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5 Reasons I Quit Deodorant

2015 was the five year anniversary of my quitting deodorant once and for all. For someone who used to sweat like a pig* and cake on the antiperspirant like it was my job , this was no easy task. It took determination, commitment, and a compound with the chemical formula C3H0, otherwise known as isopropyl alcohol.

Here’s why -- and how -- I gave up the white stuff:

1. Antiperspirants, Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease

If you’ve missed the many (many) conversations, articles, news stories, posts and publications over the years about the link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, then you are probably in denial to some degree. You know, like, an “I don’t want to hear that because it means I’ll have to change something, and I don’t like change” kind of denial. It’s okay, we’ve all been there. Here is a 22-page scientific article you can read if you want to know how and why scientists say that humans need to immediately stop consuming and absorbing aluminum -- especially through food (e.g. cooking in aluminum pans) and skin products. I decided that I’d rather err on the side of caution, or in this case, science. (This led me down the path of eliminating aluminium from other areas of my life as well.)

2. Those Pesky Yellow Armpit Stains

A lot of people think that our sweat is what causes that weird yellow stain in the armpits of our favorite white shirts. It’s not. Those stains are caused by the chemical reaction between sweat and antiperspirant. Read about it here or just Google it. I was a major victim of these stains and had to throw away my white shirts regularly, even though they were otherwise in great shape. This meant spending money on new shirts at least once a year specifically because of my deodorant, which also cost me money.

3. Plain Deodorants Didn’t Work

Quitting antiperspirants to lower my intake of aluminum, to eliminate yellow armpit stains, and to save money? Easy. Yes please. Duh. Next, all I had to do was switch to some kind of natural deodorant, and all my problems would be solved forever, right? Wrong. The antiperspirant I had been slathering on all those years was meant to make me stop sweating. You know, sweating? That natural function of the human body that is supposed to help us cool off when it’s hot? Yeah, I was trying to prevent that from happening for, like, a really long time. So when I stopped using the antiperspirant and switched to a natural deodorant (Tom’s or whatever), the literal floodgates in my armpits opened, and the warm sogginess made way for a bacteria party like the world has never seen. No amount of baking soda, lavender oil, salt, or aloe vera leaf juice was going to stop the stink. It was just a gummy, sweaty, smelly mess. My pits were probably over-adjusting to their new pro-perspiration environment, and maybe with time they would have dried up a bit, but the smell wasn’t going away. I tried to stick with the hippie sticks for about two years, and maybe five different types/brands, before I got tired of spending the money and still ending up stinky.

4. Less is Less (and Plastic Sucks)

Look, I’m the first to admit that I love toiletries and skincare products. I could seriously spend three hours in Walgreens just looking at everything on the shelves. Where a lot of women lose it in a shoe store, I lose it in a drugstore and end up buying over $100 of different kinds of lip balms and lotions. But the more awareness I gain, the more I question myself as a consumer. What am I actually enabling, promoting, and contributing with my dollars? And why have I become a slave to products? Do I really need to lug around a bunch of bottles of liquids and lotions for the rest of my life, in order to clean my body? Not to mention the cost over a lifetime of purchasing all this crap. And those non-recyclable bits of plastic that encase all these soaps and lathers and washes and goop — where does that stuff end up? I’ll tell you where: In the ocean! This is a reality that sometimes keeps me up at night. As I get older and gain more awareness, I look for ways to spend less, use less, and waste less. Quitting deodorant could mean saving about $100 a year and maybe putting a teeny tiny dent in the amount of ocean-killing plastic I leave behind on this beautiful planet.

5. Killing Bacteria is the (Cheap) Secret

I’ll never forget the moment my friend told me that she used isopropyl alcohol instead of deodorant. I had been struggling with the hippie goo sticks for a couple years by then, and was about ready to chop off my arms. I was staying at a friend’s house in Toronto while on tour, and somehow the topic of stinky pits came up. I can still see the bottle of isopropyl alcohol that my friend pulled off her bathroom shelf to show me. “No, really, I don’t use deodorant at all,” she told me as my jaw dropped. “The alcohol kills the bacteria.” I was floored.

The alcohol kills the bacteria.

Of course! That was it! The entire mess I was in was that my natural deodorants weren’t powerful enough to kill the industrial-strength bacteria army that was hiding in my lavender-flavored sweat. I did a bunch of research and began working out my plan for making the switch.

A couple months later, I was getting ready to do a three-month outdoor tour in the middle of summer, and decided it was the perfect time to make the transition, since everyone on the tour would be sweaty and stinky anyway. I threw out all my sticks and bottles and sprays and what-nots, and bought myself a box of 70% isopropyl alcohol swabs (100 for about $5). The plan was to carry the swabs with me in my pocket, purse, or jacket, and any time I started to stink, I could quickly duck into a corner somewhere and reapply. I also made sure to find some body sprays that had alcohol in them (which most perfumes and body sprays do) that I would spray under my arms after using the swab.

I did have to wipe my pits with those alcohol swabs about 3-4 times a day that summer, and then a couple times a day after tour, and for the next several months. But I could tell that my body was adjusting to its new freedom -- you know, freedom to do thing it is supposed to do. And because my body’s natural function wasn’t being suppressed all day every day by antiperspirants, it started sweating only when it needed to sweat. Slowly but surely, over the course of the next year, I started to sweat less and less. And when I did sweat, I didn’t always stink. And when I did start to stink, it wasn’t as stinky. After a year or so, I finally felt like I was in a harmonious give-and-take compromise with my body: it would only sweat when it needed to, and I would only attack the bacteria, not the bodily function.

This is where I need to insert a reminder about food as medicine. As my diet gets healthier and more plant-based -- and I eliminate processed foods, sugar, preservatives, animal products, soda, chemicals, etc. -- my body gets less and less stinky. (My skin also gets clearer, my hair gets thicker, and I naturally keep off at least 5-10lbs.) There are thousands of articles and discussions online about the various foods that leave toxins in our intestines that then come out through our pores. As with most health-related things, a mostly plant-based, whole foods diet is best.

Now, over five years later, I probably use isopropyl alcohol swabs once or twice between showers (my showers being every 2-3 days), along with a dab of an essential oil or a spritz of a fragrance that has a base of alcohol. It’s all about finding what works for your body. Soap with antibacterial properties such as Dr. Bronner’s Lavendar bar soap should replace your chemical-filled body washes anyway, plus they’ll help keep those pits clear of bacteria. Once your body is not sweating out a bunch of stinky toxins from the food and beverages you consume, a regular shower plus a spritz of alcohol-based fragrance in your pits should do the job. I immediately shower after exercising, and I shower more regularly during the summer months. I can honestly say that I never stink, unless it’s been a few too many days since I last showered. But that’s another conversation for another day.

*Fun fact: Pigs don’t actually sweat that much, and this saying refers to the making of pig iron. Read about it here.

Research Notes: A lot of people avoid isopropyl alcohol for various reasons, and instead use high-proof grain alcohol like Everclear in a mixture with drops of essential oils and water. I am not worried about the potential dangers of isopropyl alcohol because I use so very little of it, and because it's less scary to me than aluminum or a lot of other things I'm putting on and in my body.

Disclaimer: As with anything else I post in this blog, always consult your doctor first. I am not a doctor and I am only sharing things that work with my genetic make-up.

Sarah Saturday