The Great No-Deodorant Experiment

People have a lot of opinions about their armpits. Some wear deodorant (which masks the smell of sweat), some wear antiperspirant (which minimizes the production of sweat), and some wear nothing at all. Then, there are roll-ons, powders, creams, speed sticks...the list goes on and on. But, the biggest point of debate seems to be how healthy all of this stuff is for us.
Some people choose to avoid aluminum-containing antiperspirants because of a largely disproven theory that they cause cancer. While the most current science indicates you don't need to fear the aluminum in your daily underarm swipe, there are also other compounds sometimes found in antiperspirants, such as parabens, that have been linked to endocrine disruption.
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Whatever their reasoning for the swap, plenty of people have been changing up their underarm game by choosing greener options. And, from all-natural formulas to DIY recipes, there are surprisingly many different ways to ban the stank. But, how well do they actually work?
We put just that to the test. Five of our brave staffers — all of whom regularly use some type of deodorant or antiperspirant — tossed their sticks for a week and put these alternatives to the test. From lemon juice to baking powder to a reader-recommended all-natural pick, we tried 'em all. Click through to see which ones passed our sniff test. Who knows? You might be inspired to start slathering witch hazel under your arms.
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Amelia Edelman
Alternative: Witch Hazel

What deodorant do you use currently?
Either Tom's or Herban Cowboy, in some non-floral scent. (Why the marketing universe things that ladies want to smell like daisies is beyond me). I apply it every day — I think? If it's the winter, I might go a couple of days without applying it.

Have you ever thought about what's in your deodorant?
"I honestly haven't read the ingredients on these things, but they seem like crunchy brands. So I (perhaps mindlessly) trust them. Also, I've never worn antiperspirant, which seems to be what all the cancer-causing/aluminum hullabaloo is about anyway."

Tell me about your experience.
"I used Thayer's Original Witch Hazel. I soaked a cotton ball, and applied to my pits post-shower. It actually didn't sting (possibly thanks to the aloe).

"This week, it saw me through two yoga classes, a hefty hike, and a bike ride in 90-degree weather (although I'm pretty sure any and all potential deodorizing substances got entirely sweated off during that one). Overall, though, I think it was more drying/antiperspirant than my usual deodorants. And, while I didn't smell too bad, the witch hazel also didn't come with some sort of fragrance to mask, you know, my fragrance. So, I tried a scented variety which definitely worked but also made me smell like a rose petal/my grandmother."
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Did not wearing deodorant change what you did everyday?
"Nope. I even started using witch hazel on my face, too. Free toner!"

How did you feel when you were able to use deodorant again?
"I might continue to use witch hazel as deodorant at home, but it's a relief to not have to lug cotton balls and a bottle of liquid — with potential to spill all over everything — in my purse, to the yoga studio, up a mountain. Deodorants come in portable stick form for a reason."

Would you ever give up your deodorant for good?
"Oh, probably. If there were, like, a prize or something."

Thayers Original Witch Hazel with Organic Aloe Vera, $8.99, available at Drugstore.com.
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Ben Reininga
Alternative: Lemon juice.

What deodorant do you use currently?
"I use regular Old Spice men’s deodorant — honestly, because it’s what my dad wore when I started to first need deodorant in high school. In this one sense, I am very conservative, I guess. But, I like it. It’s inexpensive and easy to find."

Have you ever thought about what's in your deodorant?
"Yes, my mom works in natural medicine and is a big anti-deodorant advocate. She’s a believer of the theory that the chemicals in deodorant and especially antiperspirant (what I use has actually both) enter your pores and cause all sorts of terrible things. Anything that’s a potential carcinogen that I’m rubbing on my body once a day is a little worrying."

Tell me about your experience.
"The weirdest thing about this is the act of physically applying lemon juice to my underarm — since everything I’ve squeezed lemon onto heretofore was a piece of meat I intended to roast and eat. Is this something one does in the bathroom (the natural home of deodorant) or the kitchen (where lemons live)?

"I opted for bathroom, but still balked — would it sting? (It doesn’t). It does smell delightful. The only downside so far is that the lemons were cold (I refrigerated them — rookie mistake) which was unpleasant.

"The big thing I realized is that I am largely a sedentary creature — my job keeps me seated at a desk in an air-conditioned room — and so generally, am not very sweaty. Sitting at work the first day, I honestly didn’t notice the difference. After work I went for a run, and returned home a sweaty mess — but again, that’s par for the course whether or not I’m using deodorant.

"The next few days presented a different challenge, since we were heading away for the weekend. This means I have to fill my dopp kit with lemons and face the prospect of a bathroom shared with my boyfriend and another couple we only sort of know. At home, I can be subtle about this, half-hiding it from my boyfriend, who’s usually still in bed or out the door when I’m showering in the morning — but this is going to be more intimate. I am worried about seeming strange — not because I smell — but because I am that guy who takes a cutting board and knife into the bathroom with him.

"On the first day we went on a half-day hike. Halfway up the mountain, I realize that I smell terrible — and that so does everyone else. At this moment, I have a revelation: Deodorant is totally useless. If you’re a not terribly smelly person who doesn’t have a manual labor job, you probably smell fine when you’re not active. And, when you run up a mountain, you smell like a sweaty dude — but even deodorant can’t stop that from happening.

"Another revelation: The lemon juice is useless. It provides a different smell when you put it on that might mask an odor — but that’s like spraying cologne on to mask the fact that you haven’t showered.

"Also: a quick lesson in the value of deodorant. I’m on the couch with my boyfriend — early afternoon, just two or so hours after a late shower — and we’ve been doing nothing but cooking a little breakfast and hanging out indoors. I put my arm around his shoulder and he, super politely, asks, “When is your lemon juice thing over again?” I retract my arm, happy I’m dating someone so forgiving…but ready to be done."
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Did not wearing deodorant change what you did everyday?
"No, but only because I’m not that self-conscious, and we had a pretty low-key weekend with friends planned. If I’d had to go to a black-tie wedding with lots of dancing, a college reunion, or first date, I’d have felt differently about the whole thing."

How did you feel when you were able to use deodorant again?
"Good. Honestly, it’s a lot easier to use a shelf-stable product that lasts for a month or two instead of running around procuring and slicing fresh fruit."

Would you ever give up your deodorant for good?
"If I was going to, it wouldn’t be for lemon juice, since my ultimate conclusion is that it’s only valuable if you enjoy smelling citrusy for a minute after you shower. I guess I could see living a life where you didn’t use deodorant daily, saving it for sweatier, tank top situations. But honestly, since I’m not that convinced that deodorant is bad for me, I’m going to continue to err on the side of not stinking."
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Hayley MacMillen
Alternative: Baking soda and cornstarch.

What deodorant do you use currently?
"So, I don’t always wear deodorant, but when I do, it’s Tom’s of Maine brand — their Long Lasting Natural Deodorant Stick.

Have you ever thought about what's in your deodorant?
"I never bothered to research the ingredients in it, but assumed it was better for me than mainstream brands by being 'all-natural.' My colleague Sarah recently wrote a story on how we really have no idea whether the aluminum in many deodorants actually causes cancer, but I figured skipping it couldn't hurt.

"Inspired by this challenge, I looked up the ingredients in my beloved Tom’s deodorant to find that while I had no idea what most of the ingredients as listed on the label were — zinc ricinolaeate? humulus lupulus? — they’re all derived from the ground. It appears my faith in the Tom’s promise was not misplaced."

Tell me about your experience.
"I was happy to ditch my trusted roll-on stick for the week. The only part of switching to dusting my underarms with a baking-soda-cornstarch mix that made me hesitate was the inconvenience. I don’t sweat too much (and this challenge still allowed me to shower, shave, and spritz perfum!), so I wasn’t concerned about body odor. But, having to go out and buy both baking soda and cornstarch and mix them appropriately sounded like a hassle.

"I didn’t have either ingredient in my kitchen, so the baking soda I bought at my local drugstore, but it didn’t carry cornstarch. Luckily, a friend had some, so I borrowed a bit of his. I’d been instructed to mix roughly one part baking soda to six parts cornstarch for my DIY deodorant, which I did in a cup. Then came application.

"This stuff is messy! It gets everywhere: on your clothes, on the floor. And, really, white powder is just not something you want traces of on your person. I figured out after the fact that the best method is to apply with a large makeup brush dipped in water.

"But, inconvenience aside, this mixture works. Turns out that sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which is highly alkaline, neutralizes pH levels. When bacteria that lives on your skin breaks sweat down into acids, body odor happens. Sodium bicarbonate tames this acidity. Sold on the science behind my newfound all-natural odor-fighter, I actually went some days wearing nothing at all — a control, if you will. Though I didn’t experience this effect, I’ve heard that baking soda can be a skin irritant, so you may want to wait a while after shaving before applying your homemade deodorant or up the cornstarch-baking soda ratio if you start to itch."
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Did not wearing deodorant change what you did everyday?
"I was markedly smellier on my 'nothing' days, and noticed no odor difference between my Tom’s and DIY-deodorant experiences. I didn't go out of my way to avoid human contact."

How did you feel when you were able to use your deodorant again?
"I was still relieved when I could switch back to my prior roll-on-stick routine. The tendency of the powder to adhere to my outfit and all nearby surfaces while I was getting ready in the morning was annoying — but now that I have the moistened-makeup-brush tip in my arsenal, I’m more willing to give the cornstarch-baking-soda concoction another go. It’s certainly cheaper than fancy organic deodorant.

"Next, I’ll build up the courage to use baking soda to wash my hair, too — if only for the ultimate hippie bragging rights. Call this deodorant experiment a success."

Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda, $2.49, available at Walmart.
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Erin Cunningham
Alternative: All-natural deodorant.

What deodorant do you use currently?
"For a few years now, I've been using Kiehl's Superby Efficient Antiperspirant and Deodorant. But, I sweat — a lot. And, lately I feel like it just isn't doing what it used to."

Have you ever thought about what's in your deodorant?
"All I know is that it shouldn't have aluminum in it!"

Tell me about your experience.
"My sweating was at its usual high amount, but even my boyfriend asked if I'd tried a new perfume. It smells great! And, since the applicator was a usual deodorant roller, it was like nothing changed. Plus, it lasted pretty much all day. The bottle claimed that it can last 72 hours, but I don't think I would commit to that. By the end of the day, I felt a little smelly and ready for a shower, as most people do."
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Did not wearing deodorant change what you did everyday?
"Nope! I was away for Labor Day weekend in a cabin with five people and no cell reception, so I didn't have much of a choice about avoiding people. This deodorant did, however, make me smell better than my previous one. I was out in the sun a lot, so it was a good testament to how it holds up to serious sweat."

How did you feel when you were able to use your deodorant again?
"I am still using this deodorant! I haven't gone back to my old stuff, and I think its working."

Lavilin Roll-On Deodorant, $16, available at Lavilin.
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Larissa Green
Alternative: Pink Himalayan Salt

What deodorant do you use currently?
"Desert Essence's Tea Tree Oil Deodorant, once a day."

Have you ever thought about what's in your deodorant?
"Yes! That's the reason why I switch to an organic/non-aluminum option, because I used to feel 'sore' — if you can imagine that — under my armpits."

Tell me about your experience.
"I definitely applied more of this than I normally would and it felt a bit sticky under my armpits. Not sticky in a gooey way, but more like the friction of skin against skin. It was weird, to say the least.

"I applied it about three times a day to prevent any paranoia of smelling, and I definitely wore a tiny bit of perfume on one day after a workout. This definitely wasn't cutting it."
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Did not wearing deodorant change what you did everyday?
"Not at all! I don't feel embarrassed by those things. If someone did call me out (I have very honest friends) I would just tell them what I was doing."

How did you feel when you were able to use your deodorant again?
"Amazing! So much less self-conscious. My armpits didn't feel sore or anything, so I feel like the one I currently use and the crystal were probably both healthy for me."

Would you ever give up your deodorant for good?
"Until there comes a time where I don't need to have any social interaction, I think I'll stick to my deodorant."

Himalania Himalayan Pink Salt, $8.40, available at Swanson Health Products.
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