Does natural deodorant really combat odour?

·5-min read

After a shower or bath, we all know that applying deodorant is one of the best ways to keep us feeling our freshest for whatever the day brings—especially when we start to sweat. “The sweat that comes from our apocrine glands (the ones found in areas with lots of hair follicles like your armpits) is actually odourless, but it gets stinky after it mixes with the bacteria on your skin,” says Cynthia Sakai, the founder of evolvetogether, a brand that makes sustainable personal care products. This hygiene product, however, often masks that sweat-borne odour that sets in over time—it doesn’t always combat it.

Traditional antiperspirants usually feature aluminium chlorohydrate or aluminium zirconium, which clog up pores. To truly avoid (not disguise) the stench that’s associated with pit-smell, consider using natural deodorants. According to Anna D. Guanche, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, these feature organic ingredients, like coconut oil and shea butter, that keep pores clear and allow your body to expel toxins through perspiration—your body’s natural detoxing process.

How natural deodorant combats odour

If you are curious if natural deodorant actually combats odour, the answer is yes. “Natural deodorants may help to stop people from smelling, as they may help to mask foul-smelling odours and may help to absorb excess moisture as a result of sweating,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Importantly, however, they do not block the release of sweat.”

Dr Guanche explains that natural deodorants won’t block your pores. Instead, these skin care products absorb moisture and won’t disrupt your body as it sweats—reducing odour before it starts. “Odor is caused by naturally found bacteria on the skin (normal flora) that thrive on moisture,” she says.

How natural deodorant works versus standard antiperspirant

As for the difference between a natural deodorant in comparison to an antiperspirant? Dr Garshick says that using a non-aluminium deodorant helps to reduce odour, whereas an antiperspirant helps to reduce sweat that could lead to foul odour from the aforementioned bacteria on the skin. Sakai adds that natural deodorants essentially minimise the discomfort of sweat and work with your body’s natural chemistry—not against it.

natural deodorant combats odour
Image Credit: Ana Essentiels/Unsplash

Common ingredients

“Many natural products or products that are aluminium-free are considered deodorants, in that they help to mask bad smelling odours but do not actually decrease the amount of sweat,” Dr Garshick says. “Natural ingredients, such as magnesium, help to neutralise odour by balancing pH but do not prevent sweat, so it may help to improve the smell that sweat creates, but does not eliminate the sweat itself.”

  • Baking soda

  • Coconut oil

  • Zinc oxide

  • Mineral salts

  • Magnesium

  • Shea butter

  • Tea tree oil

  • Corn starch

  • Lichens

  • Witch hazel

  • Aloe

  • Vegetable glycerin

  • Tannic acid (found in tea)

Common antiperspirant ingredients

“Antiperspirants work by decreasing the amount of sweat released, thereby reducing wetness,” Dr Garshick says. “Importantly, the only ingredients currently approved by the FDA to be included as an antiperspirant are aluminium based. (Aluminium-based products work by plugging up the sweat glands to directly block the release of sweat from the glands.)”

  • Aluminium chlorohydrate

  • Aluminium chloride

  • Aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex Gly

How your body adjusts to it

When transitioning from use of an aluminium-based antiperspirant to a natural deodorant, an increased amount of sweating is normal since your pores will no longer be clogged. Follow these tips to allow your body to adjust to the natural deodorant:

  1. Complete a one- to two-week “detox” before switching to a natural deodorant: Gently exfoliate the skin every day and avoid using any deodorant on your armpits during this period. Note: Your underarms will likely be wet and have a slight odour in the beginning, but after that point, your skin will adjust to the natural deodorant most effectively.

  2. Once you have completed the detox, Dr Garshick says some people may opt to use certain natural deodorants that contain ingredients such as baking soda, charcoal, or clay, which are designed to help absorb excess moisture.

  3. After four weeks in total, Dr Guanche says your body chemistry should be in sync with the use of a natural deodorant. She recommends natural varieties when opting for a natural deodorant, particularly when transitioning completely from antiperspirants, as they are effective with odour control.

Is natural deodorant better for you?

Whether you have used an antiperspirant for years or have been a long-time user of natural deodorant, you may wonder which is actually the healthier choice. As it turns out, it really is up to you. “Using a natural deodorant is a personal choice and, in fact, for some people, a natural deodorant may cause sensitivity of the skin,” says Dr Garshick. “That said, for someone who prefers to avoid aluminium for personal reasons, a natural deodorant may provide an option to help control odour.”

If you choose a natural deodorant, it’s simply important to find an option that works with the natural chemistry of your body, not against it. “Natural deodorants don’t try to block sweat from happening like aluminum-based antiperspirants, but do try to minimise the discomfort of sweat by absorbing moisture and keep you smelling good while your body is doing its natural thing,” Sakai says.

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