Spot the difference

CHERYL COLE swears by it.

Her Girls Aloud bandmate Kimberley Walsh is also a fan. Amanda Holden loves it, and the boys and girls of TOWIE are hooked on it now as well. It’s the latest word in celebrity skincare, with everything you’d expect from a leader in the field; tried and tested formula, iconic packaging, legions of devotees. A cult product with a genuine buzz.

We’re not talking Créme de La Mer here, we’re talking Sudocrem. The Irish-made nappy rash formula that has soothed the bottoms of generations of babies is having a moment across the water as a miracle spot treatment for stars. They’re all mad for it. The ones who admit to getting the odd pimple at least. Cheryl kicked things off when she told journalists how brilliant it was at drawing out her spots, and the endorsements from Kimberly and Amanda have been equally glowing.

It was an appearance on an episode of The Only Way is Essex though, that really sent things through the roof for the stuff. TOWIE star Diag had it recommended to him as an acne cure. Sales of Sudocrem at one big chemist chain went up 150% after he was shown slathering it all over his chin.

It’s not all down to Diags’ endorsement though, or even Cheryl’s. Sudocrem has generations of loyal followers, and in these recessionary times, the price helps a lot. At less than €3 for a 60g tub, it’s cheaper than just about any other acne cure.

Here in Ireland, it’s a tried and tested brand, known and loved and in our cupboards for over 80 years. The stars have been slow on the uptake in one sense, as Irish mammies have known for decades that Sudocrem is just as kind to grown-up skin. It’s always been marketed as a nappy rash formula though, and a trip to the Sudocrem factory in Baldoyle on Dublin’s northside reveals a brand that knows its business, still.

“It’s terrific to get celebrity endorsements,” says marketing manager Kevin Lills, but he’s pretty level-headed about ‘The Cheryl Effect’.

“Here in Ireland people have known about its efficacy (on adult skin) but not in the UK until now, so we’ve brought out a new 20g tube size to cater for that group. But our core market is still mums and new babies. They are the main focus, just as they always have been.”

We are having this conversation in the packaging area of the factory. A huge bin in front of me reveals the full extent of that focus on the baby market. It is filled with thousands of little 10g tubs of Sudocrem, all destined for new mums on maternity wards. The tubs will be gifted to mothers in a gesture of congratulations that doubles as a means of introducing them to the cream while they are still a captive audience, so to speak.

It’s a neat little trick for capturing new customers that was the brainwave of Brendan Smith, son of the late Thomas Smith, the man who invented Sudocrem.

It was plain old Smith’s Baby Cream when it was first made up in 1931. Thomas was a pharmacist with a shop on the Old Cabra Road in Dublin, where he made up potions. One of his mixtures was an ointment for soothing nappy rash, and ‘Smith’s Baby Cream’ was a success from the start. By the 1950s, ‘Smith’s Special Skin Ointment for the treatment of ulcers, pimples and all skin eruptions’ as it said on the tin, was being sold in chemists around Ireland.

By this stage, son Brendan was on board as well. He hit on the idea of sending the cream out to new mums. He would trawl the local papers for the births announcements and send out some cream to all of the mothers on their lists.

Sixty years later, and Sudocrem samples are still finding their way to new parents, but now they have a bit further to go. The little tubs that Kevin holds up are the same familiar grey colour, with the same instantly recognisable red and white label, but the writing on these ones is in Arabic. More than 10 million sample tubs now leave Baldoyle every year, and the Middle East, including Jordan and Egypt, is a growing market.

From something that started in the back room of a chemist’s shop on the Old Cabra Road, Sudocrem now ships to 44 territories all over the globe. Should Cheryl Cole find herself at the mercy of a rogue blemish some morning, she’ll be glad to know she can pick up her favourite vanishing cream in Poland, Turkey, Canada, Serbia, Australia, Romania, Hungary, New Zealand or Belgium, to name but a few.

The company may have grown exponentially, but according to the makers, the recipe for Sudocrem hasn’t changed much from the one Thomas Smith first whipped up in 1931. Nowadays it’s a team of gowned workers who mix together the main ingredients; zinc oxide, benzyl alcohol, benzyl benzoate, benzyl cinnamate, and lanolin with various waxes to produce the thick soothing paste Amanda Holden is so fond of. In case you’ve ever wondered, it’s the zinc oxide that makes it white, and lavender that gives it that distinctive smell.

Mick Bizzell is operations manager at Forest Tosara, the company that makes Sudocrem. American giant Forest Laboratories bought the Tosara Sudocrem factory in the 1980s but the entire operation has remained in Dublin. After 10 years with the company, Mick is well-qualified to guide a visitor through the manufacturing process, but I dropped chemistry after the Junior Cert, so I fear the science of it is lost on me.

In fact, the making of the cream is so straightforward, even I could follow it. The various raw materials are combined in big vats before being pumped into a machine that looks like a giant cake mixer, which turns them into Sudocrem. ! Every batch of cream has its own number that can be traced right back to the raw materials used.

Mick and I follow the mixture from genesis to filling lines, where different-sized tubs are fed into hoppers and along a conveyor belt before a six-headed machine pumps them full of Sudocrem. Down come the caps and off go the tubs for labelling. Sudocrem is called Sudocrem everywhere except Belgium and Puerto Rico where its called Dermocrem. I’m not sure why its renamed in Puerto Rico, but ‘Sudocrem’ means something a bit rude in Belgium, apparently.

Whether it’s called Sudocrem, or Dermocrem and whether it’s being used by your mum or Cheryl Cole, every tub of Sudocrem comes from Baldoyle. Sudocrem has been Irish since the beginning, and the people who make it are proud of that fact.

“It’s a legacy product,” says Robert Ryan, who looks after documentation and validation at the factory. Since last summer, Ryan has been working on a history of the product and can tell stories from the very early days of Sudocrem, and the Smith family’s efforts to get it off the ground. Many stories he tells are about Brendan Smith, he of the births announcements brainwave in the 1950s.

Smith wasn’t just a whiz at direct marketing it seems, he was also unusually pro-active about dealing with customer feedback.

“If someone wrote to complain about Sudocrem, he would visit the family personally to find out what the problem was.” Such dedication paid off in the ’60s and ’70s when lucrative new markets opened up for his cream. Half a century later and popstars are praising it off their own bat.

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ would seem to be the motto that best applies to Sudocrem. “Obviously we’re glad of all the latest publicity,” says Kevin Lills.

“But the main thing is, it works. It’s a great product, and it always has been.”



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