Saturday, April 22, 2017

Deodorants for sensitive skin: underarms & underboobs - reviews & a recipe

I believe I've mentioned my sensitive skin, prone to rashes, eczema & now, rosacea. So my latest Princess & the Pea adventure started like this: 5 months ago I became inexplicably unable to tolerate the fairly gentle Dove deodorant I've used for the last decade. It has the same active ingredient as 90% of anti-perspirants do, but a good 20% less of it than almost any other brand. Did I mention I learned this after purchasing a 5-pack of said Dove from Costco? Because, of course. 
So began my quest to find a deodorant/anti-perspirant without Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Gly. 

Let me just say here that, although I am fairly crunchy - I've been a vegetarian for 20 years & hate plastic bags - some stuff just has to work. Among those things for me are toilet paper (I won't be giving up Charmin anytime soon), laundry detergent (no thanks, 7th Generation, even though I love your cardboard bottle), and deodorant. I've tried several natural brands over the years, from Tom's of Maine (perpetually sticky) to Aubrey (kind of sting-y) to the liquid Crystal roll-on (literally hours to dry). 

And they all had one thing in common: they simply did not work. Not for me. Not for longer than about 4 hours. Mayyyybe. That is just not acceptable. Not in a professional setting - hell, not even sitting alone on my sofa.

I should stop here & explain what I mean by 'unable to tolerate' normal deodorants anymore. I mean I developed a reaction well beyond a rash: large red sections of irritated skin across my armpits that developed into actual scabs. (Apologies for that TMI, but you'll understand my desperation when I realized I could no longer use the gentlest effective product I've found - & all known alternatives sucked.)

I did lots of research and quickly determined that I did not want to risk a product with baking soda, as most negative experiences were related to that ingredient, complete with some painful looking review pics on amazon similar to what I described. Unfortunately, the vast majority of crunchy products contain baking soda. 

I ordered one from etsy that did not, and actually came in a stick form. It was not a success. It had the texture of candle wax and the 'Jamaican Vanilla Bean' smelled like car air freshener on me; it felt tacky and coated on the skin. Fail.

Then I realized that I could just try making my own. I do make my own hair & skin cream from coconut oil - a mainstay of most recipes - and I had come to the conclusion that I really prefer a cream product rather than a wet roll-on or a sticky gel. And worked! Very well indeed. And it is cheap as dirt. I have not had a reaction in the 4 months I've used it. 

I also found two other alternatives that work incredibly well. Here they are:

I'll start with the one in the center. This is my every day go-to now. The other two are for when I want something a little stronger.

What I love about the homemade recipe:
  • I scoop out a pea-sized daub of cream, hold it against my skin for 2 seconds, whereupon it instantly melts and can be rubbed in thoroughly and easily. 
  • It dries to a velvety soft finish very quickly.
  • There is zero caking. I can top it with body powder - still no caking. Ever. 
  • No need to wash your hands! Stay with me here. The only difference between this deodorant and a body cream recipe is the greater amount of corn starch. Nothing icky that needs to be washed off. I just really like that.
  • It can be used under the boobs to protect delicate skin from friction and keep things cool & dry.
  • Coconut has natural properties that are pretty great: it is inherently mildly both anti-bacterial & anti-fungal. 
  • The protection usually lasts me all day. It can be easily reapplied if you wish. (See no-caking, ever, above)

Here's the basic recipe. It can be customized in many ways:
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup corn starch
20 drops essential oil (or extract) of your choice. 
      (I usually use neroli (bitter orange flower). It has an earthy green edge that cuts the sweetness of regular orange blossom. It also has properties that mend tiny capillaries, a big part of sensitive skin issues and redness.)

Melt the coconut oil until very soft, but not totally liquid (it doesn't matter if you do, but it's easier to work with if you don't). Mix in the corn starch. Use a fork or spoon until blended. Add in the oil or extract. Stir until smooth.

That's it. You're done. Or, you can customize it to your exact liking.

To tweak the texture:
  • If you want to use an electric beater after the fork (don't do it at the beginning because the light-as-air corn starch will fly into the air) it will make the final product lighter and more whipped in texture, and it will also increase it in size since you're whipping air into it, so you'll need a bigger container.
  •  I live in a cold climate, so the coconut never ever liquifies. I mean, ever. Because it never goes above 72F here and the stuff liquifies at 75F. So I add 1 T of grapeseed or avocado oil to keep the mixture softer, otherwise it would form a solid balm (which is how most of the products for sale are) which you have to scrape out with the back of your fingernail. I prefer not. So a tablespoon of oil makes it a soft, thick cream.
  • Add a little more cornstarch. It gives a more velvety texture and a nice dry finish.
To increase the strength:
  • Add a capsule of powdered probiotics. Basically, the idea here is to outweigh bad bacteria with good.
  • Add a pinch of baking soda. Start small. See if it agrees with you. 
  • Substitute a portion of the corn starch with arrowroot or clay.
  • Use stronger antiseptic essential oils that are commonly found in these recipes, but that I personally dislike the scent of (in my skin care): lavender, tea tree, rosemary, frankincense, peppermint, cedar.
To customize the scent: do anything you want!
  •  I like the tangy floral of neroli, so that is my usual default scent. But this month, along with the neroli I added 5 drops of sandalwood and 1/4 tsp of almond extract (alcohol-based extracts also help with preservative, though you don't really need that since the recipe lasts one month).
  • Coconut will be a part of any scent you create, but it fades into the background and becomes more of a base note.
  • Use regular kitchen extracts if you don't like essential oils, don't want to spend the $$, or just love foodie scents: vanilla & almond work really well here. The one thing I would add is that I would be cautious with extracts that are not alcohol-based. E.g. I tried a buttercream extract in a body cream recipe....and came back to find the glycerin base had caused the coconut oil cream to  implode into a bubbling soup texture.
  • For sensitive skin, some good essential oil options include: rose, orange blossom, sandalwood, neroli, chamomile, frankincense, lavender.


Next up: Tussy

This brand has been around since 1925. That's right. You, too, can feel like a flapper. A 21st century flapper with sensitive skin. 

I remember when I lived in England in the early-90s my elderly neighbor - who had lived through the London Blitz - swore by Tussy. With my American devotion to Secret, I took no notice. Until years later, and the Great Deodorant Crisis of 2017, I came across this on amazon during my research. And remembered fondly.

Tussy contains Aluminum Chlorohydrate, which is a much gentler version of the ingredient used in more modern products. So it is actually an anti-perspirant as well. As such, it will give stronger protection than the homemade recipe above. This is what I used for my wedding in Las Vegas. I was wearing a velvet dress and just wanted to jack up my coverage.

Things to note:
  • Tussy has my favorite texture of the 3 products I use. It is a light, whipped cream and a very small amount blends in easily. 
  • No caking. Powder away!
  • It has the most unique scent for a woman's deodorant I've ever encountered: Cloves! Not sweet, not floral, not powdery, not 'fresh'-  but the gentle, warm, spicy scent of clove.
  • You definitely need to wash this off your hands. And this is the only one of the 3 that is not appropriate for under-boob use. 
  • Very economical. Around $5.00. Some stores still carry it, and of course, amazon.


Next up: Yodora

This one comes from the 1940s. And it works. Well. Really well. Better than any modern actual anti-perspirant I've tried. It is the most effective of the 3 products here and works even into the next day. With zero aluminum. It's a weird kind of magic. Especially when you consider that.....

This stuff is basically Desitin diaper cream. Not. Even. Kidding. It's pretty much a combo of Vaseline (moisture barrier), zinc oxide (the old white-nose sunscreen stuff), and boric acid (gentle enough to be used in eye drops).
  • It works shockingly well, while being very gentle.
  • The scent is not my favorite: very sweet & powdery, and well, a little 'old lady'. But it doesn't linger & isn't strong.
  • The texture also isn't my favorite. It's...well, just like baby butt cream: greasy and thick and opaque. But you only need a very small amount. Still, it's got a very ointment-type feel to it, and it has a tacky, heavy feel that takes a long while to really absorb. It's very dry and smooth by the end of the day, though. And it is still working, well into the next day.
  • The zinc oxide has strong antiseptic (as well as sunscreen) properties. There's good reason it features heavily in diaper creams. Along with the Vaseline, it provides a strong barrier against irritation - & sweat. 
  • Highly appropriate under the boobs, though does not have the silky feel and velvety finish of the coconut oil recipe.
  • A bargain at $7.
This gives an idea of the different textures of the 3 creams: 

Tussy: light whipped cream
Coconut oil: cream-paste
Yodora: thick cream-ointment

I am thrilled with each of these products. My own recipe meets my needs 80% of the time. I love that I can make a 2 oz jar, customized to my exact tastes, in 10 minutes, that will last me at least one month. And cost me around 50 cents in high quality ingredients.

But the other 2 products have earned a place in my bathroom cabinet as well.

I enjoy the light texture and scent of Tussy, and it is very travel friendly. No need to worry about temperature changes that will affect the recipe cream. 

And if I need serious protection that lasts 24+ hours, I will absolutely reach for Yodora. It works better than Dove or any other commercial modern product I've tried. This would also be very effective for chub-rub in a beach situation. I mean, it even has sunscreen & antiseptic built in. 

What has been really amazing to me is just how well the products of my grandmother's era have held up. I mean, they just plain work! With no ill effects or fancy packaging. In the end, the product that is almost one century old, is what I wore for my own wedding in 2017. And the product from WWII is still more effective, and less toxic, than the 21st century options. And my favorite is made from a tropical product used for many more generations in the island nations of the Pacific.
So there you have it: options. Hopefully this helps someone else & spares them some frustration and exhaustive research.


  1. This is FABULOUS! I'm going to order Tussy for a friend who has sensitive skin and is going through financial difficulties and needs a new job. Awesome review!

    1. Nice. Hope it works for her. If not, the Yodora is totally non-irritating.