There are a handful of things in this world that we at ITG know to be infallibly, inescapably true.
1) It is rarely a good idea to talk politics with strangers, especially in a social setting.
2) If you wear Wellies and bring an umbrella to work, it will most likely be sunny when you leave.
3) The armpit is not easy to make look attractive, and further, there is no perfect deodorant.
And even if you’ve found one you love chances are, at some point in the future, it’s going to inexplicably stop working like it used to and leave you wandering the aisles of your nearest drugstore again, a bevy of oddly-named options in front of you: “Fiji,” “Powder Fresh,” “Classic,” “Swagger,” etc. (Not to mention “clinical” vs. “regular” strength vs. “prescription” vs. “organic,” or “all-natural”… How much strength do you need, in your armpits? We don’t know your armpits; tell us about them, if you’d like. We’re here to help.) This is an issue close to our hearts—we are a largely pleasant-smelling crew and we would like to stay that way. While we don’t pretend to have all the answers here at the Gloffice, we are nothing if not curious.
So, over lunch in late September, we organized a round-table discussion on the topic of deodorant. It all began with Emily’s request: “Can we talk about deodorants for a second, please?” Yes, E, we certainly can!
Alessandra Codinha: I don’t like deodorant that smells like anything. I don’t like ‘baby-powder-fresh,’ that cucumber-melon, mall-disaster whatever… I used to like wearing the classic Old Spice—
Nick Axelrod: You used to wear men’s deodorant?
Alessandra: Yes! I used to really like it!
Nick: But, isn’t it…formulated for a man?
Alessandra: No, that's bogus.
Nick: But what about deodorant that’s 'strong enough for a man, but made for a woman?'
Alessandra: That’s Secret. And it's all marketing.
Elizabeth Brockway [Assistant]: I used to be a scentless, powder-fresh girl, but I went over to my friend's apartment recently and he had this new deodorant that he said smelled great, and it was Old Spice Cyprus, and he forced me to smell it—which was weird because I knew his armpit had been on it, and I'd prefer that not to be close to my face—but I smelled it, and it smelled amazing, so I went to Duane Reade on my way home and got my own.
Emily: Michael, do you wear women’s deodorant?
Michael Harper [Digital Director]: No, I use Old Spice antiperspirant most days of the week. I upgraded from plain Old Spice deodorant, which I've used since high school... I still use the deodorant over the antiperspirant on days where sweating through a shirt isn't a concern. It's a classic scent!... A long time ago I used Ban, which has a roller-ball applicator—but I think those can be uneven.
Elizabeth: I use La Roche-Posay’s deodorant sometimes, and that's a roll on that works really well—it doesn't have aluminum and it's supposed to work for 24 hours. It's pretty wet, so the whole uneven-application thing isn't a problem.
[At this point, a friend, Jesse Israel, spots us and walks up to our table. Emily introduces him to the crew, and inquires about his current deodorant situation.]
Jesse: I’m strictly Swagger scent from Old Spice. It’s the only one I fuck with. But I’ve been having an issue with my right armpit. It’s just not responding to deodorant. It’s very...active.
Emily: Is it getting sour? That smell of deodorant that’s been sitting for too long and it just stops working?
Michael: You mean like when toothpaste stops being tingly?
Emily: Yes! I’ve been wearing Donna Karan Cashmere Mist deodorant, which is the weirdest choice because it has a coordinating fragrance and body wash. Lady deodorants can smell a little bit like feminine-hygiene products, but it works so well.
Alessandra: If you have skin problems or are allergic to deodorants, you get relegated to the organic options, like Tom’s, which really doesn’t work. It’s the equivalent of walking around with lemons under your arms.
Nick: That Tom’s stuff does not work at all. It smells like lemon and then slowly B.O.
Michael: At some point, someone gave me, like, a crystal-salt thing that you need to wet.
Emily: I’ve tried that. I think it used to work, as a hippie-organic product that you wet and rub on your armpits. People say the natural Weleda one works well, too.
Nick: Here’s the thing: I read once in Details magazine—
Alessandra: So it must be true?
Nick: So it must be true—that antiperspirants are what cause yellow stains on your clothes. I think it’s the aluminum in them?
Alessandra: Aluminum, allegedly—and this is debatable, ‘cause now a lot of people are saying this isn’t true—causes Alzheimer’s.
Nick: Or breast cancer... Take-home message: it's just really bad for you.
Michael: I have misgivings about using products with aluminum, even though I wear that antiperspirant. I just think that, even if it's not carcinogenic, I can't imagine it's a positive...
Emily: You know what my mom tried to put on me when I was 13? That prescription deodorant, Drysol that stings like a motherfucker. My mom sat me on the couch once and put it on me, and it burned so badly. I told her, ‘I’m never doing that again!’
Nick: People put that on their hands! There’s a deodorant I found a couple years ago... it's called Arm & Hammer Essentials. It’s a clear stick, solid, and it doesn’t have a scent. No aluminum, no parabens. It works perfectly for me and it doesn’t stain anything and I never smell! Except for this one time on an airplane…
Emily: Was I with you?
Nick: No, but I told you about that story, right? Look, you can say many things about me, but one of them would never be that I smell. But once I was on a flight, I had just said goodbye to my ex-boyfriend in Berlin, and I sat down in my seat next to this couple, and I was all the way on the inside of the row, and they started whispering to each other and to the flight attendant, and then they switched seats. I thought, ‘This is so weird’—we hadn’t even taken off yet!—and the man whispers to me, 'There’s a really strong, sour body odor coming from you. Can you please go into the bathroom and wash under your arms?'
[Everyone laughs, horrified.]
Nick: He told me that his wife was really sensitive to smell and that I was making her sick… It was like an out-of-body experience.
Michael: Well, was it you? [Laughs]
Nick: Of course not! I don’t smell! I had just come from being with my boyfriend, I was wearing cologne, so much deodorant, and I’m like the cleanest person in that sense.
Emily: Well, what did you do?
Nick: What do you do in that situation? What else can you do? I got up, I went to the bathroom and I washed under my arms! [Laughs] And I stared at myself long and hard in the airplane-lavatory mirror, thinking: ‘For the next eight hours, I’m going to have to sit next to these people who think I have horrible, sickening B.O.' Also you have to realize that this couple had told the flight attendant about my perceived odor problem. So, now the entire flight crew thought I had B.O.. I was in such shock that this was happening, I called my parents and my boyfriend from the plane phone. I asked my boyfriend if I had smelled when I hugged him goodbye or any time, and he said I hadn’t at all. And then I called my parents and told them what had happened.
Emily: Weren’t the people sitting right next to you?
Nick: Well, eventually the woman got in a fight with a senior citizen who was right behind her. The couple was trying to get upgraded to first class, I think, so for an hour or so they were getting up and down, trying to get the crew to move them because of various complaints. It was the most insane experience in my life. You know when you’re a teenager and you’re so insecure about body odor? I used to use the most intense, radioactive sealant thing I could get.
Alessandra: I used to use Mitchum, and with that you don’t sweat for three days. Their whole campaign was that you didn’t need to reapply it.
Nick: And when you wear it, your shirt would turn blue... It's like, if you feel light headed from wearing it, just sit down, take some breaths...
Emily: It’s really strong; you just won’t sweat… [To Alessandra and Michael] Did either of you ever have a terrible story where you had bad B.O.?
Nick: Let the record show that I didn’t have bad B.O.! That was two crazy people next to me thinking that I had bad B.O..
Alessandra: Can you imagine asking someone to go wash under their arms?
Nick: We hadn’t even taken off the ground. This was an eight-hour flight!
Michael: 'Your scent is making my wife physically sick.' [Laughs]
Alessandra: The thing about personal odors that’s weird—besides everything—is that it’s so offensive when they’re bad, and people can’t really smell themselves and they don’t even know. There was this girl in my dorm at boarding school who never wore deodorant and she was really proud of it. And she smelled terrible, but she was so proud of being unaffected by social norms.
Michael: It’s like the Dunning-Kruger thing, where you’re so dumb that you don’t know you’re dumb.
Nick: Have you ever been to a party where someone with bad B.O. basically clears the party?
Alessandra: That’s the worst. Or when you get in a taxi and it smells, and you feel like you’re sitting in this stranger’s smell, and it’s coming from this person, from what they’ve digested, and you’re forced to just marinate in it. It’s so violating.
Nick: [Laughs] There are just some people who just smell bad and it’s not their deodorant, or lack thereof.
Alessandra: But there’s also this theory that if someone’s your ideal mate, or that your genes mesh well together, you perceive their body smells as attractive and you won’t mind it.
Nick: There was also that study that no one knows who they’re in love with anymore because we all wear fragrances that mask our natural scent.
Emily: So, am I going to die because I get Botox in my armpits?
Nick: I think it’s one of those things where, unless it’s a severe case, it’s best to avoid anything that stops you from perspiring. It’s got to come out somewhere, sometime.
Alessandra: I’ve been wearing antiperspirant my whole adolescent life and it hasn’t affected me in any bad way. It doesn’t stain my clothes. I’m not sweating egregiously anywhere else.
Nick: I just hate the white chunks in the armpit.
Alessandra: Well, you have armpit hair and we don’t. I’ve been using this Kiehl’s ‘Superbly Efficient’ antiperspirant cream and I like it, but it’s weird, because you have to wait and let it dry, and I’m just standing there nude with this cream in my armpits, but then when it’s dry, it just works.
Nick: Is it like a moisturizer? You scoop out this cream and apply it under your arms?
Alessandra: No, it’s in a tube! It’s a tube with a round hole. It’s kind of phallic when I say it like that. It’s triangular, kind of. Conical.
Nick: Like an upside down snow cone? [Laughs] Like a lip balm? I don’t like that. What about when you put your clothes on and you’re in a rush?
Alessandra: I don’t really like that either, but it works and it doesn’t smell like anything. It’s the best thing I’ve found.
There you have it: different strokes (of product, on your ‘pits) for different folks. Michael is sticking with Old Spice; Nick, Arm & Hammer Essentials; Alessandra, Kiehl’s Superbly Efficient cream; Elizabeth, her Old Spice Cyprus; and Emily, Donna Karan. Our takeaway? A little perspiration does the body good, it’s always best to be aware of those around you (unless they are aggressively looking to upgrade their plane seats), and ‘natural' may not always be best when it comes to preventing odor... Though clearly, we’re open to suggestions.