You know when you sit down on the bus or subway and realize you forgot to put on deodorant? Then you get that panicky feeling that makes you squeeze your pits together to avoid your neighbor smelling your body odor. That was my life for 30 days while I attempted to give up deodorant. For a month, I didn't raise my arms above my head, all my t-shirts got additional spot treatments due to sweat stains, and I took double the bathroom breaks to give my underarms a splash.
I wish I could tell you that this particular beauty experiment convinced me to never use antiperspirant again. But that would be a total lie (I definitely applied it this morning). My monthlong experiment turned me into a more self-conscious and sweaty version of myself. But I did come out of it with softer, smoother, easier-to-shave armpits. So was the armpit cleanse worth it? Keep reading to find out . . .
Can You Become Addicted to Deodorant?
The month before my experiment I had nothing but complaints about my antiperspirant. The 24-hour formulas left a strange film under my armpits that didn't wash away in the shower (um, not OK). The only time I could erase the sticky film from under my arms was by shaving. I blame the buildup on antiperspirant's primary active ingredient: aluminum, which clogs the pores underneath the arm to stop sweating.
To get rid of the waxy feeling, I turned to spray formulas. I was coughing and gagging in an antiperspirant cloud every morning. Apparently you have to keep the bathroom door open and crack all the windows to use these products without suffocating. Which made me question, should I be inhaling whatever is in this stuff anyway?
You'll hear the granola-toting, organic-loving crowd talk about how the aluminum in antiperspirant can cause everything from Alzheimer's to breast cancer. While I have no scientific facts to back these claims up, I would never put pore-clogging minerals on my face. So why should I treat my pits any different?
So I decided to give it up altogether. My theory: the less I used the aluminum-packed antiperspirants, the less I would need them. Eventually the bacteria levels and sweat glands in my armpits would balance out, removing the need for the extra-strength formulas I was slathering on daily.
Now I didn't just make this up. My hypothesis was based on a similar concept in skin care. When you strip all of your natural oils with harsh cleansers, your body goes into sebum overdrive to compensate. So the more often you use astringent products, the more oily your skin gets. Think about it . . . it makes sense!
I can admit that breaking a habit you've been doing for over a decade isn't easy. The first few days were OK because there was still plenty of product buildup under my armpits to protect me. But a week in, I was already sneaking swipes of my favorite antiperspirant before important meetings and date night for fear of being the stinky girl in the room.
Some days without deodorant, I would feel a little tingling under my arms. Other times, I would get that swampy, musky feeling that had me doing discreet armpit sniffing in the bathroom. On the worst days, I would clean my underarms with makeup-remover wipes by midday just to get rid of all the moisture.
My wardrobe also suffered from the lack of protection. My jackets, sweaters, bras, and shirts had more pungent underarm stains, causing me to wash everything a little bit sooner than usual (which is highly inconvenient when you have to walk three blocks to do laundry). For the record, no one ever moved subway cars because I funked up the place. The guy I was seeing didn't even notice I gave up deodorant until I revealed the experiment a month later. I was the only one who could smell my funky pits (believe me, I asked).
The Natural Deodorant Debate
During my antiperspirant break, I also took the opportunity to test out the efficacy of natural deodorants. In my opinion, they are are great . . . if you never walk anywhere and only dwell in air-conditioned environments.
Most days, the protection was enough to cover me through 2 o'clock, but then I would get swamp pits all afternoon. In the 80 degree Miami temperatures or a one-hour hip-hop dance class? FORGET IT! I still ended up a sweaty mess, but I can admit there was less stench.
The sweat isn't what causes you to stink, it's the mix of bacteria and moisture that causes the odor. So the natural deodorant was enough to keep the bacteria levels low.
Eventually, I got into a routine of applying natural deodorants twice a day. Once right before bed and another layer before work in the morning. While the product didn't stop me from sweating, I never got any strange product buildup. My skin actually felt soft, rather than sticky.
Deodorant Detox Aftereffects
My conclusions: for me, using antiperspirant is like watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians. It's crucial to be a part of functioning society these days, but you know it's killing your brain cells slowly. Yet when you stop watching, everyone is judging you.
As soon as the experiment was over, I was back to using aluminum antiperspirant every day. But instead of giving the area three or four passes with the rollerball, I just do one good swipe and stop. I did throw out my clinical-strength stick. While I'm not the kind of girl who can go without deodorant, 48-hour protection is a little excessive (because, you know, showers work). The only way I could give it up long term is if everyone around me promised to be sweaty too (#BObabes), and I find that highly unlikely unless there's a major aluminum shortage on the horizon.
However, there were benefits to the break. The skin under my arms is softer, thanks, and I no longer have a layer of buildup, which makes shaving a lot easier. While I'm still going to use antiperspirant, I will gladly go funky on the weekends when I can just to give my underarms a chance to breathe.
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