Deodorant has been the go-to product when it comes to keeping it cool and fresh in the city. Though has it always been that way? Tales from your equally fresh tito to his bagets pamangkin tell a different story—a cruder, more powdery one, one that may shake the very essence of hygiene you hold so dear.
The legend of the OG tawas.
What is alum and how does it actually compare with deodorant? Did it actually fade out of popularity because the latter was actually the better choice? We look at things from both scientific perspective and personal experience to try and find out whether tawas did deserve to seemingly vanish from the mainstream or not.
First off, let's differentiate deodorant and antiperspirant: a deo kills bacteria that grow in your armpits but doesn't prevent your arms from turning into Niagara Falls under the scorching Manila sun. Most mainstream deodorant brands also include chemicals like alum and its many variants that we'll get into later.
The "active ingredient in antiperspirants is usually aluminum based, which reduces sweat by causing obstruction of the eccrine glands" to wherever the product is applied, reads the statement of Matthew J. Zirwas, MD and Jessica Moennich, MD in a study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
Winner: While they do work and last the same, the difference lies in their smell once the products fade. Tawas rarely has any fragrance leaving your armpits in a sort of milky, sweaty mess, while deodorant leaves a bit of aftersmell that could still mask your natural odor. So it's a toss-up between your natural armpit musk and the artificial deo whiff on which smells more pleasant.
Natural versus synthetic
Just because it's labeled "natural" doesn't make it better right away. Some chemicals are used to make stuff work better so don't trust labels so much.
Alum powder is supposed to be pure and untreated, and that's the good stuff. Potassium alum, when mined, is likely to be translucent, which can be bad, as we'll get into next.
Mainstream deodorant uses active ingredients such as aluminum hydroxychloride, aluminum bromohydrate, aluminum sulfate, which are also synthetically manufactured in factories. Is that bad? Licensed chemist Adrian Begonia told FHM in an interview that "they reduce the sweat production in the armpit area to prevent growth of odor-causing bacteria."
Winner: Deodorant doesn't hide the fact that it isn't made of natural ingredients, but at least it states its chemical composition, unlike the sketchy, mystery elements that aren't mentioned in tawas containers. So we'll be giving this round to deo.
Deodorants easily cost over a hundred, to a little under three hundred pesos for large variants. They come in easy-to-carry, sleek packages. Alum on the other hand, at least the ones that are sold here in the Philippines at sari-sari stores, cost as low as ten pesos.
While this is a bargain, remember what we said earlier about the natural stuff being translucent? Have you ever seen translucent tawas? Probably not, because the local version comes in small spreadable powdered crystals that can be confused for baking soda—isn't as natural as it seems.
Winner: Comparing their cost per pahid, Deodorants tend to last you about three months (medium stick) at P100-150, while tawas (medium container) will cost you P27 and will last for the same length of time. Hands down, the winner is tawas.
It usually takes you about ten seconds (or less) to apply deodorant, which is one of its strong points given today's on-the-go lifestyle. Meanwhile, tawas would take some time as it requires a bit of crushing before usage. It also needs moisture for it to spread and not stick to your hands, so it can be quite a hassle to put on.
Winner: Maybe we just aren't as accustomed to using tawas but obviously it would take longer to apply than a five-second roll-on! Winner-winner deo dinner.
Feeling when you squish your armpits
If not spread properly, tawas can be fairly annoying to deal with because of its, erm, crunchyness? The rough "crystal powders" can irritate sensitive armpits.
Deodorant is a dummy-proof way of keeping your armpits fresh. Though because of their chemical composition, some can cause rashes and other skin anomalies, so try out different brands first if you have sensitive skin.
Winner: Unless you're an alum-spreading master, the texture and consistency of the tawas will always be a bit bumpier. That's why we say deodorant should win this one.
There isn't a clear-cut winner for this one, and we can't really say the disappearance of tawas from the mainstream was just because of coincidence. Times are changing and certain things like utility and efficiency just outweigh the cost-effectiveness of older products. But this doesn't mean tawas can't make its return someday, at a time when you can actually bask in the ambiance of yesteryear and stop and smell the crystalline powder from your armpits.