When Frank Turk first saw the "magic cooling crystals," they were being used in a dog bed designed to keep animals from overheating.
He calls it a case of misplaced technology.
"I thought if dogs are comfortable with it, there's got to be a humanoid application here," said Turk, one of the owners of Active Innovations Inc., the Clearwater-based manufacturer of Kool-It Activewear.
So he used the crystals _ actually polypropylene tablets that hold 100 times their weight in water _ to create a line of products designed to keep people cool for up to eight hours.
The crystals are activated when the Kool-It products, which include hats and wrist bands, are soaked in water for an hour and then refrigerated two to three hours. Users wear the products on the forehead, wrists, ankles or at the base of the neck _ pressure points that can cool the rest of the body.
Polypropylene has been used for years in such products as packaging, coating, pipes and tubes. When Kool-Its, which use a crystallized form of the substance, are applied to pulse points, they allow the body to maintain a cool _ not harshly cold _ feeling all over, Turk said. The products can be reused and last about six months.
The Kool-It line includes Kool Bands, Kool Kaps, Kool Visors, Kool Dana bandanas, wrist and ankle bands, Kool Wave Pillows and Kool Skulls _ skull caps that resemble swimming caps with bonnet strings. The products are available in a range of colors and patterns, from neon pinks and floral prints to canvas and denim styles.
"One thing we kept hearing is that neon is dead," said Turk, modeling a fluorescent-orange cap with a Velcro-attached Kool Band. "But it's sold like crazy."
Kool-It products are available at 900 stores nationwide, including 400 Kmart locations. Thirteen Tampa Bay area Kmarts carry the products, most of which retail for $4 to $12.
The products are proving popular among athletes, gardeners, house painters and others who work in the sun or spend time outdoors.
Active Innovations plans to introduce a second line this fall called the Body-Soothr Spa Collection. The new products, which will use the same polypropylene technology, can be microwaved to provide wet heat for muscle aches or temporary arthritis relief.
In fact, a baseball team in Canada is microwaving the products and using them to relax muscles. But Turk won't reveal which team _ or some other details about his business _ because he fears a competitor will begin a line to compete with Kool-It.