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At the HART

The man with a good nose for what heals

Body care and cosmetic products from Kneipp are more than just shower gels, bubble bath or even face creams – meet the man who has given many people’s lives a boost using special fragrances and aromatherapy.

Dr. Rainer Wohlfart
Dr. Rainer Wohlfart
Olfactory perception – also known as the sense of smell – has always fascinated Dr. Rainer Wohlfart. During his doctoral studies, he was already writing about the calming effect of hops. “When they hear the title, many people laugh. But it is about the fragrance of the hops and the effect it has on the human body. That was something completely new at the time,” remembers Rainer Wohlfart. His academic interest turned into his professional passion. At the end of 2017, he retired after 31 years as the Head of the Research, Development and Regulatory Approvals department of Kneipp GmbH. Even though he no longer appears every day in Würzburg, Wohlfart left a lasting mark and his presence is still very much felt in the company.

In 1986, he applied for a job at Kneipp, fresh out of university, on the recommendation of his doctoral supervisor. The boss at the time was the pharmacist Senator Luitpold Leusser who managed the business into the third generation. Business was good. Several years before, the sales channels had been expanded to drug stores and grocery retailers. Many consumers swore by Kneipp products – whether bath salts, food supplements or plant juices.

The healing properties of phytotherapy

Senator Leusser was already about 70 – with no successor. This was not a cause for concern for Wohlfart. “Kneipp was even then a solid brand that was synonymous with quality,” he remembered. When Leusser proposed that he starts working in the Research and Development department of his company, Wohlfart jumped at the offer and said yes. From that point on, the two men had a close and trusting working relationship. “Mr. Leusser was not the easiest of people but he had a big heart,” said the researcher about his former Managing Director.

Wohlfart was now completely in his element. He tinkered with fragrances, experimented with essential oils and also conferred with perfumers. “As a result of my research, I also made good, strong friendships with many colleagues,” explained Rainer Wohlfart. The perfumer Dr. Heinz-Peter Münzing in particular worked with him over the years. “He was a true mentor, especially in the field of essential oils.” Dr. Münzing – at well over 80 years of age – was also present at Dr. Wohlfart's official retirement party in December 2017.

Dr. Wohlfart worked intensively on phytotherapy, that is, the use of plant-based preparations to prevent or treat diseases. “Nature has given generously everything we need to stay healthy” is one of the key ideas of the eponymous founder of the company, the priest and naturopath Sebastian Kneipp (1821–1897). An opinion fully shared by Wohlfart.
Sebastian Kneipp
Sebastian Kneipp

Best of science, best of nature

Dr. Wohlfahrt’s first product launch was Norwegian Sea fish oil capsules. Something new at the time: the omega-3 fatty acids in the capsules have since become a standard supplement in many foods. Countless other launches followed. But regardless of which product left the production facilities: people had to tolerate it well, and it had to really work: “There are products on the market that do not do what they promise,” explains Wohlfart. Kneipp remains true to the principle ‘best of science, best of nature’. Sebastian Kneipp himself always wanted his products to be scientifically based but also in harmony with nature. And nothing has changed in that regard. The company regularly conducts studies, some in collaboration with the Psyrecon research institute in Wuppertal, an independent institute for applied psychophysiology, that verify that specific combinations of scents can have astonishing effects.

PAUL HARTMANN AG hops on board

Back to 1996: When Luitpold Leusser died in October, his wife Mareille and three other family members took over the management of the Kneipp factories (today: Kneipp GmbH). Over the years, the company became increasingly global in outlook – national companies sprang up in Switzerland and Austria, the Netherlands, France, Japan and the United States. In Germany, the factories evolved into modern production facilities. In April 2008, Kneipp became a 100% subsidiary of PAUL HARTMANN AG. The product range has been systematically expanded in the last few years: as well as herbal medicinal products, food supplements and bath and shower products, the range now also includes face and body care series as well as room fragrances.

Close shot of a Kneipp product being dispensed on a glass.

First scepticism, then a bestseller: Aromatherapy bubble bath

The aromatherapy bubble bath line, which was launched in 2010, proved to be a bestseller. “Today I can admit that I wasn't a supporter of the original idea for the bubble baths. But now I'm a big fan,” said Wohlfart. His team worked long and hard on the different fragrances – the result is more than 20 different products with names such as ‘Cheerful Mind’. The emotional names are also used in other product categories. The aromatherapy shower foam ‘Enjoy Life’, a Kneipp bestseller, includes a patented aromatherapy complex containing the essential oil extracted from Litsea cubeba which has been shown to improve the mood.

Innovative to the end

Wohlfart was always starting something new, right up to his last day on the job. The subject of the pH of mature skin was and is an important one. His team was able to demonstrate in studies that using skin care products with a pH of 4 lowered the often age-related increase in the pH of the skin to normal levels. This allows the skin's natural protective mechanisms to be reactivated against skin conditions that commonly affect ageing skin.

Wohlfart was awarded the BSB prize in 2017 in recognition of his life's work. He is proud of this – but he also says: “My achievements were only possible with the help of the many employees who worked together with me on the products.”

Even in retirement his professional passion for fragrances, aromatherapy and essential oils has not abated. “I'm still working, just not as hard,” said Wohlfart. Recently, he founded another company – of course, one related to the effects of fragrances. He is also planning time for travelling, preferably six weeks at a time, and definitely not package tours. First, he is planning to cross the Alps and then make an expedition through Madagascar. He is more than up to the task. Dr. Wohlfart has always followed his nose – and not just for fragrances.

2018 marks HARTMANN’s 200-year anniversary.

To commemorate this milestone, we have put together this series of articles. In it we show how our employees and partners contribute to advancing healthcare, as well as discussing trends and issues that affect the healthcare systems we serve.