“I no longer fear unproven medical claims; I only fear being exposed to the rancid smell that my own body is capable of producing against my will.”
Five years after using natural deodorant, I came to a horrific realization: I smelled â and it wasn’t just a light, feminine musk or an antique must-have from a second-hand book store; it was more like a sweaty gym sock that had been smoldering in a gym bag for a month or the rancid bloom of a corpse flower.
It wasn’t that I had had this problem for years. However, something about the combination of entering my thirties and exercising more regularly had turned my body into a stench factory capable of producing the most foul smelling sensations. Even regular âhippie showersâ ââ(aggressively scrubbing armpits with a damp washcloth) couldn’t ward off the cloud of cartoon scent that emanated from my body like I was Pigpen, Charlie’s scruffy co-conspirator Brown.
I started using natural deodorant at age 25, after internalizing the belief that deodorant containing aluminum can be bad for me. I have never researched or investigated this claim. It was just plausible enough for me to just accept it as fact and move on with my life. After dallying with natural deodorants that left coarse white residue on my shirts and a misguided foray into homemade deodorant (very irritating!), I settled on a drugstore brand that wasn’t exactly “natural” per se. , but the packaging loudly proclaimed that it was âaluminum freeâ, which was good enough for me.
The day my local pharmacy stopped stocking this particular deodorant is the day things changed. I succumbed to the siren call of Instagram marketing and placed my body in the hands of a California-based deodorant startup with millennial-friendly packaging. When a three-pack arrived on my doorstep, I was thrilled – until I started using it. My body started producing scents that I had never smelled before, not even in the hockey arena locker room of my youth. But, never being one to lose anything, I continued to use the deodorant, despite my intuition that it was starting to seriously affect my personal life.
Conventional wisdom about natural deodorants suggests there is an adjustment period. During this time, it is generally understood that you might produce a ripe smell, but after a few weeks the smell will disappear. While I was hopeful, this eventual positive change never happened for me.
According to Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. RenÃ©e A. Beach, how you react to natural deodorant is entirely rooted in your body chemistry and activity level. Although natural deodorants often contain ingredients such as tea tree oil and sodium hydroxide, which both work to neutralize bacteria, they do not contain ingredients that can reduce perspiration. “Sweat, at least in humans, doesn’t really smell,” Beach says. âThe problem is when the sweat comes into contact with the bacteria in our body; this causes him to take on a foul odor. Various bacteria constantly multiply on our body, which will affect the effectiveness of the deodorant over time. A person’s body odor can also vary depending on the different types of bacteria – staphylococcus epidermidis, staphylococcus aureus, and corynebacterium, to name a few – harbored on their skin. For natural deodorant to potentially keep up, it needs to be reapplied constantly â “much like reapplying sunscreen every two to three hours,” Beach says. When I ask about the recent trend of wiping astringent type toners onto the armpits to help reduce bacteria, she advises against it. âArmpit skin is just as sensitive as genital skin,â she says. “It’s not a good idea to use ingredients that can be harsh on such a delicate area.”
One morning I woke up, realized I was tired of smelling the long-forgotten unwashed laundry, and said, “Enough is enough.” I gave the leftover unused deodorant to my mom, who doesn’t seem to have the same odor issues I did, and vowed to only buy the strongest, strongest antiperspirant on the market. I no longer fear unproven medical claims; I only fear being exposed to the rancid smell that my own body is capable of producing against my will.
Turns out my concerns were completely unfounded. There is nothing dangerous in using conventional deodorant formulas. “Antiperspirants aren’t absorbed through the skin,” Beach says. “The amount of aluminum they can contain is so minute that the benefits outweigh any potential concerns.”
Still, I can’t bring myself to throw away the last remaining stick of the natural substance. Sometimes I spray it on my armpits before my morning workout to remind myself exactly why I gave up. It keeps me humble.
Still trying to sniff out the right deodorant? Discover these new formulations:
This article first appeared in THE FASHION March issue. Learn more here.