I’ve always been into fitness and working out. Breaking a sweat was never really a cause for concern because I always used deodorant. But, there came a moment when I realized that my body care routine was causing my body to absorb harmful ingredients that would potentially have detrimental long-term effects. So, I made the switch to natural deodorant, and I couldn’t be more proud of that decision.
How and why we sweat under our arms
Before I tell you why I made the switch to natural deodorant, I think it’s best to cover some ground on why some of us experience excessive sweating in the underarm area and why the odor can be tough to deal with. In most cases, underarm sweat is completely normal and a response to heat or anxiety. No one really enjoys sweating, but it’s a natural and necessary process to prevent the risk of your body overheating.
Most of us have experienced the embarrassment of flashing large circles of sweat under our arms to everyone without notice. But, what’s going on underneath it all? We have millions of sweat glands all over our bodies, but the most common areas that sweat – underarms, face, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet – have a higher concentration of sweat glands than in any other part.
There are various causes of sweating. The heat is not an unusual cause of underarm sweating, especially during the summer months. Feeling anger, fear, and anxiety may cause you to sweat excessively. Consuming spicy foods, caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages can produce perspiration. All types of physical activity can turn on your sweat glands amidst all the adrenaline and racing heart rate. You can basically sweat in almost any situation.
The enemy - causes of bad underarm odor
Your body has two types of sweat glands – eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands are distributed all over the body and directly on the skin’s surface, while apocrine glands usually develop in areas where there is an abundance of hair follicles, like the underarms and groin area. Since the eccrine glands are more surface level, they produce sweat that is usually odorless and almost unnoticeable on the skin and clothes. The apocrine glands produce a heavier, distinct odor when mixed with the bacteria on your skin during times of emotional stress. Yikes!
The ally - deodorant
One of the easiest ways to tame your sweat glands for the day and mask body odor is by using a deodorant. As you know, your sweat doesn’t actually smell. It’s when it mixes with the bacteria on your skin that it releases an odor. Traditional deodorants usually contain antimicrobial ingredients like ethanol, which swoop in for the rescue to kill the bacteria to prevent odor. Investing in the right deodorant can save you 50 ounces of unnecessary sweat per year! (totally kidding) But, it can help you feel better and less self-conscious about your body odor and fend off the bacteria that causes bad B.O.
What is aluminum doing in my deodorant?
I began using deodorant sticks and roll-ons when I hit puberty, like a lot of kids and adolescents ages 9-14 who begin to develop body odor. For many years until my early 20s, I used regular, drug-store deodorants that kept all my class speeches and presentations a little drier and smelling fresh. I thought I could do anything and never smell again. Then, I looked. I read the ingredient label on the back of my deodorant stick and the first thing I saw was aluminum. I thought, “Isn’t aluminum a metal? What’s it doing in my deodorant?”
Certain aluminum salts like aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex glycine (try saying that one fast enough) are the main ingredients found in many traditional deodorants that help fight the bacteria and block the sweat glands in your underarm area. Although, when absorbed by the skin, they can have estrogen-like hormonal effects, which can lead to health risks and even cause cancer. Alongside this harmful compound I used on my skin each and every day, there were a range of other toxic chemicals that worked together to reduce my body odor and kill the bacteria that caused it. Parabens, artificial fragrances and triclosan were also some of the ingredients that were doing more harm than good.
What are parabens and why you should avoid them?
The beauty industry’s current debate is the use of parabens in their products. Parabens are chemicals that are used to prevent the growth of bacteria and act as preservatives in deodorants, lotions, and other products. Studies find that parabens can imitate the hormone estrogen, and it is known that high levels of estrogen are associated with certain types of breast cancer. Studies also find the presence of parabens in breast tumors. Constant or daily use of parabens can be stored in the body and cause medical issues over time.
"Parabens are chemicals that are used to prevent the growth of bacteria and act as preservatives in deodorants, lotions, and other products. Studies find that parabens can imitate the hormone estrogen, and it is known that high levels of estrogen are associated with certain types of breast cancer."
What is an FDA-certified pesticide doing in my deodorant?
What shocked me the most was the addition of Triclosan, an FDA-classified pesticide that is present in most brand name deodorants. Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent found in many household items, like toothpastes, body washes, and cosmetics. It’s used in deodorants to help fight odor. Doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you, though. Using products that contain triclosan can be hazardous to your health in the long run in the form of prompting cancer cells to grow, disrupting normal hormone function, and make it easier for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow. Heather Patisaul, PhD., an associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University says that Triclosan can actually “impair thyroid function, which is crucial for brain development.”
What smells good isn’t necessarily good for you
Another common and vague ingredient listing on the label was “fragrance.” What was this fragrance or “perfume” they used to conceal my sweat-induced body odor? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, fragrance is a leading cause of skin conditions caused by cosmetic products. I didn’t know that it could potentially cause allergic reactions in others around me. Fragrance sensitivities can cause allergy-like symptoms, stuffy nose, and even skin allergies like dermatitis, which causes skin to itch and develop into a blistering rash.
During my research, I felt nervous and my heart started racing really quickly, tell-tale signs of perspiration forming. This time, I went to the bathroom cabinet and looked at my brand name deodorant right in the label one more time and tossed it away.
I must have manifested the next best thing for my hygiene and health because I could not stop thinking about the many years spent on store-bought deodorants that were hurting my body in ways I could not imagine. And that next thing I discovered, but now the best one… *drum roll please*… was natural deodorant!
To my naiveté, I did not know that natural deodorant existed, nor had heard anyone talk about it. It was a relatively new subject in the early 2000s, but through a co-worker’s recommendation, I learned that natural deodorants are made with potentially non-irritating, detoxifying ingredients that are less harmful to the body in the long-term, like baking soda, coconut oil, and shea butter. So, I decided to give it a try.
Why using natural deodorant is better and healthier for you
Here’s the cool thing about using natural deodorant: it contains plant-based and non-toxic ingredients like shea butter and olive oil that treat your underarms delicately. Shea butter is naturally rich in vitamins A, E and F, which are necessary for maintaining the skin’s balance. Olive oil is considered the holy grail of moisture and contains antioxidants vital for skin regeneration. The best part is that these ingredients let the good bacteria on your skin get to work, which reduces odor. You’re basically experiencing an underarm detox in full effect. This is not to say that regular deodorant does not deal with the bacteria on the skin. They are just composed of more harmful ingredients like the ones mentioned above, while using natural and good-for-you ingredients works to produce the same results.
Some natural deodorants contain ingredients like witch hazel, a natural plant-based liquid that reduces appearance of pores and calms skin irritation. Most natural deodorants also consist of baking soda, which is a natural deodorizer that inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria. With that being said, some people have baking soda allergies, so it’s best to consider other natural deodorants that don’t have this ingredient. Instead, consider looking into coconut oil-based or beeswax-based deodorants. Most natural deodorants also contain essential oils like Tea Tree, Lavender, Peppermint, which has antibacterial properties. In other words, they help fight bacteria that causes B.O.
Don’t sweat it
Some things you should expect and be prepared for when riding on the natural deodorant wagon is sweating. You are still going to sweat because there’s no more aluminum, and you need to accept that for the sake of your health. But, the essential oils used in natural deodorant will help fight off the bacteria that produces odor. Natural deodorant brands have this in mind and aim to help you feel fresh despite the inevitable perspiration. Remember, sweat is not what causes body odor; it’s actually the bacteria in the underarm area that does the awful trick, so keep that in mind. If you’re really worked up about an important event you have coming up, go ahead and use an antiperspirant, which is a substance that creates a barrier around the sweat glands, preventing sweating by almost 20-30%. But ,make sure you bring it out during the times when you really need it as antiperspirants are known to contain the unfriendly aluminum salts that the body absorbs. This absorption can alter cell function and cause disease. Another positive and highly important side note: you are limiting skin issues and diseases from potentially coming about by making the switch. Irritation-free armpit? Yes, please.
My natural deodorant suggestions
There are two types of deodorant you should be aware of - sticks and sprays. Deodorant sprays offer a lighter spritz in the underarm area, while using a stick is a stick-to-skin application that might feel heavier for some people. It all comes down to personal preference. When it comes to my natural deodorant options, I prefer 100% essential oil-based deodorant. I always loved aromatherapy and diffusing essential oils, but was recently nudged by a friend to look into essential oil-based deodorant. I use Way of Will’s 01 Bergamot and Elemi Natural Deodorant Spray twice a day – once in the morning and before bed. I don’t care about sweating anymore because there is little to no odor! The best part is that I feel amazing using it because it doesn’t contain any harsh metals, parabens or artificial colors. Bergamot essential oil is gentle, and Elemi essential oil rejuvenates the underarm skin. Both oils have deodorizing qualities that I truly appreciate. The editors at Men’s Health happen to agree with me on this one.
"I don’t care about sweating anymore because there is little to no odor! The best part is that I feel amazing using it because it doesn’t contain any harsh metals, parabens or artificial colors. Bergamot essential oil is gentle, and Elemi essential oil rejuvenates the underarm skin."
Way of Will’s deodorant sprays contains all-natural baking soda and aluminum-like mineral salts, called Potassium Alum, which are naturally-occurring mineral salts that mimic aluminum but behave differently. Potassium alum consists of molecules that are just too large to be absorbed by the skin. They form a shield around your underarm skin, which inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
If you prefer deodorant stick over spray, try Way of Will’s 02 Tea Tree and Pumpkin Seed Natural Deodorant, made with a blend of coconut oil, shea butter and of course, Tea Tree and Pumpkin Seed essential oils. Tea Tree is known to have antibacterial properties and Pumpkin Seed can reduce redness and itching in the underarm area. The 02 deodorant has baking soda in it, which has detoxifying effects that help neutralize the body’s acidity or alkaline properties, which works to absorb odors.
Alongside making the healthy switch, you can also shave your underarms, which can reduce excessive sweating. Since hair is porous, it is easy to absorb odor. Drinking plenty of water has also been linked to a reduction in underarm sweating because your body stays cool when hydrated. Try to lay off the caffeine and cigarettes. The both raise body temperature and increase heart rate.
Happy breaking a sweat, naturally!