There are some promises the more seasoned beauty cynic knows not to believe: “This self-tanner has no chemical odor!” is one. “This lip gloss isn’t sticky!” definitely. Also: “This natural deodorant works on everyone!”
Not all natural deodorants work, and not all work on everyone. Natural deodorants are like potential mates — it boils down to chemistry. Which is precisely why, if you’re social-distancing, now is the ideal time to try one. Your pits have no urgent matters that require them to be on their best behavior for the next several weeks. Why not experiment?
Before going further, a quick B.O. primer: We have two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. The latter are more densely located in the armpits and groin and tend to produce sweat rich in fat, lipids, and proteins.
“Sweat is naturally odorless from both glands,” explains dermatologist Shereene Idriss of Union Square Laser Dermatology. “But when bacteria on our skin comes into contact with the sweat, particularly apocrine sweat, it breaks it down and produces ammonia and fatty acids, which translates into very real body odor, very fast.”
And different bodies create different smells. “Obviously, our body chemistries play a role, but also what we eat can alter the smell of our sweat and how that interacts with a deodorant,” Idriss says. “It’s like how a perfume smells on one person doesn’t necessarily translate the same way on someone else.”
Standard deodorants kill or block that bacteria-infested sweat with chemicals, but natural ones tap gentler natural ingredients like magnesium hydroxide, activated charcoal, sea salt, zinc, and even colloidal silver to help manage wetness. To mask the actual odor, most natural deodorants rely on essential oils, some of which have antibacterial properties, like tea tree oil. So you’ll likely still sweat somewhat, but you should smell nice while doing it. It might just take a few weeks to get there.
“Bodies often need an adjustment period when switching from a standard deodorant to a non-aluminum-based one,” says Idriss. “It can last anywhere between two to four weeks, during which time you may sweat more and even smell more.”
Since time has become a blur, that two- to four-week grace period will likely fly by without you even noticing. Should you or someone you’re living with become aware of those extra-fruity wafts emanating from your pits, apologize, then go take a shower and wash the area with soap. But keep using that new natural deo that fell short. It’s really trying, and it wants to make this new relationship work as much as you do. Unfamiliar surroundings take some getting used to, so give it time.
And try to avoid foods that make you gassy or give you bad breath. “Sulfurous foods, like broccoli, beans, eggs, even alcohol, as well as spicy or garlic- or onion-rich foods,” says Idriss. “Rule of thumb, if the food doesn’t stink up your breath or make you gassy, it’s probably milder on your body odor.”
Chances are, you’ll be able to return to baking your favorite bean and broccoli casserole with onion dressing in no time.