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Do we really need deodorant?

By Karina | November 14, 2007

We’ve talked about personal hygiene choices before. And specifically, we’ve had a great discussion about the different types of deodorant that people use. Last week there were two interesting articles in the NY Times about deodorant and if we really honestly need to use it at all. And it turns out we don’t!

The first article addresses why we use deodorant and antiperspirants – it says “considering the lackluster efficacy of many gels and sticks, deodorants and antiperspirants may be nothing more than security blankets against the social ostracism some fear.” it also states that:

“Most people who are not in constant high-stress situations could get away with wearing a lot less than they do,” said Dr. Jeanine Downie, a dermatologist in Montclair, N.J. “They’d probably be fine just using a little powder.”

Six other dermatologists interviewed for this article echoed Dr. Downie’s comments.

“Those shelves and shelves of antiperspirant and deodorant at drugstores would be put to better use if they were filled with sunblock or even lotion,” she said. “There are a lot more people with dry skin than with serious body odor or sweat issues.”

So! we don’t REALLY need deodorant or antiperspirant, though the article also observes that all of the dermatologists interviewed still used some kind of product themselves, while agreeing it’s not necessary.

The second article asked three people to go without and it turns out that most agreed that it seemed to be a mostly psychological fear of odor. One person continued to abstain after 12 days without antiperspirant or deodorant.

Full TinyChoices Disclosure: I am not ready to go without. Maybe my lifestyle is just too stressful -

Have you tried to go without? Would you be able to change your lifestyle to one less stressful in order to avoid using deodorant?

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49 Comments

Comment by martha in mobile
2007-11-14 08:50:30

I enjoy your blog!

I haven’t worn deodorant on a daily basis for 30 years and am not a social pariah (AFAIK). But my life isn’t particularly stressful.

Comment by Karina
2007-11-14 14:55:21

I’m sure you would know if you were a pariah! it would probably add stress to your life.

and! thanks for the kind words!

 
 
Comment by Jenn
2007-11-14 09:16:15

Honestly, it’s a rare day when I actually remember to put on deodorant before leaving the house. And more often than not, it’s never an issue. Last summer I tried using Tom’s of Maine unscented stuff (you know, when I remembered to) and it seemed to work fine!

I do like the idea of making my life less stressful in order to keep my pits smelling fresh. Do you think that’s a strong enough case for telecommuting?

Comment by Karina
2007-11-14 14:58:04

I think it’s DEF a case for telecommuting. um, if we worked together and I had any say over your schedule, that is. I’m not sure how you could sufficiently quantify the benefits for your actual employer though!

 
 
Comment by Brdgt
2007-11-14 09:24:39

Due to allergies to all known deodorants my husband tried not wearing any years ago and never has a problem. Anytime he actually smells like he needs it is a time that he’s about to bathe anyway (ie: after a workout).

Comment by Cher Armstrong
2009-07-18 20:40:44

I don’t wear it and I’m not a social pariah… the only time I smell is after a long run or a race, and even then only during the tail end of spring track, the beginning of cross-country, and indoor track. People are ALWAYS shocked when I say I do not use it

 
 
Comment by sl
2007-11-14 11:24:14

I think it’s probably also partly genetic. I’m totally the kind of person who would just skip it. I don’t use soap in the shower (other than shampoo), and I haven’t stunk my loved ones away. But now that I have a toddler, I periodically forget to put on deodorant, and I assure you I notice a significant difference in both aroma and wetness, particularly on a warm day. But then, I live in the southern US, so we have a lot of those. And if the husband forgets deodorant….whew! You don’t want to be near that.

Comment by Karina
2007-11-14 14:56:19

I think you’re right – from talking to my mom, it sounds like my extremely stinky body response to polyester clothing may be genetic!

 
 
Comment by br
2007-11-14 11:40:28

i started working from home about three and a half years ago and stopped wearing deodorant/anti-perspirant for the most part and hardly ever stink. actually, it seemed that the deodorant sometimes smelled like it was trapping and intensifying any stink i did produce.

i do go through some periods where i’m a little more fragrant. sometimes i use lush’s aromacreme and that stuff works really well.

 
Comment by Amy
2007-11-14 12:39:11

I ended up getting the stinky genes from my mom, lucky me. No matter how cold/warm/humid/arid/stressful/relaxed I am sweaty and stinky. When I’m wearing more layers in the winter and it’s not so hot I just use the crystal. But in the summer, it’s all anti-perspirant all the time.

 
Comment by Bronwen
2007-11-14 13:18:52

If I forget deoderant, which happens sometimes, it is not a good day. I don’t smell bad at all, but my clothes get ruined because of wetness. And I don’t think I’m brave enough to face the world with my underarms constantly stained!

Comment by Karina
2007-11-14 14:57:03

I have learned to handle the wet but I don’t want any stink! you could dress a little more goth and wear more black? ;)

Comment by Amy
2007-11-18 21:21:25

I wear black 99.9% of the time!

 
 
 
Comment by PaperDollyGirl
2007-11-14 15:21:56

I think it depends on the person, how often they shower, how often they wash their clothes, if they smoke, etc. I’ve known people that I can smell from across the room. I do think that people can use way less than they do. I currently rotate two deodorants (no antiperspirants) and really only use a teeny bit unless I’m going to the gym or something.

 
Comment by Daniele
2007-11-14 16:31:33

I don’t think I could ever completely give up deodorant because like Bronwen, it is not a good day when I forget to wear any. But I could probably get by with wearing less or wearing just powder some of the time. And by some of the time I mean winter.

 
Comment by missaimee
2007-11-14 16:44:14

i am a thirty-two year old mother of three. i am a dining room server at a very fancy restaurant, of which very occasionally i wonder if i smell, because i have not worn antiperspirants or deodorants for close to thirteen years. there was a short period of time where i did have body odor, and that was when i was separating from my husband. i couldnt be bothered to put that gunk under my pits ever again. i feel free without it and forget that nine out of ten people use it for their daily regimen. good day to you all.

 
Comment by Nicole Marie
2007-11-14 19:37:27

Wow, I’m envious of all you folks who don’t need deodorants or antiperspirants!
It wasn’t until I recently started using those new “clinical strength” products at night that I finally got control of my daytime schvitzing. And it doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, if I’m walking miles at a time, typing at work, or just sitting at home — no deodorant means sweat running down the inside of my arm and a noticeable fragrance. For a while I wanted to be a good girl and tried Tom’s of Maine, but that ended almost immediately because I ended up smelling like an unsavory blend of honeysuckle and the Barcelona metro in the heat of summer.

Better living through chemistry. Urgh.

 
Comment by meepster
2007-11-14 21:06:21

I just use a bit of powder – it’s got arrowroot and baking soda in it. If I go without, I do notice the smell. My mother doesn’t use any deodorant at all, but she washes twice a day – once in the morning and once in the middle of the day. I don’t quite have the schedule that would allow me to do that.

 
Comment by Julie
2007-11-14 22:11:54

I do think people could use less than they generally do, but it’s a very individual thing – people have already mentioned genetics and what you do for a living. For me, I find I need it if I’m going out in summer (I live in a really hot city) and sometimes in winter (I rug up for cold weather then catch an overheated train), but I don’t bother with it at all in-between.

 
Comment by mb
2007-11-14 22:16:14

I think the people who say they don’t smell need to ask their significant others (or others within sniffing distance) whether they smell or not. I think we become immune to our own personal smell. I don’t use deodorant on a regular basis in the winter months, but must say I need to use something during the dog days of summer. I also run on a regular basis but usually never use anything since I shower right afterward. Maybe I’m just smelly, but I agree with one of the previous posts that I am glad some people use deodorant in NYC in the summertime.

 
Comment by an9ie
2007-11-15 23:54:35

I’m not ready to go without either! I might try it for a while if I worked from home, but I’m in an office and don’t want to make everyone’s humdrum 9-5 life any harder :p

P.S. There ARE people who need it. I travelled with a guy who didn’t use deoderant and the rest of us fought amongst ourselves every day to NOT be the one who sat behind him in the car. Gak.

 
Comment by kayte
2007-11-17 18:40:34

i never ever wear deodorant and i am pretty certain that i don’t smell. you ladies would let me know if i did right?

 
Comment by Cat
2007-11-21 01:01:01

Hee, I hardly remember to put on deodorant! I was just browsing the comments and Nicole Maries made me laugh! I usually use the honeysuckle toms of maine when I remember (but I have been using a Lush product lately which smells nice), but anyway, last time I had to buy deodorant I accidently bought the apricot toms of maine. OH. MY. GOD. I’m not generally a stinky person, but I smelled like sweaty apricot candy. it was gross.

 
Comment by Lea
2007-11-25 13:49:59

I haven’t used deodorant since high school. That was 25 years ago. I used it then because it made me feel like a grown-up. Having been a late bloomer, I was looking for all the help I could get!

 
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Comment by Asaine
2009-11-23 20:10:22

Is it true that if you stop wearing deodorant for long enough you stop needing it?

 
Comment by Marlin
2010-06-09 07:30:28

It is very Clear none of you are in the trucking industry.

 
Comment by Joe Schmoe
2010-07-17 10:00:45

Actually, if you smell “bad” it can indicate a serious medical condition. However, I think that because of the excessive use of deodorant, we are no longer able to distinguish between a normal smell and a “bad” smell. Note that even a strong scent is not necessarily a “bad” smell.

In conclusion, I think that our excessive use of deodorant has caused many a serious condition not to be diagnosed on time.

 
Comment by Wren
2010-08-31 09:42:29

For years, I went without deoderant at all. I lived in the woods in a temperate climate, & I smelled like the forest. It was fantastic! Now that I live in civilization (blech!) again, I wear the natural stuff in the summer on the odd day (I now live in the southeastern US; extremely hot & humid in the summer). I don’t actually care if I do start “smelling” . . . both social norms & personal perception tell us whether someone else “stinks” or not. With the former, I don’t care. With the latter, well, hey . . . we’re living, breathing animals. Our various odors are here for a reason. I ain’t supporting the corporate deoderant industry to cover up my natural smell with their chemical crap, that’s for sure.

 
Comment by Mike A
2010-11-16 16:46:03

I haven’t worn any for 20 years now. The reason I know I don’t have BO is that my wife has never complained and we sleep together nightly. If you wash your body including pits daily, you should never have BO. My theory is that ironically BO is actually caused by the active ingredient in deodorant. It works but after about 12 hours it starts causing BO. The user however thinks he/she is the cause so a bath or shower and a re-application of deodorant follows. In addition, the aluminum chlorhydrate, the active ingredient, accumulates in the pits exacerbating the cycle. So if one wanted to discontinue using deodorant, it is necessary to remove the accumulation of aluminum chlorhydrate. It may take a few days to a week of taking a shower twice a day to get rid of it. That’s what I did and have been odor-free ever since.

However, I have told nobody about this just ensure there wouldn’t be any dumb kidding from other people.

 
Comment by Iggy
2010-12-18 00:10:43

As a pregnant woman I have the duty of researching the chemicals I am exposed to and those that my child will be exposed to soon. In said research I have discovered something EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW:
-Dr. Phillipa Darbre, a UK molecular biologist, found in her 2004 study at Reading University that parabens (found in deodorant, shampoos, commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, cleansing gels, personal lubricants, topical pharmaceuticals, toothpaste and are also used as food additives in some products) were found in every sample of human breast tumor tissue she tested.
-Further, “the ester bearing form of parabens found in tumors are found in one fifth of the breast- the upper-outer quadrant nearest the underarm
-In Dr. Kris McGrath’s 2004 study at Northwestern University, an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis links to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving
-72,000 synthetic chemicals have been produced since WWII and less than 2% have been tested for toxicity, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects
-An example of one of these chemical: Parabens, found
-Since 1960 cancer rates have almost tripled
-Because a) few studies have been funded to look into the issue and therefore b) no direct proof has been mounted against cosmetic companies, the issue has not been and will not be addressed unless people like us start making a stink!

I could go on for hours, but I am appalled, simply appalled by the things I have been discovering about every day household chemicals, cosmetics and even preservatives in our food. As annoying as it might be to make your own products it’s not difficult, nor is it expensive and for your kids’ sake and your own, don’t let yourself be a victim of the corners these companies are allowed to cut when it comes to synthetic chemicals we know nothing about. By the way, even S.O.S. with vinegar and “Green Clean” are marketing scams. One more fun fact: According to the National Cancer Association, results of a 15 year study show that women working at home are at 54% higher risk of developing cancer (4). Scrubbing your shower may look nice, but is it worth it?

 
Comment by Ashlei
2010-12-20 09:05:24

Nope, don’t wear deodorant. I don’t feel it’s necessary.

 
Comment by Mike A
2011-02-23 23:06:54

Yes. See my earlier comment. I haven’t used any for 20 years.

 
Comment by sd
2011-04-01 02:24:34

i use a little bit of baking soda and shower 3-4 times a week. no one ever complains about my b.o. i could be lucky though. i actually like the smell of my b.o. i like the smell of women’s b.o. as long as it doesn’t get too funky. heavy perfumy, chemically smells gross me out. i think most of the reason people use so much scent masking products is good marketing (i.e. we’re being brainwashed). intuitively, it goes directly against nature and evolution. we’re designed to be taking signals from each others scents and our attraction to some degree is based on that. there are certain natural scents that drive me wild! :-)

 
Comment by Desiree
2011-05-04 09:34:58

I am 30y/o and have never been an avid deodorant or antipersperant wearer. I do however wear it if I go to the gym or know that I am going to spend any length of time outdoors (maybe a socially exceptable choice). I know for a fact that I dont have BO, the ppl in my life are the most forthcoming and would tell me. I feel that those wearing an excessive amount of GUNK are more proned to stink. Their bodies are so used to the overdose of chemicals that when not being worn, they over react and produce a stink! I have done some recent label reading on deodoorant for my lil sister (she sweats excessivly) and found that one of the main ingredient in some is ANHYDROUS, I dont want that in my pores! Needless to say, I am going to continue on the same track and maybe we should all try to train our bodies against these chemicals as well.

 
Comment by John
2011-05-23 19:56:16

Maybe because I’m Asian, or maybe because I take a show everyday, but I sparingly use deodorant. My armpits do sweat at times, but not to the degree where I’m forced to wear such a product. I work out regularly and I take a shower almost immediately using anti-bacteria some for the armpits. When I do sweat, the sweat smells neutral. I guess I’m blessed.

 
Comment by Ant
2011-07-26 23:29:19

I’m 30 years old and I haven’t used deodorant since the age of 10. I went away
for a few days trip without deodorant and didn’t have any foul odor during the whole
time. My mother simply stopped buying deodorant. I’m not sure if genetics are a factor, but my father never uses deodorant and has no foul odor.

 
Comment by rs
2011-09-03 19:27:57

I agree, I have not worn that crap for years and have never had a problem even doing heavy yard work. If you clean your pits every day you will have no problem

 
Comment by Chris
2011-10-08 16:03:04

I haven’t worn deodorant a day in my life…I guess I am just a naturally good smelling person. Even my clothes I have sweat through all day don’t smell particularly bad even the next day. I would have to say that everyone is different and produce different odors. Some are lucky and some are not.

 
Comment by ANON
2012-01-05 18:57:56

First of all if you don’t sweat and smell doesn’t protrude from your armpits, NO. Do I really need to wear it during the WINTER or FALL or even SPRING?! Nope, because it’s QUITE COLD.

HOWEVER, it is good if it is a hot day, during the summer most likely since you will sweat far easily.
Don’t listen to goons who say you always need to wear it because it’s bad hygiene if you don’t. 100% BS if you don’t sweat or smell.
Only wear if necessary, working out, hot days ect.

 
Comment by Noname
2012-02-25 19:22:02

Im trying to wean myself off of deodorant because it just leaves nasty looking clumps on my pits even though I was only using a little amount and it seemed that it was that that was making my pits stink. Now Im just trying to get by with washing them with water during the morning and with soap during the day which I need right now because after just washing them and showering last night there is a bit of a smell in those regions. Hopefully all goes well.

 
Comment by ChipChipperson
2012-03-22 13:08:38

Barf. All you people that don’t wear deodorant and say they don’t smell DO SMELL; the rest of us smell your B.O., dammit. You don’t wear deodorant to avoid your own smell, you wear it so the rest of us don’t vomit.
I do disagree with the use of cologne/perfume, however, as I am allergic to most sprays (and so is the ozone layer).

 
Comment by Beka
2012-03-30 02:34:12

I stopped wearing deodorant and it actually took a dew days for my perspiration and odor to normalize, but now i dont ever wear it! the only time i catch a faint wiff is in realllly stressful situations (like when my husband told me he didnt love me anymore this morning -_-) but i tried wearing it again once before i worked out and i smelled awful!! worse than i have ever smelled. it also clogged a bunch of my pores

 
Comment by Tanmi
2012-05-29 21:07:19

Everyone should wear it. At least use the cheap unscented dove deoderant.

 

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