Au Naturel: On Making the Switch to Natural Deodorant

It’s not something I want to readily admit, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve been prone to heavy underarm sweating. I was in sixth grade the very first time I used deodorant, a heavily perfumed stick of Teen Spirit (“just for teens, by Mennen!”). For all of my teenage years I was so fearful of smelling bad, I remember fixatedly applying deodorant countless times throughout the day, building up a white slick that unsurprisingly seeped into my clothing and resulted in the wet marks I’d been trying so hard to avoid.

I sometimes wonder: had I not obsessively slathered my underarms with commercial deodorants and antiperspirants all those long years, would I not sweat as heavily as I have during my adult life? Even as recently as 2011, the year my husband and I were married, I turned to clinical strength antiperspirant to ensure the day’s events didn’t leave me a stinky, drippy mess.

I’d guess that on some level, we all know that conventional deodorants (which mask odor with fragrances) and antiperspirants (which stop you from sweating altogether) aren’t very good for us. For one, our bodies are designed to sweat. Sweating is how we regulate our body temperate. When our sweat glands are activated, they secrete moisture on the skin, and that moisture – or less glamorously, sweat – is evaporated by our body heat, thereby cooling our skin.

What’s more, our lymphatic system works to clear our bodies of waste products and toxins, and one of the ways it does so is through perspiration.

But here’s the kicker: sweat itself has no odour! It’s not until the proteins and fats cells excreted through our sweat mingle with the bacteria on our skin that we begin emitting the ripe stank of au de body odour. 

While commercial deodorants don’t prevent us from sweating, they do contain chemicals designed to kill the bacteria on our skin that result in odour.  Conversely, antiperspirants function by using aluminum compounds to temporarily plug our sweat glands and prevent moisture altogether.

Now, let’s think about the fact that our underarms (and groin!) contain the highest concentration of lymph nodes within the body, with approximately 20 to 40 lymph nodes in each armpit. And, if you’re female, chances are good that you regularly shave your underarms. When we apply deodorant and antiperspirant, we are continually exposing the many lymph nodes in our cleanly shaven pits to the chemicals contained in those products.

But how bad can they be, really?

Most of us have heard reports linking the ingredients in commercial deodorants and antiperspirants to breast cancer, and while there remains limited scientific evidence proving this to be the case, it’s still important to consider what it is exactly we’re exposing our bodies to on a daily basis.

For instance, you were probably already aware that the aluminum contained in antiperspirants is linked to a variety of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s, bone disease and kidney disease.

Did you know these products also commonly contain parabens - methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben - which are synthetic compounds used as preservatives, as well as phthalates (sometimes identified on labels as “fragrance”), which are plasticizing chemicals meant to make a product softer? Both parabens and phthalates are what are known as endocrine disruptors, meaning they accumulate in the body and interfere with the production and regulation of hormones. Endocrine disruptors are said to negatively impact the body’s developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune response functions, resulting in a wide range of health issues.

Commercial deodorants and antiperspirants also regularly contain triclosan, an antibacterial and preservative ingredient added to deodorants (and other personal care products!) to stop the growth of bacteria that leads to body odour. Not only is triclosan said to negatively impact hormone function, it may have a role to play in the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

None of this is to say that commercial deodorants and antiperspirants will or will not have a definitively negative impact on your body and your health. Rather, we like to think about it in terms of looking at where we can simplify our self-care practice and reduce the toxic burden on our bodies. Switching from a commercial deodorant or antiperspirant to a more natural product is an easy way to lessen the toxic load.

Easy, you say?

Well, maybe not cake-walk-easy.

Okay, listen up: we know natural deodorants have a bad rap. I’ve tried a slew of natural deodorants in my endeavours to clean up my personal care routine, from traditional stick-style deodorants to messy spray-ons, from crystals of salt to smearing goop directly in my pits.

I know speaking from my own experience that it seems natural deodorants just can’t compare with their chemically-laden counterparts, and to be fair, this is partly true. Cleaning a scummy tub with Clorox over vinegar will probably make it easier, but we don't necessarily want to inhale bleach fumes every time we get a'cleaning, catch our drift?

One thing we can easily forget when transitioning to cleaner, more natural products is that there’s an inevitable adjustment period that takes place. After a week or two of switching straight to natural deodorant from your clinical strength formula, you might notice that suddenly you’re sweatier and stinkier than ever before, and that stick of deodorant you held with such promise is shoved to the back of the cupboard to languish and expire with its other deserted brethren. 

But wait! This period of ultra-stank and icky sweatiness doesn’t mean the natural deodorant has somehow failed you! No ma’am, it’s your body doing exactly what it should have been doing all along – ridding your body of waste by perspiring! And this can be a dramatic process during those first few weeks of transitioning, as your sweat glands slowly begin to restore their natural balance. 

Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can help support – and hopefully quicken – the process! First, make sure you’re keeping your armpits nice and clean by properly lathering them with soap in the bath or shower. Limiting the ability of bacteria to feed off your sweat = less chances of stank.

Staying hydrated is also key to helping flush your body of toxins and ensuring you are sweating optimally, while being mindful of what you eat can also minimize the likeliness of body odour (try to limit alcohol, caffeine, brassica family vegetables and sulfur-rich foods like onions and garlic). Wearing natural, breathable fabrics also helps lessen perspiration and odour. 

If you find as you’re making the switch that the dreaded stankiness has still withstood your efforts to keep it at bay, the simplest thing to do is wash those pits again with soap and water, pat them dry and reapply your deodorant. Sometimes trying a mask with bentonite clay and activated charcoal (like our Smoky Cauldron Face Mask) can also help to usher along the adjustment period.

And before we forget, a common complaint with natural deodorants is that they often cause an irritated rash. If this has been your experience, it’s likely you’re sensitive to baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, a common ingredient in natural deodorants that can easily disrupt the skin’s pH. You’re bound to have better success with a formula free of baking soda (it just so happens our Flower Power Natural Deodorant fits the bill!).

 All this sounds complicated, you say? We assure you that once you make it through the adjustment period, you’re won't regret the benefits of making the switch…

  • As your sweat glands naturally restore their natural balance, you'll begin to notice how much less sweaty and stinky you are in general!
  • The ingredients in natural deodorants nourish the skin, which means less irritation, especially when it comes to shaving those pits!
  •  Natural deodorants don't stain and ruin your clothes like the commercial products, woohoo!
  • Your body will cherish no longer being exposed to the icky chemicals that make up commercial deodorants and antiperspirants!
  • You get to preach to the disbelievers that natural deodorants actually work, yo!

Ready to give it a go? Our aluminum-free Flower Power Natural Deodorant is designed to combat odour with a powerful blend of antibacterial essential oils, including cypress, tea tree, rosemary and neem, as well as a hydrating blend of moisturizers, including sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, shea butter and vitamin E.

Try it. We dare ya!

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