This post first appeared on TheTinLife on 1 September 2020.
“Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires.” — Lao Tzu
Who would’ve thunk it, right? Of all the items we use, surely the deodorant is resolutely single purpose? Well, if you purchase the standard commercial stuff sold in plastic tubes and holders, then yes, I’m afraid there’s only one use for it.
But there’s another way.
The item in question has many identities. Chemically, it’s made of potassium alum, which is derived from plants and minerals. Though it has many popular aliases: alum stone, crystal deodorant, Thai crystal and more.
I’ve been using it for years, initially purchasing the ones packaged in a plastic deodorant holder. But this became messy within a short time, as the crystal shrinks with usage, and would then slip out of its holder. And once it hits the floor, it smashes into pieces. Using smaller pieces doesn’t make it any less efficacious but it renders the holder useless. Also: pointless plastic waste.
In India it’s known as fitkari (and variations thereof – Bengalis call it fitkiri) and available for literally pennies from the most humble of local chemists, though snubbed by the more westernised ones, which only sell mass produced products from multinational conglomerates in shouty, gleaming packaging.
I don’t know why it took me years to switch from the versions in plastic holders (bought at Boots!) to the ones sold in Indian chemists, but I’m so glad I changed over. These work so much better as a deodorant, for one. They’re sold in either uneven chunks or moulded into neat little bars. I’ve used both and both work just as well, it’s just personal preference.
They are minimally packaged – the bars come in a disposable thin layer of polythene; the chunks are sold by weight and usually come in a large plastic resealable bag (I’ve asked my local zero waste shop to stock this, in which case it can be sold without packaging or wrapped in paper). In the bathroom I keep them in a small open dish. The dish collects little dried crystals, which isn’t amazing for my OCD but one quick wipe and they’re gone. While travelling, I use a tin or a travel soap case.
So far so easy.
Now, for its uses.
First, as a deodorant. You need to wet the bar or wet your armpit (or not dry it after a shower), and then rub the bar over the armpit. It should be done many times – this is not the single swipe you’d use for a commercial deodorant. I rub it back and forth a dozen times really quickly – it takes seconds – then rinse the bar, wipe it and put it away.
It’s a deodorant, not an antiperspirant, but I feel strongly that we really shouldn’t stop our sweat from coming out. I spent years being very nervous about my stink factor, partly because of social conditioning that says women shouldn’t sweat, and partly because I’d spent years on steroids and other potent medication that I think upset my internal flora and so I did believe I smelt a bit funny (whatever that meant).
Anyway, I tried every commercial product, it felt like. I tried the usual mainstream ones from CVS and Boots. I tried the expensive organic ones from Whole Foods and Planet Organic. I tried natural home remedies and handmade ones crafted in the right moon phase from farmers markets. And nothing, bar nothing, works as well as the crystal deodorant.
Note: different ones can be varyingly effective, so if the first one doesn’t do the whole business, perhaps see if another “brand” does. I buy the non-branded ones from local Indian chemists and they totally do the job. I still sweat, but I don’t stink, which is amazing considering I live in an intensely humid climate.
The reason it’s sold so cheaply and abundantly in India is because its primary use is actually not as a deodorant, but as an antiseptic for men after shaving. (You know how they say that if men got periods, then pads and tampons would be available widely and cheaply; I think this is kind of like that.)
Because shaving opens up the pores, rubbing the wet crystal over their face afterwards helps ensure the skin is protected while it stops minor cuts from getting infected.
I totally forgot about this until I kept getting cuts on my hands (I play with my building cats, and now I play with paper a lot). I was thinking that perhaps I’d have to buy some antiseptic ointment, which is one of those things I vaguely consider keeping around but then never do. Then I remembered my trusty crystal stone. I used that instead and it worked great.
But wait, there’s a third use of the alum stone. In India, people also use it as a face treatment to tighten their skin. Like the armpit, you wet the face and/or the stone, rub it all over and let it dry naturally. This refreshes the skin, protects it and – apparently – helps keep it firm.
I’m principally against anything “anti-ageing”, so I’m not compelled to use it for this purpose. Although I’ve inherited skin that looks pretty healthy, it is insanely dry and sensitive so I don’t tamper with it in any way except to feed it a lot of (rosehip seed) oil. But on the rare occasion I feel any compulsion to “do” something to my skin, this will be what I’ll reach for to see how it does.
The only drawback I can think of is that you need water to apply it, but as I use it after a shower, this has never been a problem. It may be a bit of a bother if you use it at the gym (remember those? Will anyone go back there again?). Also, I already mentioned that the crystal leaves a residue of fine crystal dust in its wake, so you’ll need to wipe its container periodically. But it doesn’t stain or anything.
Wikipedia lists dozens of uses for it if you’re curious, including water purification, brightening and fastening dyes on fabric, even as a flame retardant!
For travellers like me who roam with only carry-on luggage, this one item really pulls its weight. It’s dry and light. It lasts basically forever (I’d given my mother a bar in 2014 and it’s still going strong some 6.5 years later). It’s natural. It’s relatively low–waste, considering how long it lasts. It’s totally affordable – like four bars for a dollar, and four bars will cover a lifetime.
I just love the idea that this humble natural stone can do so much. It’s basically like Wonder Woman.
“Free yourself from the complexities of your life! A life of simplicity and happiness awaits you.” — Steve Maraboli
Love simple + easy?