The following is a guest post from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship.
I haven’t worn deodorant since last Christmas.
I hope that wasn’t too personal for you. The best part is that I don’t stink, so there wouldn’t be anything to smell even if you visited my house (and that would really trip my husband out, so please don’t).
Wouldn’t you like to know why I gave up deodorant? (Antiperspirant, actually–there’s an important distinction.) I’ll tell you, but the even better question is: What’s on my armpits now?
Why Avoid Antiperspirant?
Since antiperspirant goes on skin that has often just been shaven, it’s going to be absorbed even more quickly than other products you put on your skin. Which, consequently, have as great an impact on your system as what you put in your mouth. Your skin is your largest organ, and one of its jobs is to absorb.
There’s a little experiment in Greg Horn’s book Living Green that proves this point: rub a cut clove of garlic on the sole of your foot. Within 15 minutes, you’ll taste garlic in your mouth.
The simple fact that my skin absorbs what I put on it is one reason to be cognizant and careful about any personal product — but antiperspirant has a few more. Last December I learned that antiperspirants (not deodorants) have aluminum as an active ingredient. This list gives me pause:
1. Aluminum may impact breast cancer risks.
2. Antiperspirants block sweat glands. Is that a good idea?
3. Aluminum mimics estrogen. (technical term: “hormone disruptor”)
4. Aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s.
For more factual information and citations for this dismal list, see Analyzing Aluminum in Antiperspirants: Hazard or Hoax?
My mother tells me that in her youth (before antiperspirants were on the market, even though she’s not that old), everyone was just used to the feel of sweat. Now we’ve become accustomed to dryness, and sweating in the armpits seems like a problem. Isn’t sweat a bodily function that serves a purpose? I tend to believe that God had reasons for what He gave us, even if it feels a bit unpleasant.
Another common ingredient in antiperspirants, along with volumes of other personal products on the market today — including deodorants, is parabens. They’ve been in the spotlight lately, proof of which is the number of bottles in your local pharmacy that now proudly proclaim “No parabens!” Parabens are linked to cancer – another reason to move away from conventional antiperspirants and deodorants, too.
When there’s a question about the safety of something, especially when that something is relatively new in the scope of human history, AND especially when the alternative is an easy, non-commital, low-cost choice, I’m going to err on the side of caution and try the alternative.
I don’t like to be overwhelmed or buy new ingredients for something that might not work, though, and I hate spending more money on natural products. I wasn’t about to go buy some $5 deodorant that could make me stink and wish I had my five bucks back. What’s the frugal, simple option?
My Baby Step: Baking Soda
After my next shower, I remembered to put it on my still-moist underarms. I thought nothing of it that day. Pleased that I didn’t stink out the family, I tried the same thing again after the next shower. My baking soda was caked in little balls from being exposed to moisture as I used it as a cleaner, so it was actually really easy to apply it to my armpits by grabbing a chunk and (gently!) rubbing it in over the sink.
Added bonus: I could use the baking soda that drifted down into the sink as a scouring mini-clean for the sink-bowl the next time I washed my hands.
You might be thinking that I didn’t sweat much because it was winter, and I live in Michigan. With the house at 64 degrees, this is probably true. That second day however, I thought the baking soda “deodorant” was doomed for sure.
I went out shoveling after a massive snowfall, and I could feel the sweat dripping down my back under my work coat that doesn’t breathe. I noticed that nagging perception of wetness under my armpits, too, that we’re not accustomed to anymore. I could almost smell my B.O. in my imagination, certain that I had come to the end of an interesting experiment.
Much to my great surprise, I did not stink. Unpleasant wetness, sure, but no negative odor. The only time I really noticed body odor with plain baking soda was when I was due for a shower and wore synthetic silky PJs at nighttime.
Most antiperspirant, in my experience, is wearing off by bedtime anyway, and from what I read, synthetic materials cause our body odor to be worse.
Baby Step Number Two: Adding Cornstarch
I continued using baking soda exclusively for a month or two until my mom gave me a gorgeous powder puff container that she had sitting in her cupboard. I decided I’d mix an equal part of cornstarch in with the baking soda, for dryness.
I applied it to slightly moist after-shower armpits, just as before, but using the puff. You could do it with a small bowl and a standard make-up brush instead. This baby step took all of two minutes to complete, and again – no commitment, no up-front cost. Again, all was well. I began to worry about summer and sleeveless shirts, however.
The Final Step: Coconut Oil
I had this post at Passionate Homemaking bookmarked since December, but I didn’t have bulk coconut oil until I figured out how to use it in my kitchen. Once I had a gallon of the stuff, it was time to make a real mimicked deodorant by adding coconut oil to the baking soda and cornstarch mixture.
I used a fork and mashed the solid coconut oil into the powder mixture until it was an appropriate consistency. Less than one cup lasted about nine months.
I put the paste into an empty antiperspirant container, and it twists up and rolls on just like the real thing. This made my husband slightly less embarrassed about my “weird” deodorant.
Coconut oil has antibacterial properties and a nice, light coconutty scent, so it’s really the ideal medium for the baking soda (for odor) and cornstarch (for dryness). It goes on easily and dries clearly. Some also add a few drops of essential oil for a boost of fragrance.
But Does it WORK?
Short answer: Yes. I didn’t stink it up this summer at all!
Even if the risks of aluminum and antiperspirant are overblown or minimal at best, I’m still going to stick with ingredients that are so safe I could eat them with no harm done. It’s a simple step to take, very frugal, and exceptionally safe. Besides all that, the natural solution is working.
Here are the benefits I’ve found so far:
- No sting on newly-shaven underarms
- Pleasant smell
- Avoid risk of parabens, aluminum, and other unnatural stuff
- For nursing mothers, there’s a serious change in my peace of mind now that I don’t cringe when baby’s hand works its way up into my armpit. Well, I still cringe, but I’m not worrying about toxic chemicals finding their way into her mouth.
There have been just a few disadvantages:
Coconut oil has a 76-degree Fahrenheit melting point, which means it turns to liquid in the summer. I store mine in the fridge, but it’s harder to remember to go there and put it on in the mornings. It is easy to apply, even when cold. Just touch it to your skin for a second and it already starts to soften.
It takes five minutes or so to mix up a batch, although I’ve only done that once and just refill as needed. Of course, I bet I spent more than five minutes per stick of antiperspirant cutting and organizing coupons and matching with the best deals, then standing in my pharmacy trying to find the exact version on sale.
For more step-by-step instructions, see my eHow article on How to Make the Most Effective Homemade Deodorant.
Have you ever tried making your own deodorant? What was your experience like?