A (Hot Weather) Man’s Take on Natural Deodorant

Close your door and draw your window shades, friends. We have something important to talk about. It’s deodorant. Excuse me for my intimacy, but I know that you’re unhappy with your deodorant. It doesn’t fully protect you. It abandons you at your time of greatest need. It betrays you. And I have even worse news for you. It might give you cancer or Alzheimer’s in twenty years. That sucks, right? Right! What are you going to do about it?!

The Damage: Real or Not?

Let’s dive into the details, though I promise some clarity at the end of this post. If you’re a close follower of Good Cloth and its owner, Stephanie Hepburn, you know about the controversy surrounding the use of estrogenic chemicals (such as aluminum and parabens) in common deodorants and antiperspirants. Not to mention the uncertainty surrounding whether it’s healthy at all for an antiperspirant to block a body’s natural function of sweating out bad stuff. Studies have reached opposite conclusions on these issues, leading to more confusion. But even if only studies have found a link between certain deodorants and breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, liver damage, and other health problems, then why risk it? We know that the chemicals in common deodorants are very bad for humans even if some studies are inconclusive (for example, endocrine disruptors are typically found in some common antiperspirants).
Many prudent people have decided to err on the side of caution and switch to relatively safe deodorants and antiperspirants. Stephanie’s articles and Facebook posts spawned a lively discussion with people chiming in on their experiences with natural deodorants. The problem with deodorants is that what works well for one person may not work well for another. It seems that each person’s body reacts a bit differently to deodorant, though some deodorants appear to work better than others more consistently.

Industrial Strength Deodorant May Kill You, But it Works

My own experience is typical. Before I got hip to healthy deodorants, I used the industrial strength stuff. Living in the humid south makes a body prone to stink, and I was determined to suppress every one of my stinks, including, but not limited to, the underarm kind (I’m a lawyer by trade, please forgive the qualifications). The operating theory was this: I suppress my stink, gild myself with cologne, and use that competitive edge to win girlfriends. ‘Cause that’s how the game’s played. Anyway, my underarm armory included the strongest deodorant I could find. You can’t even get it at the grocery store. You’ve got to go to the pharmacy. And it’s heavy on all the controversial stuff, like Aluminum Zirconium Octachlorohydrex Gly (Anhydrous), and a whole host of chemicals whose names are so unnatural that they seem destined to be found carcinogenic someday.
I’ll be honest that the bad stuff really worked. It kept all my (underarm) stink away, and for the full workday, too. But Stephanie published an article about the scientific warnings on deodorants, and it moved me to look into healthful alternatives. Thus began my deodorant journey.

The (Dreaded) Hippy Aisle

Now, if you’re anything like me, you are deathly intimidated by certain grocery store aisles. If they are too complicated, filled with confusing products, or if they have an unreasonably large selection of indistinguishable products, I will occasionally abandon entire grocery store errands and seek my comfort zone at home. I get worked up trying to calculate what peanut butter is cheapest, for example. And I feel uncomfortable in the crunchy “healing crystal zones” of the hippier dippier grocery stores and co-ops. For example, the Whole Foods section of medicinal bottles and holistic type crap, and those soaps that make me sneeze when I walk by. That soap smell is what people these days call a “trigger” for me. I dare say that in my life I’ve barely managed only once or twice to go into that god-awful Whole Foods section and select a product to purchase without just giving up at the first whiff of a scented candle or healing crystal. Anyway, I recently mustered up the courage and did it. All by myself. I did it because that’s the place that the internet says the all natural, healthful deodorants can be found. I bought a Whole Foods hippy deodorant.
But it wasn’t that simple. Stephanie’s article and Facebook posts spawned a back-and-forth of people sharing experiences about what deodorants worked for them. It turns out that barely any deodorant brands received consistently good reviews. There were far more complaints than solutions, and it seemed impossible to find one that will surely work. So are healthy armpitted people destined to be stinky armpitted people? Does that Venn diagram perfectly overlap? Or are there happy, healthy, unstinky-armpitted people out there who have found their perfect deodorant match?

The Smell Test: It’s Personal

I decided to find out myself scientifically, in my own way. So I began an experiment (science!). Every morning I would use one brand of deodorant on my left armpit, and another on my right armpit. The winner, after a few weeks, would be determined by a brisk snifferoo every evening after a full day’s toil in the paragraph mines. Once a deodorant was found to be consistently worse, it would be discarded, and another contender put into the ring.
 
The results were interesting in some regards, and for your benefit, I enumerate them here.
 
First, I noticed that there were differences over time. For example, it seemed to me that a deodorant would work well at first, but that over time my body’s stink would gradually learn to overpower the deodorant. That means that to learn what deodorant works for you, it may take a few weeks, or even months, to find out.
 
Second, lesson learned: do not combine deodorants one on top of the other. It does not double their power. To the contrary, I found that using two mildly successful deodorants actually caused me some of the worst stink I’ve ever made. It was so bad that my significant other ordered me not to let my armpits touch the bed sheets lest I ruin them forever.
 
Third, only use deodorants on armpits. Any application to the body’s other “tender region” will only cause problems. I will refrain from any further details. Modesty forbids.
 
Fourth, my casual review of other people’s experiences tells me that whether a deodorant “works” or does not work depends on the person more than the brand. I think this is one product that you just have to find what works for you. Some tend to get better reviews, but ultimately what works for one person may not work for another.

The Winner

Turns out Native Deodorant is the only deodorant that keeps my stink subdued the duration of the workday (underarm stink, that is). It’s natural and doesn’t contain any of the controversial ingredients. Its best competitor was Herban Cowboy (which I braved the Whole Foods hippy aisle to locate). In fact, I nearly disqualified Herban Cowboy based on its name alone. It held up for about a week, then crumpled like discarded origami. In addition, a Body Shop deodorant didn’t do much of anything for me, it wore off immediately, and besides, it smelled like my dad’s old cologne, which brings forth deep, weird feelings the sort of which I’m not ready to face yet. But who knows, maybe you want to smell like my dad for a good fifteen minutes before the stink protection wears off, or you could reapply it every 15 minutes throughout the day.
In summary, I suggest that you purchase a handful of the leading alternative deodorants and repeat my experiment, letting the deodorants battle it out under your arms. I’d encourage you to include Native and Herban Cowboy in that selection.

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Turbo is a forty-something environmental lawyer from New Orleans. He works and volunteers on public health campaigns in Louisiana, including efforts to protect drinking water and prevent cancer.

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