Last Updated on September 2, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
You read that right, I quit using deodorant
People ask me for a deodorant recommendation all the time. No one wants to quit using deodorant or antiperspirant, so why seek an alternative? Maybe the search for “safer products” is because the toxic ingredients contained in deodorants and antiperspirants happens to be one of the more well-known personal care products found to be full of ingredients potentially toxic to humans.
While the toxic chemicals found in these products are a threat to the well-being of those who use them, many consumers are not aware that the poisonous substances contained in FDA approved products may be harmful. Most of us do not willingly apply a product to an area so close to our breast tissue that we believe will cause allergic reactions or disease. We just want to stop sweating!
If the goal is NOT to sweat, then it's not deodorant but antiperspirant that you want. These are two different products, which I am sure most people are aware of, but just in case:
Antiperspirant is to keep you from perspiring while deodorant is to de-odor or cover up the odor of perspiration, but we'll get into that later.
I'll break this post down into several parts
- Why we use deodorant and antiperspirant
- What's wrong with some of these products
- My personal experience
- How to quit using deodorants and antiperspirants
- Alternatives to mainstream antiperspirants/deodorants
Why we use deodorant & antiperspirant
The human body has different types of sweat glands located in various areas of our body. These glands help keep our bodies at the right temperature. When we sweat, the fluid evaporates and cools us off, however, when sweat combines with the natural bacteria living on our skin, it develops an odor. Armpits are a perfect environment for bacteria as they are warm and not typically exposed to sunlight and air.
You may have noticed people have different body odors, some worse than others. That is because there are different causes for body odor. For example, stress can cause you to release cortisol and release sweat from one of the two types of sweat glands known as apocrine glands.
Believe it or not, your sweat alone is virtually odorless, but the bacteria on your skin that quickly multiplies in the presence of sweat, followed by the breakdown of sweat into acids is what triggers the odor. Each person's odor is specific them alone, which is how dogs and other animals can identify different people.
Another factor in body odor is the types of foods you eat. Garlic and onions contain sulfur and may change your body odor if you eat them frequently. Diets high in sugar can cause a stronger smell when you sweat because bacteria feed on sugars making them more prolific; remember, when sweat and bacteria combine odors worsen.
Medical conditions such as menopause, diabetes, thyroid disorders and others can cause you to sweat more than average. Certain medications can increase how much you sweat. Believe it or not, the very remedy itself causes your underarm odor to be stronger! That is because deodorants and antiperspirants INCREASE the bacteria colonies in your armpits. More bacteria + sweat = stronger body odor.
Antiperspirants are created to clog the pores in your armpits, keeping them from releasing sweat, while deodorants are supposed to kill the living bacteria on your skin. Studies show that these products actually make you smell worse over time.
What's wrong with most deodorants and antiperspirants
When I decided to remove toxic products from my life (almost two decades ago!) one of the first things I replaced was deodorant. Why would I be concerned about deodorant, it's not like I'm eating it, right?
Well, when you stop and think about the fact that you can use a transdermal patch or even transdermal medications, you have to acknowledge the fact that skin is permeable. Meaning, what you put on your skin can end up in your body just as quickly as if you ingest them. In fact, when you put products on your skin they can be more dangerous because they skip the digestive system and the detoxifying processes of the liver.
The scary ingredients used in many deodorants and antiperspirants:
- aluminum – kills good bacteria as well as harmful bacteria and may increase the risk of cancer
- parabens – preservatives that may alter hormones in your body
- phthalates – a compound that is said to disrupt hormone balance as well as affect reproductive glands in men and women
- triclosan – kills both good and bad bacteria and is reported to cause hormone imbalance, including disrupting thyroid function
- Fragrance – some would say fragrance makes products smell better, however, those of us who are sensitive to chemicals disagree. Many people are highly allergic to fragrances and can suffer migraines, asthma, and allergies as a result of being exposed to chemical fragrance.
My personal experience with giving up deodorants
People often ask if I recommend the crystal deodorant. No, I don't. When I first quit using deodorant, I tried the crystal, like many people do. I hated the way it made my skin feel. It was skin tightening, like I'd applied alum – a pickling agent, no thanks. Later, I found out the crystal deodorant contains naturally occurring aluminum, and whether or not that poses a problem has yet to be determined. Why give up one “bad habit” if I'm not completely sure it's a good alternative? The crystal is probably better than mainstream deodorant, but I wasn't going for “better” – I was going for best.
When I quit using deodorant, I lived in Tampa, Florida. I was in my 30's at the time, and hot weather didn't bother me much. In fact, I loved the heat; I often would opt to keep the windows open and the AC off. Until the fax machine started jamming up because the humidity dampened the papers!
I quit using deodorant during a time when I worked from home, so the only people who could be offended by body odor would have been my family members. During this time, I spent a lot of time outdoors; we were either swimming, gardening, riding horses, or walking wherever we went. Sweat was inevitable.
Raise your hand if you're sure!
Enter pre-menopause, hot flashes, and night sweats. Unfortunately, I can't say I love hot weather in my forties. I have fans on all the time and I learned the benefits of sleeping in a cool room. Even with my tolerance to the heat being less than it was in my younger years, I still prefer not to wear deodorant.
Because using deodorant is instilled in most of us as an essential part of being “clean” I would often buy some of the natural brands but ended up not using them. I also purchase deodorant for my teenagers and my husband, so we have tried many, many brands and types!
I'm not trying to convince anyone to quit using deodorant, just explaining that it IS possible to do so without being ostracized from polite society. Giving up deodorant is a very personal decision. Most people just want to use a healthier version of deodorant, not give it up entirely.
If you want to cut deodorant out of your life here are some baby steps…
Try a natural deodorant like citrus fruits to kill the bacteria that cause underarm odors. Just cut the fruit into wedges and keep them in a labeled jar in the fridge, rub it under your arms, let dry, and go on about your day.
Another idea is to use apple cider vinegar or even white vinegar. Using a cotton ball or cotton round apply the vinegar to your underarms. Vinegar can be kept in the bathroom, unlike the citrus fruit, so you won't have to run to the fridge each time you want to deodorize your pits.
Apply baking soda to neutralize the odors. You can sprinkle this in your armpits or bathe in it to reduce body odor. Personally, I think it would feel highly uncomfortable to go around with baking soda in your pits. However, I do use baking soda baths on occasion in my natural spa days at home.
Because I didn't have a goal of going without deodorant, it just happened, I skipped all these baby steps and went straight to using nothing.
Another thing I think contributes to the detox and reduction of body odor is that I use coconut oil to shave. Since coconut oil is antibacterial, anti-fungal, etc. it probably helped to combat any odor throughout the day. My method was to wash, then shave and rinse, so some of the oil would inevitably remain on my skin. (Be careful as this can make your tub slippery and possibly clog your drain!)
If you quit using deodorant, be patient. When you first start using nothing on your armpits, the bacterial growth will begin to stabilize. You’ll experience an armpit detox; things might smell worse before they get better, it’s just your body detoxing. As time passes, your natural odor will just balance and be less, well, less odorous. It's helpful if you also eat a healthy diet.
Making the switch to natural deodorants can also be made easier with the use of an Underarm Detox Kit like this one from The Detox Market. This deodorant includes activated charcoal, which fights odor-causing bacteria through activated charcoal and natural fermentation technology.
That along with this underarm bar, a soap formulated with activated charcoal and apple cider vinegar to detox and help manage odors plus a charcoal detox effervescent hot bath, to help to draw toxins and impurities from the body. It also comes with a guidebook to walk you through the underarm detox! You'll be through the detox in a little over one month.
Some recommended products if you don't want to give up deodorant
As previously mentioned, I have bought many natural deodorant products for the rest of my family, including various essential oils. I've even tried going back to deodorant when someone suggested a good product. Even though some of these products were made with better ingredients, I just no longer cared for the feeling of applying something under my arms. I believe that is because once you have detoxified your armpits the odor just isn't as bad.
Personally, I prefer the “nothing” method but for those who want to use a product, try checking your favorite brand on EWG's Skin Deep Database.
Alternatively, here are a few products that score well:
Tom's of Maine – a company that makes many soaps, toothpaste, and other hygiene products, just check individual products ingredients as some may vary.
I know someone is going to mention the fact that sometimes you can't smell your own body odor. This is true, our body odor is much more noticeable to those around us than to ourselves. Yes, I've asked my family, and yes they are honest. If you decide to quit using deodorant, ask. It helps if you have someone you can trust, say a best friend, spouse or children who can be honest about your B.O.
Please share this post and help women everywhere quit using deodorant and gain healthier pits!