Years ago, a conversation with a family friend (a pharmacist) about the health effects of aluminum—a common ingredient in antiperspirants and deodorants, lead me to switch from Secret brand to a crystal deodorant stone. I loved it. No white smears on my clothing, no swollen glands in my armpits, no stains on my shirts and dresses, I found it to be more effective at eliminating odor, it left no greasy residue on my skin, and one rock lasts me more than a year… so again, I’ve been saving money. The particular crystal I chose came in a rigid plastic container. I’ had been using the same one since starting this project and it’s now worn down to the size of a pebble. There are some stones on the market that are packaged in a simple paper box, but I’ve been unable to find such a product locally. So I decided to try to make my own deodorant.
As I was researching recipes I stumbled across some information that surprised me. My “mineral salt, aluminum-free” crystal is actually potassium aluminum sulfate. Aluminum? What gives? Why then is it sold on the shelves of natural food stores with the claim of being a safe alternative to conventional deodorant? I did some digging and found that the crystal is free of aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride, aluminum hydroxybromide, and aluminum zirconium (it’s also phthalate, and paraben-free). These are the types of aluminums found in conventional deodorants that act as antiperspirants. They are taken into the sweat ducts of the skin, acting as a plug. I always thought that because I still perspired with the crystal, it was aluminum-free. I read that the reason potassium alum is considered safe is because the mineral salts are said to be too large to be absorbed into the skin. Potassium alum sits on top of the skin and it’s antimicrobial properties prevent the growth of odor causing bacteria, which is why it works so well as a deodorant. Okay, maybe… but rubbing aluminum of any kind onto my body just doesn’t bode well with me. So I’ve been test driving my homemade concoction over the past several days and it seems to be working quite well.
The recipe is ridiculously simple. One part baking soda (sodium bicarbonate—the odor neutralizer) and six parts cornstarch, mixed well. I’m able to get both ingredients without packaging from the dry bulk goods sections of several local stores. Too much baking soda left on the skin can cause irritation and itching, but this ratio seems to be a good balance. I put the mix into a salt shaker. After showering, I shake some into my hand, pat it on my underarms and I’m good to go. No body odor to speak of, not even after my run a whole day and night after application. I’ve also been sprinkling it into my sneaks on days that I want to go sockless to keep my feet dry (blister-free) and odor-free. Straight cornstarch works perfectly well for this too. I’ve read that a small amount of baking soda mixed into water, applied with a spray bottle works just as well for underarms. I might try that too.
Going without any deodorant at all is another option of course. I’ve never been someone who perspires heavily. Sometimes I forget to put any deodorant on and if I’m not particularly active during the day it’s no big deal. I find that not wearing any synthetic fabrics also greatly minimizes armpit odor. Diet plays a large role too. But my job sometimes requires some heavy lifting (toting films and projectors) and running from place to place. I find that on those days it’s nice to have a little odor control.