When transitioning into a more natural lifestyle and upgrading your personal care with natural and organic products, deodorant can be the most impactful – but also the most frustrating – place to start. The reasons for tossing your conventional deodorant or antiperspirant are overwhelming, and often quite scary. The aluminum that makes antiperspirants work the way they do has been linked to a host of dangers, from increased risk of breast cancer, to neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, to overall DNA damage.
But it doesn’t stop there! Conventional skin care products commonly contain ingredients known to be hormone disruptors, reproductive, neurological, and immune system toxins, and even substances that to contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance. Luckily, there are more natural and organic personal care options available now than ever before, so you’re no longer stuck with only a few choices or mediocre DIY recipes. There is a solution for you, it may just take a little experimentation and patience to find it.
If you’re struggling to make the switch to natural deodorant, not to mention amassing a collection of once-used products that failed after a few hours or didn’t work at all, these 7 tips will clear up the confusion about why natural deodorants sometimes fail, and give you some tried-and-true techniques for making the transition easy and (mostly) odour-free. Let’s start with the most common assumption about making the switch: the dreaded adjustment period.
1. WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT “DETOXING” MY ARMPITS?
If you’ve been using conventional deodorant for years – and especially if you’ve been using antiperspirant – you will most likely go through an adjustment period of 1-2 weeks while your body simultaneously adjusts to the absence of that familiar chemical cocktail and flushes out the toxins that have built up in your tissues and lymph nodes.
Don’t underestimate the power of water to encourage the release of accumulated toxins – drinking more water when you make the switch can shorten your adjustment period substantially. Also, dry brushing is an excellent way to boost circulation and support the process of detoxification. Any exercise that gets you sweating will help too.
If you’re ditching antiperspirant for the first time, it’s all about managing expectations. You’ll most likely notice a little more sweat and odour at first. This is normal. The longer your body’s natural process of regulating temperature and expelling the stuff it doesn’t need has been blocked, the longer it may take to restore it’s natural balance (up to 2 weeks). But don’t be discouraged! Given the risks associated with conventional deodorants and antiperspirants, the potential annoyance is well worth the effort.
And with the following tips, you might just be pleasantly surprised at how easily you get through it.
2. THE GOLDILOCKS DILEMMA
Not too much. Not too little. Just enough. We have a tendency to assume that we need to apply “extra” since natural deodorants have a reputation for being less effective than conventional deodorants and antiperspirants. But that extra due diligence could be your downfall: using double or triple the recommended application can actually make matters worse by reducing absorption and allowing the excess product to trap odour-causing bacteria against your skin.
Plus, many natural deodorants contain ingredients that can actually feed bacteria – personally, I’ve found that shea butter and certain plant oils actually reduce the effectiveness of my formulas! This is not to say that any natural deodorant containing shea butter won’t work; it all depends on the formula and striking the right balance between too much and too little application. Experiment with smaller amounts at first, increasing in small increments.
Also consider the day ahead – the weather, your planned activities, anticipated stresses – and adjust accordingly until you get a reliable sense of what works for you. Keeping a little natural deodorant on hand is a great idea, for those times when you may need to reapply on the go (this is where mini sizes come in handy!)
3. APPLICATION IS EVERYTHING
While conventional deodorants may have zero problem covering up existing odour and battling a less-than-optimal underarm environment, natural deodorant usually requires a little more care when it comes to application conditions.
Wash your underarms with warm water and natural soap (if you use soap) and make sure your skin is thoroughly dry – any leftover dampness can really reduce how well your deodorant absorbs into your skin, thereby reducing it’s effectiveness. Also, be sure to let the product absorb fully. Some natural deodorant sticks work better when you apply a few swipes and rub the product in with your fingertips. While you may need to reapply later in the day without washing again, chances are your deodorant won’t be quite as effective the second time around, so try to adjust your expectations: if you can get 8 hours out of the first application on clean and dry underarms, you may only get 4-6 odour-free hours from a second no-prep application.
If you use a cream deodorant that is applied with your fingers, make sure to wash your hands well (this also helps preserve the life of the product by keeping dirt and bacteria out of the jar). For stick deodorants, washing before application is especially important since you’re pressing it right against your skin – you don’t want to contaminate it with built-up skin cells and bacteria, since that can make your next application less effective.
4. SWITCH IT UP
I hear you: But Jeannine, I just found this awesome natural deodorant that works, and now you’re telling me to stop using it? Well, yes and no.
Most natural skin care companies use a similar base formula with a few different essential oil blends, just like Equilibria’s High Five! Natural Deodorant comes in Lavender Lemongrass or Tea Tree Clary Sage. When you find a product that works for you, check to see if it comes in other scents or forms (e.g. cream, stick, spray) and rotate your selection every few months. Switching up the essential oil blends and/or the form of deodorant you’re using seems to prevent your body from “getting used to” any one formula. The evidence for this technique is purely anecdotal – I don’t know why it works, but it does. Plus, you get to enjoy a little essential-oil-aroma variety!
5. WEAR NATURAL FABRICS
For most of us pursuing a natural lifestyle, clothing is often the last switch we consider – let’s face it, swapping out your basic skin care products is a hell of a lot easier than swapping out your entire wardrobe. But when it comes to optimizing the effectiveness of your natural deodorant, clothing can be a game-changer. Light, breathable fabrics like cotton, hemp, and wool go a long way towards letting your deodorant get the job done. Synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, and lycra typically block airflow, creating a nice and cozy environment for odour-causing bacteria to overwhelm your deodorant formula. Give it a fighting chance by choosing more natural, somewhat-loose-knit clothing. Also, layering is a great way to stay comfortable (not to mention stylish!) throughout your day.
6. CONSIDER LIFESTYLE FACTORS
Now we’re getting into the broader reasons why natural deodorant may not work for you. Certain lifestyle factors like what you eat, your stress level, and hormonal fluctuations can absolutely affect the intensity of body-odour. Just like certain foods affect your breath (garlic, anyone?), certain foods can intensify your natural musk. In general, a whole foods diet heavy on the vegetables and light on refined carbohydrates (including sugar) works to promote balance throughout the body in myriad ways far beyond regulating body odour. So if you find that your natural deodorant works well most of the time, but there are some days when it fails you, the reason may not be as random as it seems.
Make a note of what you’re eating on those days and look for patterns or similarities. Perhaps cruciferous vegetables containing sulfur (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) are the culprit? Red meat is known to increase body odour, as is (gasp) that extra glass of wine. If you can pinpoint which foods tend to ramp up your sweat glands or intensify your aroma, at least you can adjust your deodorant regime with one of the other techniques listed here. Knowledge is power, right?
Other factors like hormones and stress can affect body odour too, and they can require a little finesse to manage. Certain hormones fluctuate naturally throughout the day, whereas others shift on a more monthly cycle. Without going full-on scientist and stressing yourself out over determining the exact cause of changes in body odour, it helps to just casually notice what’s going on in your life when your deodorant unexpectedly fails you. Were you super-stressed at work that morning? Didn’t sleep well perhaps? Or maybe you noticed an increase in body odour around the same time last month? This is where your backups come in: try rotating your deodorant if you anticipate a stressful day, or keep a travel size handy for a mid-day touch up.
7. DEALING WITH SKIN SENSITIVITIES
The single most common issue I hear about when it comes to natural deodorant is The Rash. Here’s how the experience typically goes (tell me if this sounds familiar): You try a natural deodorant and, holy crap, it actually works! You’re delighted; you’ve got this naturalista thing down. But after several days of natural odour-free bliss, you notice the appearance of itchy red bumps all over your underarms. It may even be too painful to apply your new deodorant, let alone shave. You’re confused, disappointed, and at worst, panicked – what the hell is this?
This, my friend, is the baking-soda-rash. See, many natural deodorant formulas base the majority of their odour-fighting power on baking soda, which is a great deodorizer for your fridge and home cleaning products, but unfortunately, the quantity necessary to make it work as a topical deodorant is far too much for your skin to handle. Baking soda is alkaline. It ranks 9 out of 14 on the pH scale, whereas your skin is slightly acidic at an average of 5.5 on the pH scale. Using a natural deodorant with a high quantity of baking soda, even for a short time, easily throws off your natural pH balance and your skin reacts unpleasantly, to say the least. While it’s true that some people can handle intense baking soda based deodorants, that’s often because they don’t apply every day.
Most of us experience this reaction at some point or another in our natural deodorant journey. The good news is, the rash will take care of itself within a few days. If you’re in the midst of a baking soda rash right now, you can try to speed up the rebalancing of your skin’s pH level by making a solution of 1 part raw apple cider vinegar (acidic) and 1 part water (neutral) to dab on your underarms with a cotton ball. But please be cautious, because vinegar can sting! Less is more.
The second most common issue is sensitivity to certain essential oils. Underarm skin is very delicate, and while some people will experience a reaction no matter what (due to an allergy), many people find that shaving at night, or at least a few hours before application, greatly reduces the chances of a negative reaction. After all, shaving makes our skin extra sensitive due to the micro-cuts that our razors leave behind. Best practice is to always wait at least 30 minutes between shaving and applying your deodorant.
The solution to either of these issues is to continue experimenting with different formulas. Many natural skin care companies offer deodorants specifically for sensitive skin. For example, Equilibria’s cream deodorant is a low-baking-soda formula that works beautifully for sensitive skin, and the stick version contains zero baking soda for the extra-sensitive. There are options. Try not to freak out and run back to your not-so-safe conventional deodorant – once you find a natural option that works, you’ll be so happy that you stuck it out!
IT’S WORTH THE EFFORT
Ever since I switched to natural deodorant, I can often get by for days deodorant-free, with minimal to zero odour and less sweating overall. Yes, even in the summer. Once your body fully adjusts to life without sweat-blocking synthetics, nasty chemicals, and overly intense antibacterial agents, the natural balancing processes are restored and body-odour tends to become less intense most of the time. As a bonus, the ability to get away with not using deodorant every single day can help to offset the higher cost of truly natural deodorant, since the product lasts longer. The greatest benefit by far, however, is knowing that you’re safeguarding your health.
What about you? Have you struggled with finding a natural deodorant that works? Do you have any tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your natural deodorant, or did one of the techniques listed here work for you? If so, please let me know in the comments!