All-Natural Deodorant Versus a Hot, Wet, New York City Summer Commute

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Anyone who has walked through Grand Central from the main concourse to the exit at 47th street and Madison avenue knows the fabled heat and humidity of a long hallway called the Northwest Passage. Unpleasantly warm even on the coldest winter day, the Northwest passage is a nightmare during the summer for anyone hoping to get to the office feeling dry, fresh, and good about themselves.

It just so happens I was walking to work through that very same Northwest passage, wearing my raincoat. It was hot and rainy, and I was doing something I can only describe as a commuter-powerwalk on my very first day trying Hoppin’ Fresh, the all-natural deodorant from Ursa Major. Before arriving in this hot, wet passage, I had spent 40 minutes on a hot, wet train. Normally I would have removed my raincoat, but this was a test, and I didn’t want to pull any punches.

My general understanding was that an all-natural deodorant would not work for me, but Ursa Major had gotten some good press from places like Outside, Gear Junkie, GQ, and Esquire, so I decided to give Hoppin’ Fresh a try. Still, as someone who regularly depended upon high-performance, synthetic antiperspirants, this was not the delightful, airy day I had hoped for. At least I would get a quick answer about whether or not this stuff could hold up under extreme conditions. I made sure my jacket was zipped all the way.

Earlier that morning, in my centrally air-conditioned bedroom, I read the ingredients on Hoppin’ Fresh. It has something called kaolin clay which, “absorbs excess moisture and eliminates unpleasant odors.” Given my history of sweating through almost everything, I assumed this kaolin clay would be begging for mercy by the time I arrived at the office. I love natural products. I buy organic fruits and veggies, and my wife and I give our dog all-natural food and treats. I would use all-natural everything if I could, but it seemed to me that the efficacy of nature had its limits. The reason they build space shuttles out of metal instead of plants is the heat, so it’s no coincidence that most antiperspirants also contain metal: aluminum. Not only can aluminum be found wrapping leftover slices of pizza in refrigerators around the world, but it’s also found in brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. I have no quarrel with leftover pizza storage techniques, but Alzheimer’s is worrisome.

Notwithstanding impending dementia, I expected my first day with Hoppin’ Fresh to be my last, and that it would go something like this: apply in the morning, begin commuting, try not to break a sweat along the way, start sweating uncontrollably, get smelly, and then rescue myself and my co-workers with my regular, professional-grade antiperspirant/deodorant combination, which I packed in my work bag just in case. At the office, I planned to greet my colleagues by issuing a friendly warning, “just so you know, I’m trying an all-natural deodorant today.” They would undoubtedly respond with sympathetic and skeptical facial expressions. “Don’t worry, I brought a backup,” I would reassure them.

In The Princess Bride, there’s a scene in which Princess Buttercup falls into quicksand. Wesley jumps in to save her, and they’re both submerged in sand for what feels like an eternity before suddenly breaking the surface, gasping for air. This is how I emerged from the jungle-like microclimate of the Northwest passage onto 47th street, but I still had five blocks to walk above ground in the rain, so I pushed hard through the streets.

At the office, I issued my aforementioned warnings about natural deodorant, and went to the men’s room to check things out. What I discovered bewildered me and dealt a blow to my ego. I was hot, my shoes, socks, pants, and shoulders were wet, but my under arms were dry and fresh. I simply couldn’t sweat through that kaolin clay, or anything else in Hoppin’ Fresh, even under those extreme commuter conditions.

I made sort of a big deal about it with people at the office. Some were impressed. Others grew weary of hearing about my armpits.

At the end of the day it was still raining and hot, so I zipped up my rain jacket and charged back through the streets, through the Northwest Passage, and took another wet, hot train home. When I got there, I asked my wife if I smelled. She said no from a distance. I got closer. Still no complaints. Then I asked her to do something I could ask of no one else, “Will you smell my arm pits?” She shrugged and went in. “Lemons, mint,” she said.

That was over a month ago. Since then I’ve been using Hoppin’ Fresh every day, during morning runs, hikes, meetings, and an outdoor job interview in the middle of the day during July. Everything has a limit, I’m sure of it, but I haven’t yet found one for Hoppin’ Fresh.

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