women to get more magnesium. 

The sisters discovered research showing that traditional underarm antiperspirants contain as many as five toxic ingredients – added for functional reasons – which may cause some health related problems. This concern about antiperspirant toxicity was a major impetus for Ann and Emily’s invention.

“No one is really paying attention to the fact that what you’re putting onto your body is permeating into your system,” said Ahl.

Their deodorant is paraben-free, aluminum-free and preservative-free. While awareness of natural-ingredient deodorants has grown, Ann and Emily recognize that many American consumers are unfamiliar with the many health benefits of magnesium. The marketing around their roll-on deodorant always includes messaging around their key differentiator.

According to researchers, magnesium helps increase energy, reduces stress, helps control inflammation, maintains peak muscle performance, and improves sleep.

Houppette girls Andrea Clare and Ashley Smith display nfuse™ deodorant, which is sold at the boutique.

“People love the fact that it’s made by someone local and that you’re getting an essential nutrient on your skin,” said Andrea Clare, who works at the make-up and skin care boutique in Greenville.

One happy customer spotted at Houppette shared, “It’s double-duty – you get vitamin infusion and a clean fresh scent.” In fact, nfuse™ uses essential oils (no synthetic fragrances) in each of their scents: citrus, lavender and rosemary mint. There’s also an unscented version.

The sister entrepreneurs introduced nfuse™, with the recommended daily allowance of 300 mg of magnesium in each application, last July at the Nantucket Yoga Festival.

“It was the perfect place to launch. There were a number of yoga instructors and people who were aware of health and wellness from all over the country who adopted it immediately,” said Ahl.

While priced at a premium ($9.95), so far the expense seems to be within reach, as retailers and fitness studios often run out of product before the next supply is delivered. In fact, the duo is working to expand production to meet their growing demand. 

Yoga, bar and fitness studios with a health-minded clientele, including Pure Barre in Greenville, have enjoyed brisk sales of nfuse™.

nfuse™ is now available in the Wilmington area at the Hockessin Athletic Club, Currie Hair Skin Nails, Trail Creek Outfitters, Pure Barre, Janssen’s Market and Houppette as well as in 17 other states across the country. 

Some will recognize Ann Ahl from WHYY News Delaware Tonight. She served as a reporter at WHYY and later co-founded Delaware Public Media, where she served as Board Chair. 

Emily, who lives in the Baltimore area, earned a degree from The Wharton School and worked in business development for nine years before deciding to team up with her sister to launch a new product.

Neither Ann nor Emily have a background in chemical engineering. But they had access to a highly reactive blend of magnesium and were willing to do months of research to find naturally derived ingredients that fight odor and boost the absorption of magnesium.

Even after identifying ingredients, it took two years of hard work, trial and error, and the gathering of feedback from friends and family, who sampled an earlier version (which they called Magnificent) of the roll-on product.

With their sights now set on improving their formula for broad distribution, the team decided to find a chemist with experience in consumer product development. To their surprise and joy, a Google search for “natural formulations chemist” turned up a researcher in Newark who now works at the University of Delaware STAR campus who said indeed he could suggest clinically-tested natural ingredients and a skin delivery system to help turn a runny, milky substance into an effective roll-on deodorant.

The goal was clear: “The number one thing is that it has to work!” 

Ann and Emily wanted to make sure their roll-on not was only safe and effective but smooth and dried as quickly as possible. “It had to be a pleasurable experience,” said Ann.

So just how much magnesium is absorbed topically? The partners have done everything possible to make sure “it is a substantial amount.”

However, there is no scientifically effective way to measure how much topically applied magnesium is eventually absorbed into the blood stream. Ahl mentioned that magnesium is widely used among athletes who bathe in epson salt, which contains the essential nutrient.

Ahl cautions that when people switch to a natural deodorant from a traditional antiperspirant, it might take time for your body to adjust to the change. Some have experienced a temporary side effect – an odor and possibly increased sweating – as a reaction to the change. “Your body is detoxifying,” said Ahl. “What we’ve learned is that you should use it (nfuse™) every day for a couple of weeks and see what happens. After the second week, people say that those other symptoms have subsided.”

The women produce 1,000 bottles a week and are busy building the brand and expanding distribution. But they are also gearing up for the next chapter, which will include a stick or a spray deodorant and new scents. “It’s been a really gratifying experience,” said Ahl. “People stop me all the time to tell me they’re wearing our product, and that makes us really happy.”


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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of TownSquareDelaware.com, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.

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