The hunt for the perfect deodorant.

by Ranim Elborai

I was told I should do a post on New York Fashion Week. Being a contrarian I decided that I would write about deodorant instead. I’m currently in Dubai and the glamour of NYFW feels very far removed from me, whereas perspiration and stickiness is very, very much part of my reality.

A few months ago I decided to take a slightly more gentle, natural approach to hair care, and I’ve since decided to adopt this au naturel approach in other aspects of my beauty and hygiene regime.

I’ve ditched my usual cleansers and moisturisers for the Oil Cleansing Method. Because this skincare regimen is so very popular amongst the hordes of  natural beauty bloggers that dwell in (on?) the internet, I won’t elaborate on it here.a

So here are my adventures in deodorant — a less glamorous topic that doesn’t receive as much airtime as it deserves.

Everybody sweats from their underarms and, left to its own devices, that sweat eventually starts to smell. That’s because the glands in our pits secrete fats and proteins from within our bodies along with the benign water and salt mixture that serves to cool us down. At the surface of the skin, these fats and proteins react with bacteria to create an unpleasant odour. It is important to note that this odour is virtually impossible to eliminate from dry clean-only garments.

article-2593154-1B014892000005DC-277_634x551This photo is from a fascinating Daily Mail article on how you should sniff someone’s armpit when searching the perfect mate. Sounds foul, but I think most people in love usually don’t mind their SO’s body odour.

There are two types of products on the market to combat the stank: deodorants and antiperspirants.

Deodorants counteract the smell produced after the fats and proteins emitted from cells migrate to the surface of the skin. Ingredients like triclosan in deodorants make the environment of the armpit too salty or acidic to support the bacteria that usually dwell there. Without bacteria to consume the proteins and fats delivered through sweat, no stench is emitted.

Antiperspirants are formulated to keep the skin from sweating at all, cutting off the odour-producing bacteria’s food supply. They do this through ingredients like aluminium and zirconium, which plug the sweat glands in the underarms. As an added measure, many antiperspirants contain the same bacteria-killing ingredients found in deodorants.

Before I went crunchy and decided to apply a more natural approach to things, I used antiperspirants. I made the switch not because I believe that the aluminium-based compounds in antiperspirants will give me breast cancer, kidney disease, or Alzheimers. It’s just that after a few hours of wear, my underarms would begin to smell funky rather than “powder-fresh” or “linen-breezy.”

So I switched to deodorant, and the quest for the perfect product began.b The spray from a can ones were out of the question because they leave me hacking for ten minutes afterwards. The regular supermarket roll-ons that my parents tend to use always feel sticky and wet for hours on end.

I went alternative. My first stop was this Salt of the Earth stick sold at Holland & Barrett, retailing for a very reasonable £4.96 at Holland & Barrett.


It’s a crystal salt stick that you apply onto clean, moistened underarms. If you’re paranoid about aluminium, this product isn’t for you because it consists of potassium alum, a naturally occurring mineral. I, however, really liked the product: it’s effectiveness lasts about 6 – 8 hours, which is pretty good for deodorant in my books.

But two things about it sucked. One, the plastic they used for the container’s top was very brittle and began to crack and break, so I was unable to probably seal it shut after use. I was contemplating using duct tape on the top, but then I dropped my stick after using it in Cartagena and the whole pillar of salt broke. That was the other con — you had to be careful not to ever drop it. Otherwise I could see that product lasting me about five years. Possibly even a decade.

I then started using my sister’s Aesop deodorant while I hunted around for a replacement. Before you condemn me for being gross, it was a spray-on, albeit in a non-traditional sense.c


This 50ml spray bottle retails for £23.00 which is stupidly expensive for deodorant. It’s aluminium-free for those of us deathly afraid of the stuff. It smells heavily of coriander seed oil, which is great if you like coriander but not so great if you happen to be one of those people who rabidly hate it. In terms of effectiveness, it’s probably all right if you aren’t doing too much physical activity or are in a cooler climate, but wasn’t quite potent enough to keep me from smelling it up in Colombia after just two or three hours. Also, my sister ran out of it very quickly. But that was probably because she had to share it with me. 

Luckily, I found a branch of L’Occitane in Bogota and came upon the refreshing aromatic deodorant I’m currently wearing at this very moment! It’s super-duper. I mean, I put the stuff on after a post-yoga shower last night at 9 pm and it’s still working this morning at 11:51 am as I write this post in my Snoopy pyjamas!d


Its made of the usual stuff, sans aluminium (of course!) and is scented with lemon peel, lavender and orange essential oils, although there a few more oils thrown in there. The scent is very refreshing, and a 50ml roll-on retails at £14.00, which makes it a somewhat better deal than Aesop’s coriander-smelling stuff, albeit still very expensive for goop you just put onto your armpit. 

As it stands, L’Occitane’s citrusy roll-on is by far the current favourite, but the quest continues.

  1. It’s also a topic I’ve expounded upon at length to a captive audience while I was on vacation in Colombia so I’m kind of bored of talking about it.  (back)
  2. When I move to a commune and really embrace the whole ultra-natural DIY lifestyle, I’ll try a recipe like WellnessMama’s coconut oil/baking soda blend, but for now my crunchiness knows a few bounds.  (back)
  3. Also, let the record reflect that I don’t care if you think I am gross, I would not hesitate to use my sister’s deo-stick any day.  (back)
  4. Yes, I know that my life sounds enviable right now — yoga, “working” while in cartoon-themed loungewear, reviewing alternative deodorants — but you really don’t want my life.  (back)