Do deodorants work, or is freshness simply a matter of how often you wash? For our panel, finding out was no sweat

Sue Webster
Saturday 15 June 1996 23:02

IT WAS the Americans who first developed and popularised the use of underarm deodorants in the Fifties - just as they had pioneered the cleaner, sleeker Wasp aesthetic of shaved underarms for women 30 years earlier. Significantly, in our decision to test modern deodorants for their relative effectiveness, we started out with the assumption that they were an essential everyday grooming product. By the end of the trial, however, a seed of doubt had been sown in the minds of our testers. They were unable to detect much variation in the ability of the different products to halt perspiration and/or neutralise body odour. In the end, they began to wonder whether the period of time that elapsed between washing was a more significant factor than the application of any deodorant.


We used an unusually large panel of testers (the effects of some products are claimed to last for an astonishing 15 days, making testing a time- consuming task). We also required some people to use no deodorants at all during the test period as a control measure. The testers were Jeremy Spooner, Shelley Grobler, Nick Raffin, Justin Silk, Donald Hudd, Philippa Yeoman, Rhys Jones, Ruth Rose, Anthony Barlow and myself.


We engaged in every sweaty pursuit we could think of to put the products under pressure: cycling, working out at the gym, jogging, gardening, dancing, football, playing in a jazz band, even attending nerve-wracking meetings. As well as the products' effectiveness, we were considering aesthetics, ease of use and economy.


pounds 2.95 for 85ml

Bicarbonate of soda is allegedly a natural, salt-based anti-perspirant agent, but it may require some re-education of consumers before it is accepted as a crucial ingredient in deodorants. Jeremy Spooner said it made him feel he could probably cook up something similar on the stove himself. Rhys Jones said he couldn't dissociate it from something his mum used for "baking bread and curing wind." This unscented roll-on was deemed pleasant to use and perfectly effective, but most testers said they preferred perfumed deodorants. "I can't trust a deodorant that doesn't smell," one wrote; another pointed out that the absence of fragrance made it hard to remember whether you had applied the product or not.


pounds 3.19 for 100ml

Recently re-launched, this roll-on with a "non-descript fragrance" looks and sounds masculine, but had been tried before by two female testers, one of whom recalled developing a rash. Like many anti-perspirants, Mitchum relies on aluminium salts to maintain dryness; some testers were worried that absorption through the skin might have the same possible link to Alzheimer's disease as aluminium saucepans. Our local pharmacist dispelled this rumour, saying: "It depends on the base in which the aluminium is suspended; it's doubtful any well-developed product would contain the metal in an absorbable form". The name Mitchum, meanwhile - with its connotations of an old movie star - drew scorn from several quarters. "Why not call it after a modern actor, Willis, for example?" suggested Jeremy Spooner. I felt a distinct stinging when I started to sweat. Mitchum is meant to allow you to "skip a day", and it did. We later wondered, though, whether deo-dorant is essential every day anyway.


pounds 7.95 for 12.5g

This aptly named deodorant cream from Israel is aluminium-free, contains many natural herbal ingredients, requires only the amount of a tear drop to be applied and can last for up to 15 days. For all these reasons it was voted our clear winner, though it initially met with most resistance because of its astonishingly high price (for a very tiny pot). Our testers "could not believe" that it would be possible to wash with soap and water every day and for the deodorant to remain in place. They were sceptical, too, about the claim that people with unshaved armpits could apply the cream only to the hairs, not the skin. The results were "amazing", however. After 10 days, Shelly Grobler declared herself "still puzzled, but completely converted". She hadn't reapplied Trust during that period, but couldn't detect the faintest whiff of body odour. Anthony Barlow said it was "weird, because I normally sweat a lot" and Nick Raffin commented on Trust's "great value", since "at this rate you only have to buy it twice a year". The reason it remains largely unknown, we decided, must be due to an incomprehension of the product and the satisfaction people take in daily ablutions, including use of a deodorant.


pounds 1.89 for 150ml

The only deodorant tested in aerosol form, this prettily packaged, new addition to the well-known Mum range was predictably preferred by testers who normally use aerosols ("quicker drying") and disliked by roll-on fans ("freezing cold and goes everywhere"). Our pharmacist pointed out that roll-ons are safer because the application is more controlled: "You tend to ingest the vapour from aerosols." The "laurel" fragrance was thought pleasant by both sexes and "lasted all day". The Botanicals range is also available in roll-on form.


pounds 2.29 for 50ml

Tea tree oil (a natural anti-bacterial agent also used in skincare) is the key ingredient in this product, which comes in the form of an attractive, see-through roll-on dispenser. It turned out to be our only serious disappointment. T-Zone doesn't smell of tea tree oil, but of washing-up liquid. As there is no list of ingredients, many testers supposed them to be "ghastly chemicals" (Philippa Yeoman). The small bottle size makes it expensive, and the texture of the deodorant is sticky. "Disgusting," said Jeremy Spooner, who likened it to "melting a bin liner under your arm". It works, but who wants to walk around the bedroom holding their arms up in the air for five minutes?


pounds 2.29 for 50ml

This "dry cream" in a new mushroom dispenser met with a mixed reception. While Justin Silk and Jeremy Spooner declared it their favourite, associating its smell and creamy texture with "something soothing, even child-like," Rhys Jones found that applying the cream (through a hole in the plastic top) resulted in a "gluey cream" stuck to both underarm hair and the dispenser, which he had to clean off with a tissue. Female testers were also unconvinced. "I applied it with my fingers," said Ruth Rose, "as the mushroom thing is horrid."


pounds 10 for 100ml

This was our one luxury deodorant - an example of a fragrance (in this case Eau Dynamisante) which is marketed in deodorant form. It is expensive, but it benefits from successful branding; all the female testers were impressed by the name Clarins and praised the translucent red bottle with its satisfying pump-action spray. As it is labelled "doux" (gentle,) the men thought it might not work, but its citrussy scent lingered throughout the day. Like aerosol deoderants, its application is inaccurate. Though Ruth Rose pointed out that Clarins scents the room nicely, other testers felt certain that it wouldn't last for long. "It makes a lovely gift," commented Philippa Yeoman, "and it's cheaper than buying the perfume."


All products available from Boots.

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