On my desk I have a notebook with a list of topics I’m planning to cover for the blog. I’m always adding quicker than I’m able to cross off. Some ideas live there for months – perhaps the research takes a long time, the season isn’t quite right, the idea still incubating. Other ideas jump right to the top of the queue, popping on and off the pad in a day because I want to get the idea onto the blog immediately.
I have had “natural deodorant” scribbled on that pad for a year.
The reason it’s taken me so long to get this post up is not for lack of focus. Rather, there’s very little existing literature on the topic, and it’s taken me that long to find options that I can credibly recommend. The truth is, the vast majority of natural deodorants on the market are weak-to-useless.
Switching to a natural deodorant from Secret, my chemical-based, commercial-brand anti-perspirant of choice, was a change I felt determined to make. Increasingly, I couldn’t fight logic. Sweat glands perform an important anatomical purpose of purging toxins; it just doesn’t seem right to stop them up with chemicals. But this post isn’t intended to be a debate on that topic. You can look into the studies yourself and decide how you feel about possible links between anti-perspirant chemicals and health problems (cancer, Alzheimer’s and various hormone disruptions). This post is intended to be a guide through the product options for those who want to explore the natural route.
Here’s a refresher course on underarm hygiene to provide some context:
First of all, anti-perspirant and deodorant are two different things.
An anti-perspirant’s function is to prevent perspirating all together. It clogs or blocks the sweat glands with chemical astringents such as aluminum chlorohydrate and zirconium so that the pores can’t release sweat. Typically, anti-perspirants are also coupled with deodorant for maximum freshness. Generally speaking, only chemical plugs will prevent the body from excreting sweat altogether. Some natural deodorants may show some ability to block moisture but there’s no natural anti-perspirant that can keep you as dry as a chemical one.
A deodorant controls odor. It either contains antiseptic (antimicrobial) agents which directly wipe out bacteria or it contains agents that make your underarm skin too salty or acidic for bacteria to live. Fragrance is incorporated to please your nose. To achieve all of this, natural deodorants use natural antiseptic agents and fragrant essential oils. Chemical deodorants use chemical ingredients (such as triclosan) to neutralize odor-causing bacteria, and synthetic fragrances, dyes, and preservatives.
I wouldn’t earn my blogging stripes without doing my research first-hand, so over the past year, I’ve sampled my way through a multitude of natural deodorants. I don’t think I offended anyone too badly during the last year, although there were some pretty impressive product fails before I stumbled across the wins.
Before I get to the picks, here are some things to consider when making the switch from synthetic to natural:
1. There’s an adjustment period: In my earliest phase of research, I asked my dermatologist (at Northwestern, legit) if I should worry about Secret’s hazardous chemicals being absorbed into my underarm lymphnodes. His response? “Yeah, it’s not good.” Then I followed up with “could you recommend an alternative?” In an unusual moment of doctor candor, he said “Actually, I don’t wear anything. After a while, you kind of stop smelling.” I left his office wondering if he offered wisdom or self-deception. My conclusion, some months later, was that he was onto something. Since switching to natural I’ve noticed a reduction in my body’s sweat production.
You may also experience a peak in sweating right after switching to a natural deodorant. You’ve been using chemicals for a long time so your body has had to work harder to try to expel toxins. When you switch over you may experience excess sweat and odor. Wait it out – you’ll likely notice that the body figures out your product change and cuts back on the overproduction.
2. Don’t be afraid of a little sweat: First of all, sweat doesn’t stain your clothes. That’s a big mis-conception. Yellow stains are actually caused by the aluminum-based ingredients in your anti-perspirant upon interaction with your sweat. A natural deodorant can effectively eliminate odor and won’t leave stains, but it’s likely you will still experience some moisture, and you know what? It’s not that big of a deal.
3. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution: people are different, and their body chemistries are different based on genetics and environmental factors. Your own sweating habits may fluctuate enormously based on exercise, diet, hormones, and seasons. This means you may have to try a few before finding your personal best fit.
4. Tricks of the trade:
• If you extinguish any lingering bacteria before applying your natural deodorant, it will give your natural deodorant the best chance of working longer. The quick approach: rinse your armpits with an anti-bacterial soap right before applying deodorant. If you’d rather your skin not have contact with the chemicals in anti-bacterial soap (understandable – many of them, like triclosan, are the same ones you are trying to avoid in chemical deodorants), there are excellent natural options. Soak a cotton pad in white vinegar, apple cider vinegar or witch hazel and pat underarms with it. This will lower the skin’s PH to a level at which bacteria cannot survive. Grain alcohol is also an effective, safe option to eliminate bacteria (rubbing alcohol has some other harsh stuff in it that I wouldn’t want to apply to my skin regularly).
• The best time to apply deodorant is at night when sweat production is at its lowest. The ingredients in your natural deodorant can really coat the skin and get a head start on the next day. Apply the following morning too.