I apologise beforehand, but this post is not going to be particularly pleasant reading. I’ve wanted to write about this topic for some while, because it is about something that really bothers me on a daily basis. Sweat, yes, I’m going to write about my sweaty armpits. Sorry, folks!
Since I have been making my own clothes, I have been far more mindful about how I treat them. I admit shamefully that I was prone to leaving clothes on the bedroom floor (how slovenly!), but now I try to gather them up and leave them on the chair. Having new clothes that I cherish, because I made them myself, has also made me worry far more about ruining clothes by spilling something down them or snagging them. I suppose there is only so far you can go to avert these disasters, otherwise I would just walk around in a big waterproof overall all day.
There is one aspect of caring for my clothes, though, that continues to irk me. This is that my clothes are ruined by underarm stains. The stains are an unsightly yellowish colour on my pale or white-coloured tops. I maintain that I am not a sweaty person, far from it, I consider that I only break into a sweat when it is really hot or when I have been exercising hard. But, I have to work in an office environment where the temperature is invariably between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius all year round. It is very stuffy and when I open the door, I get the same assault of heat that you get when you exit an aeroplane at a Southern European destination having just flown from the UK. It also only just smells acceptable; there is a slight smell of confined bodies in the office whatever the time of year.
Is this normal for an office environment? I never have my home at these temperatures; I usually prefer between 18 degrees and 20 degrees. Occasionally I try to adjust the temperature in the office by turning up the air-conditioning or opening the window, but there is always someone else closing the window and turning down the air-conditioning, two seconds afterwards. I’m trying hard to live with the heat.
What about my colleagues? I have wanted to ask my colleagues about how they feel about the office environment, but I have been a complete coward. Of course, some of them moan about the temperature of the office and some don’t. But I haven’t discussed the topic of sweating with them (too personal by far). Looking around the office each morning, there are those in short-sleeved tops whatever time of the year it is and those in shirts and jumpers all year round. My colleagues seem to have unique responses to the environment.
I think what does annoy me, is that it is an entirely unnecessary and wasteful problem. Not only is energy being wasted super-heating the office, but I’m consuming more energy as a consequence; laundering my clothes more, replacing my clothes more and trying to prevent myself from smelling by using more and more toiletries.
The question is, what am I going to do about this problem? First of all, I’ve decided to try to keep a work uniform, wearing a limited number of tops, mostly my older ones, for work. This way, my new, hand-made creations will have a happier, less abused life. The problem with this is that I spend 3-4 days in the office every week. I’ll be wearing these tops for half my life! I’m ashamed that I’m thinking of wearing my worst clothes to the one place where I’m expected to look my best. Perhaps when the old tops have finally worn out and turned into dusters, I’ll make a few easy uniform tops for work, which I don’t care about. However, you can never tell when you make a top you adore. In fact, I find that it takes a few wears before I decide whether a garment is a winner or a loser. And if the item is a winner I want to keep it as long as possible and wearing it at work won’t help that.
Before we begin, I thought some definitions would be needed so we are clear about the difference between antiperspirants and deodorants. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different.
Antiperspirants attempt to stop or significantly reduce perspiration and thus reduce the moist climate in which bacteria thrive. Aluminium compounds are commonly used. Aluminium chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate, and aluminium-zirconium compounds, in particular aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly and aluminium zirconium trichlorohydrex gly, are frequently used in antiperspirants. Historically too, ammonium alum, containing Aluminium has been used throughout history in Thailand, the Far East, Mexico and other countries.
Deodorants are designed to eliminate odour. Deodorants may be alcohol-based, which temporarily kills bacteria. Deodorants may also contain antimicrobials such as triclosan or metal chelant compounds that slow bacterial growth.
Back to the stains on my tops, I wasn’t really sure what caused the yellow under-arm discoloration, whether it is sweat or deodorant. The stains only occur on those which I wear during the day. I have a number of very old t-shirts I wear in bed and despite two of them being over 10 years old they are still white and there is no yellowing. Younger “day”-tops acquire the stains after very little time, perhaps only after a few wears. According to Wikipedia, aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly, can react with sweat to create yellow stains on clothing. So perhaps I should avoid products with this ingredient?
I’ve tried a number of deodorants and antiperspirants over the last eight months. Just to clarify, I am in no way endorsing any one of these products, just trying to save my clothes and feel as comfortable as I can in my work environment. I have chosen a range of products commonly available on the high street. I tried to choose products with different application methods and active ingredients too.
The Products Tested
Name of Product: Palmolive Soft and Gentle
Active ingredient: Not sure, as I haven’t bought this for a while and I couldn’t find it in the shop to check ingredients, most likely an Aluminium compound.
Effective time period: 24 hour
Verdict: Not good at all, it may reduce odour and sweat, but is far off the mark for coping with a full-day at work.
Name of Product: Nivea anti-perspirant Invisible
Active ingredient: Aluminium chlorohydrate
Effective time period: 48 hours
Verdict: My main reason for choosing this product was that I thought it would stain my clothes less and it claims it is effective for 48 hours. I do believe the “invisible” claim as it doesn’t leave any white marks on clothing when you apply it. Not that I found that very irritating since these marks were always easy to brush off anyway. I’m not sure if it makes any difference when it comes to the “yellow” underarm stains.
Generally the product isn’t particularly good. It’s not effective for one full working day, let along the 48 hours claim.
Name of Product: Trust
Active ingredient: Triclocarban (antimicrobial)
Effective time period: 4 days
Verdict: This works. It only claims to work against odour and it does that admirably for about 4 days. I wore this on my flight to America earlier this year and although jet-lagged on arrival at least I didn’t feel like I hadn’t washed for a week. We did have an extra unforeseen stop in Toronto on the outward flight and we weren’t able to retrieve our luggage for our overnight stay. So all in all it was a good 48 hours to get to San Francisco. This deodorant feels the most natural and as I’m not a particularly sweaty person this is probably all that I would need to use outside the office for most of the year. Applying the cream is a bit annoying, but then it’s only once every 4 days.
Name of Product: Mitchum Advanced Control
Active ingredient: Aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly
Effective time period: 48 hours
Verdict: This works. I don’t smell, and only slight sweat is noticeable. I would say also that the 48-hour time-period is an accurate claim. Only downside is that my armpits end up feeling itchy and there feels like a residue that washes off when I have a shower in the morning.
I have been using a combination of the Trust and the Mitchum for a while. I use the Trust outside work and when I have to go to the office I use the Mitchum. I feel less aware of my sweatiness now. I must admit though, that I still don’t feel comfortable in the office. It is still way too hot. If I happen to feel tired on a particular day, I almost feel myself dozing off in the afternoon; I really have to work hard at maintaining some sort of alertness during the day. Plenty of fluids help!
There are still lots of products that I haven’t tried. From my research I have found that the active ingredients in deodorants / antiperspirants in most products are aluminium salts (see above). Aluminium is not as toxic as heavy metals, but there is evidence of some toxicity if it is consumed in amounts greater than 40 mg/day per kg of body mass. A small percentage of people are allergic to aluminium and experience contact dermatitis upon contact with products containing aluminium, such as antipersipirants. Although research done on aluminium and its carcinogenic effects doesn’t prove conclusive, it strangely still considered a safe practice for pregnant women or cancer survivors to use an non-aluminium deodorant.
It would be good to explore some “natural” deodorants as well, so I’m going to explore what the local health food shops have to offer. I have even found a recipe for a homemade deodorant on the internet using baking soda. I’ll let you know how I get on. I still think that there is much to explore in this area.