I was lying in the sun on an unusually hot Sunday morning, the first bikini of the season on my pasty white skin, reading a 20,000 words essay by Karl Ove Knausgaard (a soliloquy of minute and personal details and mindless observations that, surprisingly, kept me glued to the page in the same way one can’t look away from roadkill) when I noticed I stank. I had forgotten to put on deodorant after showering earlier in the day.
During the years when word spread that the aluminum in deodorant was possibly linked to breast cancer, my doctor suggested I try a more natural approach to perfuming my armpits. “But I would stink within a matter of hours without it” I protested.
“If your pH is balanced, you won’t stink.” My pH is clearly unbalanced because when I did try more natural products such as Tom’s, or crystals or other innocuous varieties, at the end of the day I always caught a slight whiff of stinky sweat. Righteous organic-pesticide-free-and-hormone averse me can actually be quite grateful for certain scientific advancements. I wonder how I would have fared up until 150 years ago (when deodorants were first introduced), when body odours were par for the course of human relationships, and they were masked rather than eliminated.
Now we can choose between antiperspirants and deodorants: the former work by closing or blocking the pores with powerful astringents such as aluminum salts so that they can’t release sweat, while the latter work by neutralizing the smell of the sweat and by antiseptic action against bacteria, and mostly contain alcohol.
When I first moved to the States, I experienced what most Europeans (and probably immigrants from less affluent countries) go through: paralysis inside the city-block sized stores brought upon the unfamiliarity with the merchandise and an obscene amount of choice. Soon, the litany of what one is missing from the homeland starts, usually aimed at food. My mother reminds me of it every Summer, when I am forced to listen, over and over, to complaints ranging from the plastic ricotta to the chewy bread, from the tasteless apples to the mystifying array of chile peppers. After nearly twenty years, in my new-found “Americaness”, I beg to differ and I point out all the exotic fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market that don’t exist in Europe, and the Armenian shop that imports the same exact mortadella she eats at home.
But two common items I never gave much thought to when I lived in Italy or Britain still whiff of backwardness here in the States: pantyhose and deodorant. For the rare times I do need to wear pantyhose – when? you are probably wondering – I am forced to shell out disproportionate amounts of cash vs. quality. The run of the mill varieties are next to un-wearable: shiny or coarse or too loose, while for $10 you can find excellent and durable tights anywhere in Europe, so I always load up when I go. As to deodorants, I started a smuggling operation that has involved every European who has come to visit. At any given time, I store about 15 deodorants in my bathroom.
America seems to favor the roll-on or stick types that leave unwanted residue on the skin and/or yellowish stains on clothing. When aerosol was found to negatively impact the atmosphere in the 1970s, and subsequently banned, the US introduced solid deodorants exclusively, while those crafty Europeans designed a way to spray molecules without the use of harmful gas, a method very much in use here too, for many other products, just not deodorants.Not to put a finer point on it, but sprays are much lighter on the skin and don’t stain quite as much. And just as inexpensive. My favourite Dove can be found at any European supermarket for 3 euros.
The reason for this treatise on deodorants is that I recently read that Dove is getting ready to introduce my prized possession to the US market. Apparently, I am not the only one running a one-way smuggling operation, and Unilever took notice. Ladies, if you reside in America, your life is about to change. The packaging is a bit fancier and the descriptions more lavish but, despite the revolutionary technology that is being touted, it’s the same product, the same technology they have been using in Europe for two decades (my favourite is the grey top, which is fragrance free – and no, Dove is not paying us but they should after this endorsement).
As to the link between deodorant and breast cancer, it has been amply disproved, after a plethora of scientific studies debunked the myth. No reason to use any natural products unless your pH is perfectly balanced or your suffer from contact dermatitis, often brought on by alcohol.
It looks like I am on my way to live a fully integrated American life, finally leaving my last-standing European quirks behind. If anyone out there knows of reasonably priced pantyhose of good quality, please speak your truth. If you, too, are unhappy, I am starting another smuggling operation, and I am taking orders.