Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by a natural deodorant. But not all the way up, of course, otherwise you’ll risk showing off the sweat stains that said natural D.O. has left behind. I know this, because even after testing dozens of them, I am right there with you singing the chorus of “natural deodorant just doesn’t work for me.”
But as the pros would like you to know, that’s actually likely not the case. With more and more options hitting the market everywhere from your local drugstore to the fanciest department stores in the country, there’s now likely an option out there for everyone—as long as you know what you’re looking for. “When I founded Schmidt’s Deodorant, I was determined to create a deodorant that could compete not only within the natural space but on the same level as conventional brands,” says Jaime Schmidt, founder of Schmidt’s Deodorant, which has a line of natural products to fit a variety of needs. “My belief was that natural should be the norm and should no longer be reserved for a niche crowd, [because] why shouldn’t everyone have access to healthy, affordable products that work?”
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that deodorants are not the same thing as antiperspirants. Deodorants add fragrance to mask body odors, while antiperspirants work to actually stop sweat from forming with aluminum salts, which aren’t used in natural deodorant formulas. “If you sweat moderately and/or have been using an antiperspirant for a while prior to using a natural deodorant, then it can certainly appear that the natural deodorant simply ‘does not work,'” says board-certified dermatologist Caroline Robinson, MD. “Knowing this going into a switch is half the battle.”
While natural deo doesn’t block sweat the way antiperspirant does, it can help get rid of B.O. by neutralizing the odor-causing bacteria on the surface of your skin. And so, you need to find the formulation that works for your particular skin bacteria, and you should be good as (not at all stinky-smelling) gold.
There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to deodorant
“If there were one single magic bullet deodorant that worked for everybody, there wouldn’t be so many choices on the market,” says Stacia Guzzo, founder of a natural deodorant brand called SmartyPits. Because everyone’s body chemistry is different, most of us require different formulations to give us the odor/wetness protection we need. This is why you may hear your best friend sing the praises of a certain natural D.O., only to try it for yourself and discover it makes you smell like a rotting piece of hot garbage.
A number of external factors can have an impact on this, but diet and environment are two of the biggies. “Consuming foods that are high in sulfur compounds, like meat or asparagus, might leave you with more body odor because of the components they’re adding to your sweat,” says Alyssa Acuna, a member of the product development team at Schmidt’s. “And living in an environment with high humidity can cause you to produce an increased amount of sweat, which after interacting with the bacteria on your skin, could worsen body odor.” If you’ve ever had a favorite deodorant that suddenly stopped working, this is likely why.
The same goes with scents
You know how sometimes you’ll love a fragrance on your best friend, and then try it for yourself and realize it smells totally different and kind of… gross? Well, the same can happen with deodorant. Scents react with different skin chemistries in different ways, which is why something might smell delicious on someone else and weird AF on you. “There are certain skin chemistries that are just going to jive with certain scents, and won’t with others,” says Guzzo. “You want to make sure you find a scent that works for your particular skin chemistry.” So sniffing a deodorant in the drugstore aisle probably won’t give you the full picture. Instead, you’ll need to take it home, test it out, and see how it goes.
Read the ingredients label
Because of our various body chemistries and needs, different deodorants use different compounds to help neutralize odors and stop you from stinking. There are options with baking soda, alcohol, magnesium, and diatomaceous earth, so if one isn’t working for you, you may want to move onto the other. “Look for components known for absorption properties and ingredients with odor-neutralizing properties,” advises Acuna. She calls out Schmidt’s plant and mineral-derived powders, like arrowroot and magnesium; and natural oils, like coconut and shea, as helpful in keeping armpits smelling fresh.
Respect the process
Going natural isn’t going to happen overnight, especially if your pits have become accustomed to being coated in aluminum for the entirety of your post-puberty existence. And finding the deodorant that works best for your skin is likely going to involve a whole lot of trial and error, because of the aforementioned reasons. Even if you have found the perfect deodorant for your particular pits, it still might take some time to reach peak protection. “If something’s not working for you right away, it’s because it’s adjusted to the old way of doing things,” says Guzzo. Give a new product a few weeks to start fully working, but if it’s still leaving you stinking after that, it’s probably not the right formulation for your skin chemistry.
Apply the right way
I’ve always believed that putting on deodorant involves nothing more than a simple “swipe swipe,” and you’re done, but apparently there’s a right way to do things. Guzzo suggests first holding your deodorant to your skin to warm it up a little and being sure not to under- or over-apply. If you put on too little, you won’t have enough coverage and therefore protection, and if you put on too much, the product won’t absorb into your skin the right way. That means it 1) won’t work and 2) will get all over your clothes. If you’ve got a quality deodorant that works well with your skin, you won’t need more than three or four swipes.
Remember, natural doesn’t always mean “good”
As with all things, when it comes to deodorant, “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “good. “I have seen many rashes (irritant contact dermatitis) from use of natural deodorants, so I always recommend proceeding with caution,” says Dr. Robinson, adding that there has been no proven link between aluminum deodorants and cancer or toxicity. “I counsel my patients to think about why they are making the switch. Is it because antiperspirants were too irritating or you just don’t need them? If yes, then go for it. I recommend considering using aluminum based antiperspirants if excess sweating is of concern.” So basically, find what works for you, and stick with it. Until it stops working, that is.
If you’re still scared to try natural deodorant, this trick—called “deodorant cycling”—can help. And here’s what to do when you get those annoying white stains all over your clothes (and everything else you own) according to Kim Kardashian.
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