Have you ever tried switching to natural deodorant and given up because said formula left you smelling less than pleasant? (Guilty.) That happens because the funk-fighting stuff in traditional antiperspirants (aluminum-based compounds) work to temporarily cork the sweat duct, stopping sweat from hitting the surface of the skin—a trick that botanical-based deodorants just don’t pull off.
The thing is, it may not be so healthy to block your sweat. Some research questions whether low-level absorption of aluminum may cause estrogenic effects (something that could stoke the growth of breast cancer cells). Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute says that there’s no link between breast cancer and antiperspirants, and the Alzheimer’s Association declares that after 40 years of research, aluminum’s not a significant health risk.
Those who err on the side of caution and are looking to go without aluminum are left with a dilemma: Stick with traditional antiperspirant and minimize armpit wetness, or opt for a plant-based product—a move that may keep you from hugging your friends or being a respectable cube-mate at work but that will ensure you’re safe from pit-related health risks.
For those that want to try the au naturale side of the fence, a few new products help with that transition from conventional antiperspirant to something a bit more clean—and making it as inoffensive (ahem) and seamless as possible.
Keep scrolling to find out what it’s like to detox your armpits.
The armpit detox trial
First up is Kaia Naturals The Takesumi Detox, a so-called “detox” deodorant meant to be used as a way to wean oneself off of conventional antiperspirants. The formula, with bamboo charcoal and activated charcoal, is meant to help stymie odor control. The idea: Use this stick for 30 days to help quell the rush of odor-causing bacteria that hits your pits once you stop plugging glands with traditional antiperspirant. After about a month’s time, your body will self regulate and produce less stink.
Unlike antiperspirants, it doesn’t block sweat from surfacing, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t help cut down on BO. That’s because sweat itself (secreted from the eccrine gland) doesn’t carry odor, a Angela Ballard, a registered nurse and communications director, educator and advocate with the International Hyperhidrosis Society, explains. “Body odor occurs when the bacteria naturally found on our skin breaks down substances in our sweat, leading to that characteristic smell,” she says. As for why your armpits are more foul smelling than other sweat on the bod? The scent-secreting apocrine glands contain a protein that’s key to this breakdown, which results in the funky scent.
Indeed, when I tried the stick for a month’s time, it didn’t seem to be helping much in the stink department during the first few weeks—if anything, it smelled like I was backpedaling, particularly in the first week, when my body odor seemed more pungent than ever. I began to wonder if I was expecting too much. Can our our bodies really adjust post-conventional sticks and roll ons?
According to research, it’s a possibility. As one study shows, habitual deodorant and antiperspirant users who stopped use for two days or more secreted far more Staphylococcus hominis (a bacteria that another study determined to be one of the stinkiest once broken down by the skin) than those who didn’t regularly wear deodorant or antiperspirant. What’s more, the group of non-deodorant users were found to have pits dominated by corynebacterium, a different type of bacteria that doesn’t top the stink list.
Onward and upward in the smell department
Given these promising discoveries, I hung in there with my own experiment, hoping that easing up on traditional gland-plugging antiperspirants may make for less body odor. And on days when my armpits seemed particularly gross, I supplemented my new Takesumi stick use with another product designed to help transitioning pits: Lavanila The Healthy Underarm Detox Mask, a brush on mask—that’s right, an armpit mask.
Did it feel a little weird to brush a charcoal mask onto my underarms? Absolutely. But could it really draw out aluminum and impurity buildup in the pits, as promised? That’s a little harder to pin down.
“If you stop using aluminum, salt-based antiperspirants, your skin will naturally shed the aluminum from the sweat glands over time,” notes Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a New York-based dermatologist. Plus, as Ballard notes, the sweat glands aren’t actually an effective way to remove toxins from the body. “Sweat glands reside in your skin and aren’t connected to the waste-elimination systems in your body—you have your kidneys, liver, lungs, and digestive system for that,” she says, adding that healthy eating, exercise and hydration are the best way to keep organs functioning properly (and smelling optimally).
The mask did seem to give my armpits a clean slate, thanks to its skin-tending formula. “This mask contains a combination of skin soothing and hydrating ingredients,” notes Zeichner. “Plus, charcoal and clay can help reduce inflammation and absorb excess oil and dirt from the surface of the skin.”
By the end of week four in my armpit experiment, I’m happy to report that the excessive sweat and stink that I experienced in weeks one and two have subsided. I now toggle between reaching for Vapour AER Next Level Deodorant (which is effective and smells lovely, thanks to a blend of essential oils) and the baking soda-free Agent Nateur Holi(stick) Sensitive Deodorant (which doesn’t make my armpits red, like some clean deodorants do). But unlike when I was using conventional antiperspirant, I notice that I can now go a day without having to apply, if needed, because my armpits simply don’t seem to stink as much anymore.
Yes, I still get sweaty—and unfortunately, I haven’t found a way out of using deodorant altogether (a girl can dream). But I’m pretty psyched about having settled into a less-stinky state. And if I happen to be optimizing my health by not applying controversial ingredients like aluminum to my skin? Well, that’s pretty sweet, too.
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