My Quiet, Mostly Disgusting Adventures With Natural Deodorant

This is the ridiculously long story of how I exchanged regular deodorant-antiperspirants (Secret, Dove, Degree, etc. — the ones that make you smell nice) for natural deodorants (Tom’s, Jason’s, the crystals, etc. — the ones that make you disgusted with yourself, your clothes, and the haze of putrescence that surrounds you at all times). Here we go.

Back in 2008 I decided that even though the aluminum in antiperspirants hasn’t been proven to give you cancer — in fact, studies show it doesn’t — I was also pretty sure it might give you cancer. I don’t know — rubbing a body-function-altering chemical into a crevice of my body every morning seemed unnecessary. Or, at the very least, seemed like an easy thing to err on the side of caution about. And because antiperspirants never really worked on me anyway (except for freaky Certain Dri, but that’s a story for another time), it seemed like it’d be a breeze to switch to regular old aluminum-free deodorant — a.k.a. natural deodorant.

It was not. They are all horrible. But before I knew that, I thought it’d be cool (“cool”) to write a story about this quest for the perfect natural deodorant (I never ended up writing it, until now, I guess), so I bought all the natural deodorants I could find (like 25 of them — flashbacks to standing in the aisle of this miserable health-foods store with an armful of the bullshittiest deodorants of all time, people looking at me like maybe she’s sick). Anyway, I thought it’d be good to pit (oof) the deodorants against one another tournament-style, one day at a time — each morning I’d wear one on one armpit, another on the other, and then at the end of the day whichever side smelled best would be the winner, and it’d advance to the next “round.” Oh, incidentally, this was during a very strange and lonely period in my life when I had time to do things like make charts for deodorants.

Weeks passed, and I monitored these awful products. Winners were determined not by actually winning but by being the side that smelled less terrible at the end of the day — I smelled bad 100% of the time. And then toward the final rounds of this sad tournament, I realized that the winner was actually just whichever one I’d been wearing on my left side, which probably had to do more with the way I carried my purse than anything else. So, I guess that sucked, but also, obviously, it was fine.

Anyway, once the tournament was over (I don’t even remember which of them “won” — it was completely arbitrary and I never used any of them ever again), I just stopped using deodorant altogether, half believing that if I could just leave myself alone long enough, body odor would somehow work itself out of my system (I’m a scientist!) and I’d be like some natural, scentless tree sprite. Well, it didn’t, and I just smelled like shit all the time.

Sorry, this is gross, I realize.

But then one day I got this gushy email from a silly ladies’ newsletter I’d subscribed to — Vital Juice, from which I later unsubscribed, due to the “Yoga for Your Fingernails” and “Tea-Tree Oatmeal for Your Butt”-type emails I’d get from them EVERY DAY (but then also, full disclosure, I once applied for a JOB with Vital Juice, but I didn’t get it, so fuck ’em. But also this isn’t some takedown of Vital Juice or anything, and also definitely not a paid promotion for anything!). Anyway, this one newsletter was about a natural deodorant they were losing their minds over (although literally every day those goons lose their minds over some garbage they may or may not be being paid to promote), and because deep in my brain was this kernel of hope that somewhere out there was a Perfect Natural Deodorant for Me, I decided to get it.

It’s called Lavanila, it’s incredibly expensive ($18 per stick), and of course it’s only available at Sephora, but it turns out to be pretty good. THE END. It’s not even that good, honestly, it’s just significantly better than all the others, and the smell is nice and fancy. I’ve gotten it in Lavender/Vanilla and Vanilla/Grapefruit, but it also comes in other scents. So yeah, I just wrote an advertisement, I guess.

OK, so, this is technically the end of this piece, because what follows is some serious down-the-rabbit-hole nonsense about my experience with NATURAL DEODORANT, which if you’re still with me, you’ve almost certainly heard more than enough about. So, it’s perfectly fine to stop here. Recommended, even!

BUT, Lavanila’s also sort of garbage, because the first one I bought, the twisty part at the bottom didn’t work, so I returned it at Sephora for a new one, and then THAT ONE also had a broken twisty part, so I emailed the company. Here’s the ass-kissery I sent to on June 30, 2009, subject title: “Faulty twist-bottom deodorant”

Hello Lavanila!

As someone who’s spent years looking for natural deodorants that actually work, I was thrilled to discover Lavanila. Seriously — like, opening-presents-at-Christmastime-thrilled. At first I was doubtful — none of the dozens (dozens! literally!) of the other natural deodorants I’ve tried have worked at all, but Lavanila is totally different, totally great. It’s like the holy grail of natural deodorants! The $18 price tag is steep, but 100% worth it. (I’d probably pay even more, but I shouldn’t be telling you that.) Thank you for making such a terrific product! I’d never thought I’d be writing this kind of fan mail to a product or sounding so much like one of those crazy people quoted on infomercials, but whatever! Here we are! I love it!

So! I was especially bummed to find out that when it came time to twist up the deodorant stick, it was broken. Hard to explain, but basically the bottom half twists around slightly off-kilter, so that the more you twist it, the more it seems to be coming off the base, sort of like a jam jar that can’t close properly because you didn’t align it correctly. And it gets progressively stickier to twist until it eventually I can’t twist it any more. And none of the product comes up at all. Sad!

Yesterday I brought the broken deodorant back to the Sephora where I purchased it (at 42nd St. and Madison in NYC, near where I work as an editor), and the staff there swapped it out for a new one — no problem. But when I brought it home I discovered that the new one was also broken! In the same way! And I swear I’m not beating them against the wall or anything — I treat them normally!

Instead of going back to Sephora and requesting another exchange, I figured I’d go to you guys first. Is this a common problem? And would it be possible to get a replacement?

This is the one I’ve got:

Thanks first of all for making this awesome, life-changing deodorant (seriously), and thanks secondly for your help in this matter — I really appreciate it!

-Edith Zimmerman

Haha. “Near where I work as an editor.” Anyway, they didn’t respond, so nine days later, I follow up with this:

Hi Lavanila,

Just following up on my email from last week… It’d be great to get a replacement deodorant, if at all possible! Thanks again for your time!


NOTHING. So at this point I’m furious with these jerks, but also I love their deodorant so much, and I felt guilty going back to Sephora again. Because surely every single product matters there. Anyway, last-ditch, two weeks after that follow-up email, I send this:


I’m following up again on my email from earlier this month… Maybe this email address isn’t the right one I should be writing to, in which case I would be happy to follow up elsewhere if you could point me in the right direction.

Thank you very much!


At which point they FINALLY respond:

Hello Edith,

We are SO SORRY for the delay in getting back to you!! We appreciate your loyalty to our brand, and we are extremely excited to have you as part of our HEALTHY family!!

First off, we are very sorry that you have been experiencing this problem with our Deodorant component. This is not a common problem, but we are aware of this type of issue. Have you tried forcibly turning the bottom wheel fully (360 degrees) at least twice to raise more product up to the top? Sometimes if the unit is dropped or shifts during shipment, the bottom wheel comes out of alignment and needs to “pop” back in to place. Once this happens, the unit will twist up and down with ease.

If this trick does not work for you, we request that you return the product to Sephora for a new Deodorant once more (Sephora is great about returns). If you receive yet another faulty Deodorant component, we will be happy to facilitate another switch for you using our own personal inventory.

Edith — thank again for your patience throughout this process, and we greatly appreciate your loyalty to LAVANILA!! We are looking forward to getting you a new, properly-working deodorant as soon as possible so you can continue with your HEALTHY daily beauty routine.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us at your leisure.


And you know what? Turns out all I had to do to make it work WAS forcibly turn the thing really hard, past the point of seeming like I was breaking it. THE ACTUAL END. To rewrite this entire thing in one normal-sized sentence: Lavanila makes a pretty good natural deodorant, and it costs $18.

UPDATE, March 21, 2012: I found the actual natural deodorant holy grail, and it is Soapwalla. It changed my life, and I’m not even beginning to be kidding.