For the past month, I’ve been lopsided. Each day I wake up, look at my phone, watch 12 more minutes of episode two of Big Little Lies while eating an Icelandic skyr, slide into my Eileen Fisher, then apply one deodorant to my left armpit and a different one to my right. My tender pits have been the site of a formulaic experiment meant to answer the question that nags women every morning before we face the day, power posing alone in a corporate elevator even though that Ted Talk has been found to have no real scientific merit: Does natural deodorant work?
I would never deign to make a medical claim about anything in this column, seeing as the higher degree I’m pursuing in creative writing is literally the opposite of being a doctor, and also because I’m wrong about everything nearly 100% of the time, but: I don’t like using drugstore deodorants with aluminum or titanium dioxide to block my pores from sweating. I worry about my lymph nodes! The titanium dioxide thing is controversial, and while I’m normally a messy bitch who lives for drama, I’m staying conservative with this one simply because I’ve found plenty of clay-based and salt-based natural deodorants that work just fine. Also, I try on a lot of clothes I never buy, and I’m always slinking out of Reformation or Aritzia dressing rooms, trying to flee before employees notice I’ve popped a button and left a white streak all over a fresh piece of upcycled yellow gingham or whatever. Natural deodorant stains less, in my experience.
My editor Leslie wanted the metric for each deodorant’s success to be, “does it stop sweat in a blazer?,” but I haven’t been able to look at my secondhand power suit since election day. I go to barre class or yoga most days, and so I used that activity to test each deodorant’s mettle, though just living with armpit hair in the summertime in New York City is enough to put a deodorant through its paces. Yesterday, we looked for a body of water to go swimming in in Manhattan, and the only results that came up on Google were stories about dead bodies in various shallow bodies of water. This city never sleeps and never stops murdering!
I’ve loved natural deodorant since college, when I found out about Soapwalla, a skincare line invented by Rachel Winard in her kitchen after she failed to find cosmetics that could accommodate her lupus diagnosis. Soapwalla was the first natural deodorant I ever ordered online, and I found the little jar that held the clay-and-essential oil blend to be so precious. I’d never applied deodorant with my fingers before, preferring Old Spice’s Fiji, the best option up to that point for heterosexual men who understand the stigma around Axe. Caressing my armpits with this lavender-scented, silty paste was possibly the first real beauty ritual I ever indulged in. I should’ve just stopped with Soapwalla, but as “bathing” became “self-care” and “self-care” became the “self-care industrial complex,” I strayed. I spent money. I dug my grubby little fingers into other jars and rubbed sticks inside my mouth in the name of holistic dental hygiene.
Here’s a list of horrible natural deodorants I convinced myself I loved for awhile. We don’t need to speak about them in the comments, or ever again. Don’t @ me:
1. Aesop Vetiver. Insanely expensive, and just makes your sweat smell like spoiled vetiver, a word I’ve never bothered to look up.
2.The Honest Company Deodorant Natural Spray. Jessica Alba’s Honest makes a much cheaper vetiver deodorant, but aren’t we all mad at her over sulfates or something? I convinced myself last summer that Aesop Vetiver was “my thing” but then I ran out of it and smelled it recently and it brought back some tough memories of when I lived off the J train, a lifestyle that’s mostly just waiting around and eating hot dogs from the food court inside of a grocery store.
3. Malin & Goetz Eucalyptus Deodorant. Don’t try to tell me you poured love into this dud of a product, boys.
4. Tom’s of Maine Aluminum-Free Natural Deodorant. “Tom” is the name I usually hear when I talk with friends about natural deodorant, which happens exactly as much as you would think, given my other hobbies (bathing, rubbing my mouth with sticks). This one is truly aluminum free, but Tom has a history of misrepresenting the naturalness of his products. Plus his toothpaste tastes horrible, worse than the Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpaste my mom made us use growing up.
5. Lavanila. An evil deodorant. Don’t be tempted by the mini sizes at the Sephora check-out counter. Let me be clear: I’m not a powdery smell lover. I only like things that smell like mint, lavender, sandalwood, medicine, bread or gin. Thinking about the smell of Vanilla Coconut Lavanila makes me want to die right here. I swear I’ll do it, right here in this shallow body of water in one of New York City’s finest parks!
6. Schmidt’s. I find the paste version of this deodorant insanely hard to use, even though they give you a small spatula for applications. I lost the spatula within three days of owning this. The stick version is fine. I’ll allow the stick version.
Though the self-care industrial complex is just a new ploy to make women hate themselves so they’ll buy stuff they don’t need, I will admit I was wooed by some exciting new “innovations” in underarm technology. Fig + Yarrow makes an almost scentless “Underarm Lotion,” which I promise is no different from “Underarm Deodorant.” Smartypits is good as well, but includes “probiotics” in its formula for some reason. Meow Meow Tweet, a vegan beauty company I normally genuinely love, generously offered me an “underarm primer.” Two days into priming my fucking armpits, I looked at the ingredients and thought, hmmm, this is just lotion, and it’s melting off my body.
I did like Meow Meow Tweet’s Grapefruit Baking Soda Free Deodorant Stick (they make a cream version, too). Some natural deodorant heads prefer a baking soda-free formula because it can be an irritant, but this baby glided onto my hairy pits as smooth as a girl in a one-piece on a slip-and-slide.
A couple of indie brands surprised me.The new Soapwalla citrus smells even better than the OG lavender deodorant cream, but its texture felt gritty next to the supersmooth Captain Blankenship Lime & Vetiver cream deodorant, which has a coconut-oil base. Coconut and my facial skin don’t work well together, so every time I tried this, I checked my underarms for bumps and pimples, which thankfully never materialized.
Ursa Major’s Hoppin’ Fresh Deodorant felt the coolest (temperature wise, not like, coy at a bar) and I was about to declare it Queen Deodorant until an aesthetician at my part-time job recommended a $2.31 solution, available basically anywhere. It’s called Crystal Deodorant Spray, and it’s scentless. It’s basically salt water. Which made me think, could I just make this myself? I mixed up a batch of water and kosher salt yesterday and sort of slapped it on my armpits (there are no synonyms for armpits; I’m sorry I’ve said “armpits” or “pits” nine times). It didn’t really work. The moral of this very good anecdote is either buy a spray bottle or buy Crystal for less than that.
I’ve used Crystal daily for the past few weeks, and my summertime “vibe” has improved. I sweat out of my pits, but my chest is the worst, for reasons I don’t understand. I’ve sprayed this over my chest before putting on a sports bra and I’m drier. Best of all, when I take my sports bra off, it doesn’t have that horrible lingering vetiver or grapefruit mixed with BO stench. And don’t worry, I did a highly scientific residue test where I sprayed some on my arm in direct sunlight to see if it left a white cast. It didn’t! I licked it off because my electrolyte count was low.
Crystal’s label features a photo of a sexy man flexing while a sexy woman holds a candle up to his pecs? I don’t know. It’s not aligned to my personal aesthetic, but not everything needs to be, I guess. My personality is not what you would call “breezy,” but as you can see, I’m walking through summer like one. Do any of you have a pool I can borrow? It’s an emergency.