Should you make the switch to natural deodorant?
Don't sweat it! Here’s what you need to know.
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One of the main steps in many hygiene routines is applying deodorant to keep armpits dry and odor-free. Yet, with the uptick in “clean” beauty, folks are opting out of chemical-based active ingredients that mainstream antiperspirants offer for deodorant options that mask odor and/or reduce wetness using ingredients with a less controversial reputation, such as essential oils and baking soda. “Clean” beauty brands and, in this case, “natural” deodorants claim to provide similar effectiveness.
But before making the switch, it’s important to understand how deodorant works, so you can better weigh your options.
What are the concerns about conventional deodorant?
First, an odor lesson. When your body heats up from hot weather or exercise, you begin to produce sweat. The common misconception is that sweat is what causes unpleasant odor when, in fact, body odor is a result of sweat mixing with the bacteria that naturally lives on the skin in the armpits.
Conventional deodorants and antiperspirants typically include some chemical-based ingredients. Deodorant protects against odor by masking the smell with perfume or essential oils or killing the odor-causing bacteria with ingredients like ethanol alcohol or other antimicrobials. Antiperspirant tackles sweat by blocking moisture using FDA-regulated aluminum-based compounds. Several of the ingredients in conventional deodorants and antiperspirants have been linked to skin irritation, such as propylene glycol, some parabens, triclosan, and lanolin, says Angie Seelal, a registered physicians assistant at Advanced Dermatology PC, in Long Island, New York.
But most of the weariness that’s associated with conventional deodorant or antiperspirant is the question of whether aluminum-based ingredients may cause health concerns, and even lead to breast cancer, once absorbed into the skin. However, the claims linking breast cancer and aluminum do not have any scientific backing, according to the American Cancer Society via a University of Pennsylvania Medicine study.
What do “natural” deodorants use for active ingredients?
Natural deodorants do away with the harsh chemicals that can possibly cause irritation for those with sensitive skin (assuming they don’t have allergies to them). These products usually contain ingredients like coconut oil, tea tree oil, baking soda, arrowroot, and cornstarch that have antimicrobial benefits, neutralize odor, and/or absorb moisture. A combination of these ingredients can mimic the effects of a conventional antiperspirant or deodorant, but usually do not offer the same strength. Natural deodorants are better at combating body odor than curbing sweat production in the way that an aluminum-containing antiperspirant would. Therefore, you may need to apply natural deodorant more often if you sweat heavily.
Seelal advises that some aluminum-free deodorants may still contain controversial chemicals like triclosan and propylene glycol. Triclosan has been linked to the emergence of bacteria that is resistant to antibacterial products, as well as imbalance of hormone receptors according to a study by Rochester Institute of Technology, while propylene glycol (the binding ingredient that gives the stick its texture) has been linked to skin irritation. Deodorants with natural ingredients like baking soda (as the sweat absorber) and coconut oil (as the binder) are less likely to cause irritation.
How do you switch to a natural deodorant?
When deciding to make the switch from conventional deodorant to a natural one, the first thing you want to do is research and find one that appeals to you and does not include any ingredients you’re trying to avoid or may be allergic to.
You will probably experience a transition period, which some refer to as "purging," because the non-aluminum ingredients don't block up pores as efficiently, and therefore you'll notice more wetness and possibly more odor. This is also often what makes people think that the natural deodorant isn’t working and “can sometimes catch people unknowingly off-guard, which makes them abandon switching to natural deodorant altogether,” Seelal says. Applying your new product more frequently, or trying a few fragrances before landing on the one that works with your body chemistry may remedy this. You may also want to physically exfoliate your underarms weekly using a gentle scrub or a loofah during the transition period to help with any body odor and clearing out surface level the glands in your armpits.
During this time, you also want to monitor the skin in and around your armpit for any rashes, skin peeling, or other irritation, as this could indicate an allergic reaction in the form of contact dermatitis. You can also use over-the-counter hydrocortisone to help alleviate some symptoms, but if they persist, discontinue using the product and seek advice from your doctor, Seelal says.
What brands make natural deodorant that works?
You have plenty of options! One of the most popular is Native, which Reviewed’s tester adores for its light and pleasant scent options, its streak-free finish that doesn’t stain clothing, and its ability to reduce sweat and odor. Another option backed by reviews is Tom’s of Maine Long-Lasting Natural Deodorant, which comes in several earthy scents, like lavender and tea tree oil, and has an ultra-creamy formula that glides onto the armpits with ease. Even classic drugstore brands like Dove and Degree have aluminum-free lines available with several scent options.
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