A few months ago, I wrote a post about my joyful success of finding a plastic-free deodorant. I had visited a Lush store and purchased a powdered deodorant called the T’eo bar that came packaged only in a wax seal, no plastic included. For a few months, I was loving this deodorant.
However, this past September, during a trip to New York for my cousin’s wedding, I was forced to reevaluate my choice. While in the Big Apple, my husband and I stayed in a tiny shoebox of a hotel with a bathroom the size of a toilet stall. The miniature size of the bathroom meant that Evan and I had to do all of our post-shower lotioning and deodorizing in the not-so-much-larger bedroom, and during this bedroom hygiene session, my husband saw something he hadn’t before: he watched me cringe as I scraped the T’eo deodorant bar against my left armpit. When I lifted my right arm, he saw the more-or-less constant rash of bumps and red dry patches that had formed in both of my pits. My skin stung terribly.
“You have to stop using that deodorant,” he told me, concerned. “Seriously, Mer, that looks really bad.” I didn’t want to agree with him. After all, I love the smell of the T’eo deodorant, and I love the idea of it. It seemed, at first, to be the perfect replacement deodorant. Buying it meant no plastic, and it had worked successfully for me for a few months. Still, I couldn’t ignore the rash, and I couldn’t help but remember the words of the Lush sales woman when she first saw me considering the T’eo bar: Do you have sensitive skin? You might want to go with the Patchouli instead.
I should have listened to her, and I should have stopped using the bar after a week of red bumps. But I stubbornly persisted. In New York, Evan’s worried face made me realize there was real trouble, but I wasn’t ready to relent. I used his Old Spice deodorant on our trip, thinking it would just be a two or three-day diversion from my normal deodorizing, and oh my goodness, it was seriously weird how good it felt to smooth the cool blue bar against my armpits. I think I might have let out an audible “Ah!” as I applied it.
When we returned to Chicago, things just weren’t the same. After showering, I began to stare at the two deodorant options on our bathroom shelf: the porous T’eo bar and the red, plastic Old Spice containing that soothing cerulean gel. I wasn’t ready to admit the feelings of love that had developed for the Old Spice. Quickly, I started swiping the soothing bar under my arms, shoving it back on the shelf to hide this behavior from both Evan and from myself.
After a few weeks of sneakily stealing swipes of Old Spice, Evan caught me. “Mer! Why don’t you just buy some new deodorant?” he asked me. “You have to get something else.”
“No!” I cried back. I didn’t have any other defense. I knew the T’eo bar wasn’t working, I just really didn’t want to admit it.
Finally, three weeks ago, defeated and in desperation, I went back to the Lush store. I bought the patchouli deodorant bar. I’ve been using it ever since, but the results have been lukewarm. I resisted this deodorant originally because of the smell. It’s so potent, so recognizable. When I paid for it at the store, a honey-colored cube wrapped only in paper, I already detected its familiar fragrance. The smell reminds me of college—summers in Boulder, Colorado, parks filled with guitar music and billows of then-still-illegal smoke, street-fairs featuring stacks of hemp-pressed chapstick. The patchouli smell is distracting to me not just because of its actual smell, but because of what the smell means to me.
I thought, after days and days of applying it, that I’d get used to the fragrance. I’m still not there, though it is becoming more familiar. The more difficult aspect for me is that the patchouli still doesn’t spread as easily as typical gel deodorants. The bar is a lot like a dry bar of soap. I have to wet it or hold it in my hands to warm it before rubbing it under my arms, and still, it’s slightly irritating to my skin. The red bumps have slightly returned with the patchouli.
One of plastic’s great benefits is that it can harness and transport matter in different states—gels, liquids, soft powders—so effectively. In my struggle to find a plastic-free deodorant, I’ve come to even more powerfully appreciate what plastic does. It is a material that has no perfect replacement.
For now, as keep trying to use the patchouli, I find myself staring longingly at the Old Spice container each day after I shower. Some mornings, I cheat. I love what is contained within that plastic—that incredibly refreshing and cooling deodorant stick. Is there any hope that I’ll find something, anything similar to the pleasing Old Spice bar that isn’t housed in plastic? With my armpits raw and my skin smelling strangely unfamiliar, I desperately hope so.
If you have any suggestions or tips for me about plastic-free deodorants, I’d love to hear them! Seriously—I need your ideas!