We all know that the word deodorant is misleading. Most of the time, it is not so much de-odorant as sur-odorant: it applies a further layer of odor directly upon the existing (or, emerging) odors of the body. Of course, there is also antiperspirant — an honestly named product, but a flawed one. My friend Andy used antiperspirant back in high school, and it turned the armpits of his T-shirts piss yellow. Moreover, I read somewhere that the aluminum in antiperspirant had been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. That alone was enough to scare me off the stuff. So in my 20s I began to seek out natural deodorants, the kind you buy in the cosmetics aisle at Whole Foods. But rather than erasing the smell of sweat, those “deodorants” (I’m looking at you, Tom’s of Maine) somehow worsened it — deepened it, complicated it, much the same way that a polyester shirt does.
Finally, about seven years ago — probably through Google — I ran across an all-natural product called Funk Butter, which is the closest thing I have found to a true deodorant. I have been using it daily ever since. Instead of plugging your sweat ducts, like antiperspirant, or masking the odor, like deodorant, it kills the bacteria in your sweat, neutralizing the reek. The ingredients include stuff you might find in your hippie aunt’s pantry: baking soda plus some shea butter and different kinds of oils. The result is a grainy paste, roughly the consistency of wasabi. Rather than rolling it on, you massage it into your armpits with your fingers. (If the notion of touching your own armpits grosses you out, I recommend you find another deodorant.)
A small jar of this magical stink-eraser only costs five dollars, and because you only use a pea-size amount each day, it typically lasts for months. It comes in two scented flavors (mango and black cedar fig), but I prefer the plain unscented kind. My loyalty to the brand was further cemented by the fact that Funk Butter is hand-made in Baltimore at a company started by two proudly self-proclaimed “black nerds.”
A few caveats: My friends who shave their armpits report that rubbing it on can be a bit uncomfortable, and can even occasionally cause rashes. (I have read that adding a few drops of water to thin it out helps.) Also, “unscented” doesn’t mean your armpits will smell like nothing, exactly. There’s a faint pancake-batter aroma that lingers. But it’s vastly better than the alternative. Countless mornings I’ve woken up expecting my armpits to smell like that vile sleep sweat — you know the kind — only to discover that I smell no worse than a box of Bisquick.