Monday, July 10, 2006

Bicycling Without Antiperspirant

This blog chronicles our family's attempt to live green. We have systematically tried to eliminate poisons from our home and our yard; reduce our negative impact on the environment; and contribute to movements for social justice. And we insist on enjoying ourselves. Most of the time, these goals complement each other. For example, locally grown, organic vegetables don't bring pesticides into the home, buying them improves conditions for farm workers, and they taste better than conventionally grown vegetables. In Houston, this most improbable of places for a green lifestyle – the most polluted major city in the US – our efforts have paid off already. As MaGreen put it in the fabulous new Green Parenting banner, we're living la vida verde in megalopoland.

However, sometimes green parenting goals aren't exactly complementary…

I bicycle to work for a number of reasons. If I bicycle, we can easily get by with one car. That saves us on car payments, taxes, inspections, insurance, repairs, maintenance, traffic tickets, parking fees, and gas. I've bicycled to work for over two years now and I think we've saved at least $10,000. In terms of parenting, those savings could be seed money for a college fund. I also stay much healthier. Despite sitting at a desk for forty to sixty hours per week, I have not gained weight or suffered higher cholesterol. I also meet other bicyclists and have made new friends because I'm not encased in steel. Finally, bicycles have a negligible impact on the environment while cars are destroying the planet. It's a no brainer for someone like me who is physically capable of riding a bike and who lives three miles from his workplace.

I don't wear antiperspirants because they are filled with possible toxins – petrochemicals, aluminum, and other stuff I don't know about. Petrochemicals like phthalates and parabens create the "scent." They can disrupt the endocrine system (as in hormones) because the body can confuse them with estrogen. The level of phthalate exposure from antiperspirants for an adult may not be high enough to be considered toxic, but because children's bodies are developing quickly the potential for harm is greater. I'd rather not have any aromatic phthalates floating in the air near my baby. The aluminum in antiperspirants is sucked up into the armpit and blocks the sweat glands, but it may increase chances of developing Alzheimer's and breast cancer. The scientific data for phthalate and aluminum exposure is not as conclusive as the data on tobacco or aesbestos, but I won't be convinced that they are safe to have around my child until they are definitively proven to be safe. And I won't accept standards set by the companies that sell those products. The standards should be set by independent scientists and advocates who have proven their commitment to children.

Now, here's the dilemma. You can get away with driving an air-conditioned car without antiperspirant. Or you can ride a bicycle wearing antiperspirant. But is it possible to bicycle (in the sweltering heat of a semi-tropical city in the summer) without antiperspirant? In the US, people are expected to exude the petro-stink of spring fields – not the scent of actual spring fields but the hyper-real scent of imagined spring fields. We certainly are not to smell like a human body. Furthermore, I'm a brown-skinned man living in a deeply racist society. I cannot afford to carry any kind of body odor. The perception of foul odor is exactly the kind of stereotype people make about Indians. Stinky, oily Hindus. Perhaps my skin color and ethnicity make me hyper-aware, but can anybody get away with body odor at work besides record store clerks in the Haight Ashbury?

That stubborn crevice with its coarse tuft of hair. It undermines our highest ambitions!

I've tried the alternatives to antiperspirants available at the health food store. Salt crystals not only failed as a deodorant, but made me feel ridiculous. (I've heard others swear by them.) The Tom's of Maine deodorant, which doesn't use phthalates, alcohol, or aluminum, works OK for a few hours because it has its own strong scent. Lafe's Natural and Organic is OK as well, but neither work through my summer bicycle rides or even through a hectic day inside the office. So is there a solution? During the past few months, I've had to repeatedly wash my underarms with soap and water. I take a break, go to the bathroom, take off my shirt, and wash my underarms. It takes around two minutes. Then I don't smell. Not like a sweaty body or like Britney-Smears-fake-o-freshness-petrochemicals.

Constantly washing myself isn't great, though. It feels obsessive. I can't always escape to the bathroom. Sometimes I'm stuck in a room full of people desperately locking my arms down and my armpits shut. I'd like to know if anybody else has tried to deal with this problem and found better methods.

23 comments:

Preeti said...

Have you tried sandalwood-scented talcum powder (from India)? Also, the ancient Greeks/Romans (can't remember which) used to shave their armpits. It reduces the surface area on which odor-producing bacteria can grow.

Anonymous said...

I see your armpit. n

Izzy said...

Living in Florida, it's pretty dang hot and humid. You sweat unless you're in the A/C. Period. That said, I still wear anti-perspirant about 3 days per week. I would prefer not to wear it at all and in the cooler months, I don't. I wish I had a solution or something helpful to add...for all our sakes :)

cake said...

i say, wear deoderant on the days you bike, don't wear it at home, and keep it out of lila's reach.

don't sweat the small stuff...(tee hee)

Lou said...

My husband managed to find a deodorant without aluminum. It still has the petrol-derived chemicals in it, though. I think the brand was Degree.

Ok, a little off the subject, but do you have any suggestions for natural hair pommade for men?

quixoticmama said...

Ahhh, another anti-anti-perspirant person!

The joy!

jp said...

i use the salt crystal thing. i guess i'm one of those people who "swears by it". it always seems to work for me. jp

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you smell that bad? Maybe you just smell a bit, or a tad or just somewhat.

The shaving advice is good, but the bad stuff in antiperspirants can leach into skin and pores through nicks from
shaving.
Just read an article about a study finding that some sweaty women may be getting breast cancer from heavy
antiperspirant use in nicked and scrapped armpits.

Cornstarch may help. That's what I use. Of course I also believe I don't smell THAT bad as I am not riding a bike
to work. Maybe a rinse off in the mens room with a couple of puffs of cornstarch will do for the day.

Theresa

Sara said...

My advice is to eliminate refined sugar from your diet, because it feeds the bacteria that causes the odor.

I don't wear deodorant either, and I've noticed a definite correlation between the sugar and the smell.

Kate said...

i have been using a spray crystal for the past few months. it is basically the crystal already diluted i guess. i've found that it really works well; i never had much luck with the actual rock.

i am a bicycle commuter in htown, too.

i usually do a little wash-clothing with dr. bronner's when i get to work and then apply the stay and voila, i'm not stinky. i used to sweat A LOT by the way.

chuck said...

why doesn't anyone say that this has to do with capitalism? why not suggest that the workplace re-evaluate its most cherished ideas about the body?

Anonymous said...

You can also try putting some isopropyl alcohol into a small spray bottle and applying it when necessary. The first few days it worked like a charm, and after that not so well. But for someone elses body chemistry it may work for longer

Anonymous said...

I'd bet you've already figured this out, but I've got two words dude: baking soda. Try it.

Laura said...

baking soda totally works. the amazing thing is you can apply it after you have worked up a stinky sweat and it will "eliminate odors" like the box says it does. mix w/ a bit of cornstarch to keep the consistency un-clumped. apply w/ cotton balls. i carry mine in a little baggy but a mini-tupperware works too.

David said...

yup, the stuff you're using on your hair is the stuff for underarms. I do trail running, and baking soda/bicarbonate of soda works better for me than any deo/anti-perspirant ever did. I just stick a damp finger into it on my way out the shower, and rub into a damp armpit as much powder as adheres to the finger. better for clothes too - I've had clothes ruined by antiperspirant residues.

Great site! Thank you, from Cape Town.

Anonymous said...

Hey,

I'm a biker too. I use crystals and it works. The other great one is Body Shop spray (non aerosol)deodorant for men. It's really good. It isn't anti-perspirant though, but I think that's OK. Wear a t-shirt under your shirt?

Shaving your armpit hair is uncomfortable and many guys like theirs but it does make things smellier. Try a compromise, try trimming it down shorter and then play around with the crystals, baking soda, Body Shop products..oh and maybe a t-shirt for those really hot days.

Danny said...

No matter WHAT you do, it is abhorrent to STINK in the workplace, or any other place where one is in close proximity to others. Trust me, if a person thinks "Oh, it's not THAT bad, just a little bitty musty stink..." it is probably way worse to others! Good grief, grab the deodorant, a crystal or voodoo, but for goodness sakes DON'T STINK! It has NOTHING to do with capitalism--that's a REAL stretch. One doesn't have to buy in to all the marketing/brands to "not stink". The suggestions about wearing a t-shirt is a must-do. It keeps sweat/perpiration locked in (mostly) and saves wear and tear on shirts. ALWAYS wear a t-shirt under your shirts.

Anonymous said...

Unrefined shea butter will work as a natural pomade for men's hair.. it works exactly like pomade, liquifies with body heat, and will reset easily if your hair gets messed up. Also, as an alternative, you can use grapeseed oil for hair as a glosser, it's been used in hairstyling for centuries.

As for deodorant, essential oils work best for masking. You can greatly reduce sudoriferous (sweat) gland productivity by rinsing with as cold of water as your shower will put out, it tightens the pores... and will reduce sweating all over the body. In addition, reducing your intake of onion and garlic will cut the "foulness" of your perspiration immensely. Sweat itself doesn't create foul odor, unless you have bromidrosis. The foul odor is caused by the bacteria. Mineral oil used after showering will also help but a barrier between said bacteria and the environment, greatly reducing the rate of reproduction of those bacteria by blocking the source upon which they feed... moisture.

Hope that helps you folks... :)

Me. said...

Preeti was right about the shaving thing. I am not entirely sure whether it was the Greeks or the Romans, however shaving does help reduce odor. I do use antiperspirant, however as I am a heavy sweater it doesn't always work. But I noticed when I shaved my pits the odor went down signifigantly, and I didn't have to use as much deodorant/antiperspirant.

Anonymous said...

50 YO male perspective. I've been trimming my armpit hair for probably 30 years now. I used to trim with scissors now I just grab my wife's razor and hack away. Since I'm very hairy all over, completely shaved armpits would be way too obvious. Makes a big difference.

Anonymous said...

shave your armpits, not all the way. use a personal trimmer and just take 'em down a notch. hair tends to hold in bad odor. im not a big sweater, but when my under arm hair is longer i can stink a little more than when its not. i only wear deodorant a few days a week, when i know i will be in the company of others. smelling good is considered polite.

Anonymous said...

So grateful for all these suggestions. I've been deodorant free now for three years. I've used essential oils, a drop into the fabric under the armpit. Lavender or peppermint. I've also used Weleda's spray, which has to be reapplied throughout the day. I've also used Jason's Body Powder. It's hard during the summer with the powder though. I understand your dilemma, as a woman of color whose "stink" also coincides with fluctuating hormone levels there are times when I simply reek. FUNKY. The worst thing for me is trying to get the stench out of my organic cotton clothing. I just read about baking soda in the rinse cycle and I'm hoping this works and doesn't lighten my clothes as I tend to wear darker colors. I've been using BS in the shower, add a little water to make a paste, and it's a great exfoliant to the face or any where else. I'm really hoping it will also help get my clothes clean, a.k.a. no more stinky in the pitsky. Also you might want to consider a beard trimmer. It is so helpful for thinning out and cutting back areas of dense short and curlies.

GreenDaddy said...

Thank you everybody for your recommendations. I have followed some of them. For example, I now trim my underarm hair close to the skin (but not completely) with a beard trimmer. But because I share a cubicle with people who are hyperconscious of body odor and the bathrooms in the building don't provide any facilities for really washing up, I use some aluminum-based deodorant every other day or so, especially when it heats up in Summer. All in all, riding my bicycle to work is the most "green" thing I do and if I have to apply a little bit of a chemical that may be toxic (the data isn't terribly conclusive) that's OK by me. I wish I didn't have to. I wish there were showers at work. I wish that it was OK to smell like a human being and not OK to smell like petrochemicals. But I can't change all the norms with a snap so I have to do my best, and make a few compromises.