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Banging out a set of burpees, commuting on a crowded train, or delivering a presentation to a crowd — any of these can leave your underarms damp, if not completely soaked.
Traditional deodorants and antiperspirants are designed to tamp down body odor and moisture, but some contain ingredients that could be harmful, cause irritation, or even make your pits smell worse in the long run. They can even change the pH balance to make your pits bacteria-friendly sweat saunas.
That’s why we’ve got the details on natural deodorants, and a few tips for making your own.
The science behind BO sounds a bit repellent. Your underarms create a warm hangout for bacteria, just like that petri dish in your chemistry class. When you perspire, these bacteria basically eat your moisture. The waste generated from this process creates the odor you associate with sweat.
What’s the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant?
There are a few differences between deodorants and antiperspirants.
Traditional deodorants are formulated to eliminate odor. They typically contain antimicrobial agents or ethanol, which help kill odor-causing bacteria.
Antiperspirants, on the other hand, are formulated to reduce or eliminate sweat. These products use aluminum-based salts to plug up the sweat glands so there’s no moisture for the bacteria to eat.
Most products you find on shelves are actually deodorant-antiperspirant combos, which might sound pretty great. Get rid of the bacteria and the odor, right?
Well, maybe not.
According to a very small study from 2016, these traditional products can alter your skin’s ecosystem, and not necessarily for the better.
The five study participants who didn’t use antiperspirant or deodorant had more Corynebacterium in their underarms.
This common bacterium sets up house in your armpits, along with Staphylococcus, Propionibacterium, and Micrococcus. Corynebacterium produces BO, yes — but it also provides a boost against infections.
Bacteria naturally thrive on your skin. While some of these can make you sick, other “good bacteria” can offer protection against more harmful bacteria and help with other important bodily functions, like digestion.
Using products that kill helpful bacteria could lead to the introduction and growth of new and different bacteria — ones that might cause an even stronger odor, or even affect immune system function.
If you’ve gone ahead and tossed your traditional stick in favor of building a better pit microbiome, you might be wondering what deems a product natural. Besides avoiding synthetic and artificial ingredients, these deodorants commonly have three components:
- ingredients with disinfectant or antibacterial properties, such as coconut oil and tea tree oil
- essential oils like lavender, sandalwood, or bergamot to provide a pleasant scent
- naturally absorbent ingredients like baking soda, arrowroot, or cornstarch to combat moisture
Natural deodorants won’t plug sweat glands like traditional antiperspirants, but they don’t contain the often-worrying ingredient aluminum.
Natural deodorants cover smell, not sweat — and that’s a good thing
Don’t expect the same results as traditional deodorants when switching to a natural product. It could take a few days or weeks for your underarms to rebalance their ecosystem. You can try an armpit detox to potentially speed up the process, but keep in mind that natural deodorants won’t halt sweat. Instead, they’ll work to minimize odor when things heat up.
Generally speaking, you may not want to eliminate your own personal scent signature, anyway.
Most people talk about body odor as a bad thing — but it’s really not. As a matter of fact, your nose also plays a role in who you choose to partner up with.
So, although you might not want to go on a date without showering right after hot yoga, your natural, unmasked scent is totally acceptable in everyday circumstances. And it could just attract a potential partner.
You can buy natural deodorant at most natural food stores, online, or anywhere you might purchase other natural skin care products.
Some popular options include:
- Schmidt’s natural deodorant
- Green Tidings all natural unscented deodorant
- Pretty Frank natural deodorant
Finding the right natural deodorant for you can involve a little trial and error, much like searching for a favorite pair of jeans. That’s because not only does everyone smell differently, but everyone smells differently, too.
According to 2013 research, a unique set of genetic variations affects you perceive scents. You may not like how your natural odor pairs with a patchouli-laced stick, for example, but your sister might love the way it works with her chemistry.
It can help to try a range of scents until you find a natural deodorant that does you right.
Create your homemade deodorant
You can also try making your own, if the online options don’t appeal to you. Try this easy recipe:
- 1/3 cup coconut oil
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1/4 cup arrowroot starch
- 6 to 10 drops of essential oils, if desired
- Mix baking soda and arrowroot.
- Mash in coconut oil until blended. Add essential oils, if desired.
- Place the mixture in an empty glass jar.
- To use, just warm a small amount between your fingers until it turns into liquid. Apply to your armpits.
When making your own natural deodorant, feel free to experiment with different bases, powders, and oils. Shea butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil work well as bases, but you don’t have to have one if you prefer an all-powder formula.
- Combine equal parts baking soda and arrowroot.
- Add your preferred oils.
- Shake to mix.
- Store in an empty spice jar with a shaker top.
Try these natural deodorant alternatives.
Wondering why your BO seems so strong? It could have something to do with your typical diet.
In one 2006 study, 17 men ate a “meat” or “nonmeat” diet for 2 weeks, wearing pads under their armpits to collect samples of body odor. A month later, participants switched diets and repeated the experiment.
A total of 30 women rated the samples on pleasantness, intensity, attractiveness, and masculinity. According to the women, body odor from men eating a nonmeat diet were significantly less intense, as well as more pleasant and more attractive.
In short, frequent red meat consumption could worsen your BO — and make you less appealing to potential partners.
In a similar vein, think about how certain foods like garlic or onion affect your breath. When you sweat, those foods can make your whole body smell a little more potent, too.
Eating more fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, could have a positive impact.
If you use deodorant regularly and still have some concerns about your body odor, it’s not a bad idea to connect with a healthcare professional. Certain illnesses or health conditions can sometimes amp up your odoriferousness.
If you give natural deodorant a try but don’t notice much of a difference, you can also give these BO hacks a whirl.
But at the end of the day, try to remember that sweat and body odor are natural. Don’t let a fear of your natural fragrance keep you from putting your hands in the air and enjoying life.
Jennifer Chesak is a Nashville-based freelance book editor and writing instructor. She’s also an adventure travel, fitness, and health writer for several national publications. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill and is working on her first fiction novel, set in her native state of North Dakota.
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