natural deodorant challenge

many of the natural-minded mamas i know have been talking about using natural deodorants lately. i listen attentively and nod but haven't tried to switch yet. don't get me wrong, i'm all about the natural products for mamas. i have been using the keeper menstrual cup for over 8 yrs now and love to point out to hubby how much money i've saved us in disposable feminine products - not to mention how much landfill waste i've prevented. i also use cloth pads at night and post-partum. i'm totally down with the natural products for us ladies. but i just really didn't think natural deodorants would work for *me*.

to start with i'm sicilian. no offense to my fellow italian-americans, but i've seldom met another ethnicity more suited for extra strength deodorants! on my sicilian father's side, we all have the same sour and bitter bite to our sweat that is detectable for several feet when we're actually sweating. to make matters more intense, i'm still nursing a toddler and a preschooler. if you've ever breastfed a baby, perhaps you will recall the prickly armpit sensation that can often accompany letdowns and the thirst and the warming up of your upper body that happen. then imagine it x2. sometimes a long nursing session can leave me feeling as warmed up and humid under the arms as a brisk walk on a warm day! love the calorie burning effects of breastfeeding despite the perspiring, though!

so when my mom friends would tell me this or that natural deodorant works great for them, i'd smile and nod and think 'well, there's no way she smells as strongly as i do, it would never work for me!' and i never bothered to try. i felt it was a public service to continue using my arrid xxtra dry, even though i hated the thought of all the aluminum, paraben and harsh alcohol i was using so close to my hard-working breasts. not to mention the fact that it didn't work that well, either!

well, recently an online group i'm in began discussing what natural deodorants worked for them. i was amazed to hear that most of us felt our own body odor was fouler than anyone else's - (and that none of our husbands seem to smell badly, even when going a day or two without showering!). i was also surprised to hear most of us assert that *our* particular ethnicity surely cornered the market on smelliest B.O. ! now i'm beginning to suspect that:

a. mothering hormones have played a role in making us perceive ourselves as smellier than other people and/or than we used to be. there are a lot of hormonal changes involved in pregnancy, birth, lactation and even raising young children and the stress levels that accompany doing it!
b. perhaps we really don't smell as badly as we think we do
c. if natural deodorants can work for these other moms who perceive themselves the same way i do, they might work for me and i can dump the breast-cancer related chemicals!

so i decided to do a natural deodorant challenge for myself. for several weeks now, i've been using only natural deodorants, 1 brand per week. i started with the tom's of maine brand, my least favorite. it went on slimy and never worked very well for me though i loved some of the scents they had, like 'bay-lime', 'lemongrass' and 'woodspice'. but we try not to waste in this house, so i didn't just throw them out - my big boys are 10 and 8 1/2 now and just starting to get funky and these deodorants are perfect for them. they keep the guys fresh all day and through the night until morning showers. hubby also really likes the 'woodspice' scent and i think having underarm hair makes the slimy factor a non-issue.

for me, there are several tests a deodorants has to pass:
will i make it to bedtime without being offensively stinky on an uneventful, non-strenuous day?
will i make it through at least 3 long tandem nursing sessions without smelling ripe when i give myself a sniff test?
will i make it through at least 1 adrenaline spike like a child falling down the stairs, a child running toward a street or a child choking without having that bitter, acrid fear-smell clinging to my underarms after?
will i make it through 1 afternoon of either arguing with the insurance company about a wrongful charge, describing the current cable problems to the cable company or arguing with hubby about whose turn it is to do what with which kids?

for the tom's of maine brand, i could make it to bed on a good day and be only moderately offensive. not bad enough to have to shower, but pungent enough that i hoped hubby wasn't feeling frisky that night. i could make it through about 2 nursing sessions and then i didn't like how i smelled. if there was an adrenaline spike or very frustrating afternoon, forget it, i needed to shower and reapply by dinner or i was making my own eyes water, it was like the deodorant went rancid after enough hormonal/adrenaline exposure. out of a confidence level of 10, i give the tom's of maine a 4.

for the next brand, i chose nature's gate and i loved the 'mandarin orange & patchouli' and 'lemongrass & clary sage' scents. this brand goes on a lot nicer than tom's of maine - more waxy/dry and not slimy at all. on an uneventful day, i could make it to bedtime not smelling detectably ripe but by morning, it was definitely not effective any longer. it held up through my 3 long nursing sessions but only as long as there were no adrenaline-provoking events as well. if there were, it quit working and i'd have to wash and reapply before dinner. if there were adrenaline-provoking events (and there always are with 5 kids aged 10 and under, trust me) before long nursing sessions, it could last for 2 of them before going rancid. out of a confidence level of 10, i give the nature's gate brand a 6.

next i chose a naturally fresh deodorant crystal. i didn't like this much at all. you have to get it wet and then rub it on. i have very sensitive skin, so it often stung and burned. i couldn't tell if i was getting enough on. if you reapplied a layer without washing 1st, i (and several other moms) noted that it absorbed our armpit odor and was essentially ruined. if i applied it right out of the shower, didn't shave right before using it and blow dried my armpits on cool to help with the slimy feeling, it did hold up pretty well, though. for sheer performance and odor-elimination, i'd have to give it a 7 out of 10 because it did pass all my little tests, but for being a convenient and confidence-inspiring product, i'd have to give it a 3.

after that i was told by a mom friend about thai liquid crystal. let me just say right now that this stuff gets an 11 out of 10. i can't believe i never knew about this stuff. never in my whole entire life have i found anything that works so well. not even in the 80's when i was helping to create the hole in the ozone layer with aerosol spray cans of deodorant that were like shellacking my underarms. it's a non-aerosol pump that sprays a mist like water. you give a few pumps under each arm and it dries fairly rapidly. if you're like me and you hate the wet feeling until it does, you can give it a couple hits with the blow dryer on cool. not only did it pass all my criteria with flying colors, but we had a virus in the house when i was trialing it and i went 2 days without showering. i thought i'd burned my sinuses out permanently when i kept sniffing and not smelling a thing. i actually had to ask hubby to confirm my findings and he concurred - after 2 days of being sick myself without showering and caring for 5 sick kids, i *still* didn't have B.O. ! other moms who've tried it in my group reported similar results and were just as amazed.

one mom did let us know that you can google how crystal is processed and you will find that aluminum is somehow used in the processing... but the manufacturer and label claim that the resulting liquid itself is aluminum free, so you might want to research this issue for yourself before trying if you're really trying to avoid every trace of aluminum.

even though i'd found my dream deodorant, there was one last one i wanted to try. funk butter from in 'black cedar fig' scent. a mom friend raved about it and i had to try some. i'm so glad she told me about it, this stuff is like smelling a little piece of heaven. seriously, it smells like you could eat it, it's a cream texture that becomes more of a powder as it dries. it also exfoliates, so if you're very sensitive like me, you might want to do your shaving at night and apply the deodorant the morning after. this deodorant passes most of my tests, but can feel a bit damp and clingy after a few of the stressors i use as criteria. using a confidence level of 10, i give it a 9. but it definitely wins the 'best scent' award, hands down !

** updated ratings: now that it's may, we've had a taste of hot weather here and there and i finally got a chance to get out and do some strenuous yard work and really test my top 2 choices again. for performance and odor control, i have to give them both an 11 - the funk butter absolutely works just as well as the thai liquid crystal for me... but i have to deduct a couple points from the funk butter for convenience because i've discovered that it leaves a beige or tan discoloration on white or very light clothing that sits right up in the underarm. what i do now is use the funk butter for all colored clothing and use the thai liquid crystal when wearing whites and lights that come up to the underarm.

i found all of these at local health food stores with the exception of the funk butter, which i got from the oyin website ( we'd love to hear feedback from any mamas that have your own natural deodorant brands you love - or if you try these and want to chime in on my opinions about them. we love feedback and comments! and a big thank you to my mama group of nami oldies, i never thought i'd be so pleased to have stinky friends! ;-P


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