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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Yes, I Do Need Two Dozen Deodorant Choices

Choice is always important, but especially when it comes to B.O.

Bernie Sanders famously said: “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants…”

The whole thing gives a new spin on the idea of an “arms race.”

Well, I’m glad there is choice. You see, I’ve given up on mainstream antiperspirant. I can do better than yellow-stained shirts and questionable protection, and I can do so because the market grants me choices.

Lumberjacks and Clinical Sweating

The beginning of the end came as I stood in the grocery aisle staring at the amazing number of options from which to choose. Should I get the 48-hour version, or the 96? Clearly there is no way a mere 24-hour stick could possibly do the trick. What about the clinical version? Is my situation really that bad?

I must not be alone, for the clinical strength section of the aisle just seems to keep getting bigger every time I visit. The whole thing gives a new spin on the idea of an “arms race.”  Sure, I have found it odd that antiperspirants continue to increase in strength to address a population that is likely not all mountain climbers and lumberjacks, but who was I to weigh in on what may very well be a body odor epidemic?  

Wracked with indecision and insecurity about my failings as a human, I happened to see a different section that must have just been added–natural deodorants.

Now, for as long as I have known of their existence I have been skeptical of the effectiveness of these health food store products. My experience in years past was that those who wore them should have invested in something stronger. But here was a variety of options that I had never seen before in my “normal” store. Plus, I had always assumed I needed the “maximum protection” of the strongest possible antiperspirant, so to switch to a deodorant of any kind would be a radical change.

Natural deodorant offerings are not just competing against regular deodorants, but antiperspirants, as well.

What exactly is “natural” deodorant? Basically the idea is to avoid a number of the chemicals often found in traditional deodorants. These mainly include Triclosan and Parabens. The FDA considers Triclosan to be a pesticide; deodorant manufacturers use it to kill body-odor causing bacteria. Parabens are preservatives in a wide range of products that have estrogen-like properties and some studies have linked them to breast cancer.

But as natural deodorant company Schmidt’s admits, “natural deodorant had a reputation for being ineffective.” Their pledge was to create a product without these ingredients that still worked just as well.

For Pit’s Sake

I looked them over and felt conflicted. On the one hand, I knew that my current regimen involves an unsatisfying collection of antiperspirants that I rotate through in order to “stay fresh.” On the other hand, would I just be another “natural” dude who smelled?

As I have thought about it since, I reached the conclusion that the natural deodorant offerings are not just competing against regular deodorants, but antiperspirants, as well. This is because virtually all antiperspirants contain some variant of aluminum salt, the ingredient that blocks the duct from which sweat comes.

Years ago this was linked to overblown cancer scares. Nonetheless the rumors persist despite no real basis in medical evidence. Deodorants catering to the “natural” crowd, then, have followed a different technological path, developing workarounds to help absorb wetness rather than block it.

In the end, I grabbed one natural version with a pleasant woodsy smell that uses essential oils and plant-based powders. I also picked up another new version of antiperspirant that claimed it would put an end to yellow stains.

My new lifestyle is the result of an increase in consumer choice, not its restriction.

Little did I know at the time, but the ingredient that causes yellow stains on shirts is–you guessed it–the aluminum found in nearly every antiperspirant on the market. Worse, because antiperspirants tend to leave a residue on clothing, the sense that we need to switch antiperspirants often may have less to do with our body chemistry adapting to specific fragrances, and more to do with what odors are getting trapped in our shirts.

Free to Switch

So, I decided to give the natural version the first try. I haven’t used anything else since, and it’s been about a month. Whereas I previously felt my 48-hour antiperspirant could barely make it through a standard workday, I’ve had no issues with feeling fresh throughout the day with a simple deodorant. And, whereas I embarrassingly used to check my undershirts after washing to see if they needed another cycle I no longer need to. If they smell like anything other than detergent now it’s my deodorant–not something less pleasant.

While I might not be ready to call for the elimination of underarm options as some politicians have suggested, I am confident I will not be going back to antiperspirant anytime soon. And, I am happy to acknowledge that my new lifestyle is the result of an increase in consumer choice, not its restriction. No congressional committees or executive orders were involved in the opening of shelf space to natural deodorant options. The store buyers were no doubt simply responding to consumer demand. And now you can free yourself from the antiperspirant racket, too.

So raise your arms with confidence–you have nothing to lose but your stains!

  • Matthew Hisrich received his MDiv in teaching and theology from the Earlham School of Religion, where he now serves as Director of Recruitment and Admissions. Prior to enrolling in seminary, he worked in the public policy field, authoring numerous studies and articles.