Company harkens back to Black Plague for soap recipe

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Luc Jalbert, co-founder of Prelam Enterprises Ltd,. says his company is making a line of soaps and hand creams based on a composition of essential oils used in the fifteenth century.
Photo: Submitted

David Gordon Koch | Times & Transcript

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Moncton-based company is developing a new line of soaps and creams based on an ancient formula, according to Luc Jalbert, co-founder of Prelam Enterprises Ltd.

Jalbert said the idea came from a story from the Black Plague in the 1400s he said was unearthed by one of his chemists.

“We researched some stories of what helped resist the plague,” Jalbert said in a phone interview on Tuesday. 

It seems four men were on trial for stealing from the dead and dying.

The punishment was death by burning, but the judge said he would be lenient if they could explain how they avoided getting sick, according to Jalbert.

“They explained that they were four merchants of spice and oils,” Jalbert said. “The ports were closed, that’s why they were stealing.”

As the tale goes, the men produced a mix which they put on their hands and behind their ears, and they created a beak-like mask – a plague mask – containing rags soaked with the oil. 

The judge was true to his word, Jalbert said: “Instead of burning them alive, he hung them.”

Essential oils

He said the company is currently working on making a line of products based on the so-called “thieves blend.” 

The basic composition will contain essential oils of eucalyptus, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves and citrus mixed with a stabilizer, he said. 

The company has two chemists and a bottling plant, enabling them to get the product to market fast, he said. 

He stressed it’s not a sanitizer, which requires a special licence, but he said essential oils have a number of proven benefits.

“I’m not going to suggest or claim that you won’t get the coronavirus,” he said in reference the virus that causes COVID-19, a disease causing flu-like symptoms that has killed thousands of people around the world in recent months.

But amid reports of hand sanitizer shortages, he said it’s “better than nothing” and he will let consumers make up their minds about the product. 

“I’d rather have something on my hands as I’m touching a shopping cart,” he said. “I’ll be using my product.” 

The company produces a line of odour-removers, including bathroom odour eliminators marketed under the brand Just’ A Drop.   

The new products will be marketed under the EZ-Pur brand, he said, including a travel-size “hand purifier” called Soap on the Go. Larger bottles for foaming soap are also planned, but the bottes are in short supply, he said. 

The company hopes to launch the line of products by spring. 

Jalbert also said he’s applying for a Health Canada site licence to bottle bulk shipments of hand sanitizer produced by a Montreal-based company.

He said the company doesn’t have enough bottling capacity to meet current levels of demand amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Spike in demand

In Moncton, soup kitchens have reported that hand sanitizer shortages have threatened operations, while reports have emerged of consumers in other parts of North America hoarding hand sanitizer and Lysol hand wipes to sell online. 

The hand sanitizer market is poised to witness massive growth over the next five years, according to the research firm Advance Market Analytics.

The global market could see a growth rate of 9.23 per cent to reach US$1.74 billion by 2025, the company said in a March 16 media release. 

Handwashing crucial 

Public health authorities are urging people to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by washing their hands.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) advises washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. 

Proper handwashing includes thumbs, the palm and back of each hand, between the fingers and under nails. After rinsing, dry hands well with a paper towel and turn off the tap using a paper towel.