This past week, my coworkers learned a few of my dirty secrets, namely that for weeks (and in some cases, months and years) I have not bought or used commercially available face wash, deodorant, shampoo or conditioner. Rather than be horrified and confirm all my deepdark fears that I actually do smell like an armpit, they were surprised and then fascinated. After an in-depth discussion about what I use to get un-funky, I decided to start a series of posts I’m calling;
How to Make Your Own Damn Hygiene Products That Are Petroleum-Free, Cruelty Free, Cheap as Hell, Unlikely to Make You Rashy and Which Will Help You Take on the Hygiene Industry Patriarchy All While Meeting Your Own Personal Standard of Beauty*
Are you a stinky, dirty, itchy, oily person who has to interact with other humans and thus must meet at least the minimum standard of hygiene acceptable to the majority of society? Does thinking about all the strange chemicals and potential animal cruelty that went into your hygiene products really bum you out? Do you have the sensitive skin of European aristocratic babies that wells up into hives at the mere mention of, well, anything? Do you wish you could afford products with ingredients you could pronounce and which would leave you rash-free, but have tragically woken up once again to find that you are still not Gweneth Paltrow and don’t have an artisinal woven basket full of fair-trade rubies to trade in for said products?
Good fortune! You can solve (most) of these problems with cheap-ass ingredients from the grocery store and the barest minimum effort required.
Throughout this series I’m going to not only share recipes I’ve tried and found to be successful, but also some of the facts, figures and history surrounding each product. Turns out most of what we take for granted as ‘necessary hygiene products’ have absolutely fascinating history.
Like, for example,
Humans have been using things (herbs, oils, salves and what have you) to cover up body odor for as long as we’ve been sweating which, since sweating is a biological function, means probably for as long as humans have been humans. The first commercial deodorant, however, appeared in 1888, thanks to those saucy folk, the Victorians.
“I say- nothing breathes quite like layers of crinoline, velvet, fur and societal shame!”
Antiperspirant, on the other hand, was invented soon after, but didn’t really catch on until 20 years later. Covering up one’s sweat with other smells? Historical (and prehistorical, even) precedent, totally fine. Stopping one’s sweat entirely? Newfangled witchery! Besides which, Victorians were all about not talking about things, so even admitting that one needed antiperspirant was a taboo. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that antiperspirant became common, when a school girl teamed up with a Bible salesman to create what was essentially a whisper campaign to scare self-conscious women (and eventually men) into buying the product.**
Today, antiperspirants and deodorants are a huge industry, pulling in 18 billion dollars. 18 billion dollars! Imagine 18 billion of anything- then turn that anything into dollar bills- that’s how much we as Americans are afraid of sweating and/or smelling.
As a moist, nervous preteen with no concept of money, I would’ve paid 18 billion dollars (or tacos) to find the thing that would save me from the social ridicule I feared lurked just minutes away at all times. My average body temperature has always been a few degrees high, and as a kid this made me feel like a superhero (no socks ever! See how I go without a hat all goddam winter and tremble at my powers!). A few years, a new school, and a flood of confusing hormones later I found that, my powers had turned against me. Suddenly, not only was every classroom A HUNDRED DEGREES, but I found myself with a new found social anxiety which, coupled with obsessive tendencies, created a terrible, sweaty cycle. Faced with the prospect of talking in front of/being around/thinking about people, I would start to sweat. Sweating would beget panic which would only beget MORE SWEATING which would beget more panic and so on until I would find myself holding my shirt to the hand dryer while washing my armpits between classes (#thingscrazypeopledo). Did anyone ever actually tease me about being sweaty and/or smelly? Of course not, probably because they themselves were also caught in some sort of self-conscious panic/cycle involving some minor ‘flaw’ that I was to busy panicking to see. Alas, middle school.
By the time I got to college, things had mellowed a bit. Art school, with it’s endless projects/deadlines/all-nighters gave my everbusy brain a focus outward, while art students, with their varying degrees of weirdness helped me to relax into my own skin. Around this time I took a science class about food that sparked a lifelong interest in food systems, food politics, ecology and specifically, how what (or who) we eat can affect our bodies, mind and world*** (‘wtf Cat, weren’t we talking about deodorant?’ yeah, just stay with me.). Over the next couple of years this interest led me to reevaluate and readjust not just what I put into my body, but also what I put on it as well. This was also when my hormone levels began to subside and where I once had tough-as-nails, sebum-covered teen skin that welcomed gallons of Bath and Bodyworks on the regular, I now had sensitive grownup skin that broke into a welts whenever I even looked at something with fragrance, or more than three ingredients in it. Enter Toms of Maine.
That, friends, is the tail end (trust me, it looked much jucier in its early days) of a mysterious and painful armpit rash that came out of nowhere and responded to nothing but time- time and a break away from my new, all natural deodorant. Having diagnosed myself with everything from eczema to cancer (thanks Webmd) I eventually settled on hives and/or allergic reaction. But Toms of Maine, you were supposed to be free of heavy metals and scary chems and (in this case) even fragrance! You were made with tears of joy cried from massaged and grass-fed cows or some other such miracle substance, right? Further internetting revealed that rashes from Toms of Maine’s deodorant are not super common, but also not totally unheard of. The next couple of months found me holed up at my computer, icepacks in my pits, looking for any sort of all natural, cruelty-free and fragrance-free deodorant with high recommendations from my fellow sweaty/rashy-folk. This search led me to another moment of self-realization-
I am cheap as shit.
So, faced with either supporting an industry who made me feel icky, oozing sores or spending fourteen donuts worth of dollars on deodorant, I decided what the hell, maybe I could make my own? After a bit of research, online and off, I found a recipe which, in addition to being cheap, seemed fairly easy as well. The original site has, alas gone down, but the recipe looks something like this:
HOMEMADE CHEAP-ASS FRAGRANCE-FREE DEODORANT RECIPE
In a small jar, combine 4 Tablespoons of coconut oil, 3 Tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot and 3 teaspoons of baking soda. (note: if you find this is ineffective, up the amount of baking soda. If you find this too harsh, decrease the baking soda) Microwave jar for 30 seconds at a time until the coconut oil is melted. Stir to combine everything, and let cool until solid again. To use, swipe a bit onto your finger and schmear into your pits. In the summer, or if you live in a hot climate, you may find the deodorant reverting to a liquid state. Either store in the fridge or just know that you’ll have to wait a few minutes between application and putting on a shirt.
And that’s it. You can add fragrance or bees wax or the blood of a virgin to yours to make it extra smelly or solid or imbue it with powers, or you can use magic to somehow finagle it into an empty roll on deodorant container, but, should you wish to put forth the barest minimum of effort for satisfactory results, this is it. I’ve used this deodorant recipe for well over a year now and not only have I had no complaints, smell-wise, it also has not given me a rash so far.****
Success is how you define it. I define it “Not rashy, so far.”
Go forth and sweat!
*Suggestions for a shorter and/or catchier title welcome.
**In some ways, it’s nice to know body-shaming in advertising isn’t a new phenomenon. In others, it’s entirely depressing.
***…but more on this later.
****DISCLAIMER: I am in no way a physician, dermatologist, beautician/etc. These are recipes which I’ve tried and while they work for me, they may not work for you. This may be because your skin/hair/pits are different from mine or because your ingredients are from a different source or hell, because the moon is gibbous over Capricorn- I don’t know. I went to art school. If something’s not working for you, use common sense- either tweak it a bit or quit using entirely.