Natural deodorants: how to make the switch
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Natural deodorants are becoming so popular and they take a lot of getting used to. Natural deodorants work by masking the smell from sweat. They do not block the sweat itself. This is where it takes some getting used to. In the first weeks of using these people complain of a damp feeling. The first thing to remember is that time alone will make this seem less uncomfortable. If you have been used to the dryness that comes from traditional antiperspirants, this will just be a whole new feeling to get used to! Sometimes this damp feeling can start to turn into sweat stains on your clothes. Unfortunately its not always easy to be prepared for this. Although using powders or witch hazel on a cotton swab can help, its not always practical to find these when you are at work or in restaurant for dinner.
A quick fix to help evaporate the excess dampness when needed is to apply hand sanitizer directly or on a tissue and then swipe across your underarm. These tend to be everywhere these days, easy to use and they tend to dry quickly. Wearing clothing that wicks away moisture helps as well. The most common textiles for this are dri-fit and dryflex. These can help wick away some moisture to avoid it from building up under the arm making the area feel damp. Athletic wear commonly uses this but other clothing will often have it as well. Some clothing even has antimicrobial qualities by weaving silver in the textile to help with the odor while adapting to these deodorants.
Rashes that I see develop under the arms are helpful to breakdown by cause:
Irritant contact dermatitis: Think red, itchy, scaly.. irritation can occur with natural deodorants that have too high a concentration of baking soda. Look for products that have a lower concentration of baking soda or options without baking soda. The essential oils in these products can also lead to contact dermatitis. To figure out if it could be the oils, it helps to swatch the product on your inner forearm and see if a rash develops after a day or two. If it does you may have a sensitivity or allergy to one of the ingredients.
Intertrigo or candida/yeast infections: Think red, glossy, peeling from edges and sometimes pus bumps along edges (just like a diaper rash). Whenever we alter the pH of our skin, we change the bioflora (the community of good and bad bacteria and yeast that live on our skin) and sometimes yeast can overgrow. If you start to feel that the area is somewhat raw and uncomfortable it can help to use a little cortisone cream with an over the counter antiyeast cream for a couple of days. If it doesn’t get better you may need to see your doctor to clear this.
Heat rash/ chafing: from the extra moisture, the skin can start to feel raw as well. If this is the case, wearing clothing that can wick this moisture away will help. Dri-fit and Dryflex fabrics that are normally in athletic wear can help.
Folliculitis: this is a bacterial infection that occurs in the hair follicles. With the bioflora change, sometimes bacteria can overgrow. When we shave we can spread the bacteria in this area. This will look different then the other rashes because the bumps will be based around hair follicles and look like pus bumps that get crusty and scabby. It can help to start with an over the counter anti-bacterial cream and changing your razor.
Aluminum antiperspirants work by directly blocking the sweat ducts to stop them from releasing sweat. The theory behind waiting before switching to natural deodorants is that the natural products may work better if you wait. The film left behind by traditional antiperspirants may make it harder to allow the natural deodorants to take effect. Although there is no study to support this, by giving the aluminum a chance to naturally come out of your sweat ducts you may have less irritation from your new product.
It may not help to keep reapplying natural deodorants throughout the day to help them work. Repeated applications of these products does not necessarily make them kick in faster. What may help is to try to work with how they work. As they are trying to improve the bioflora under your arms, gently exfoliating once weekly with a wash cloth or gentle scrub can help remove excess bacteria. Washing with a charcoal acne cleanser under your arms a couple days a week can even help during your showers. The charcoal can draw out impurities and the salicylic acid in these products can provide a little chemical exfoliation to help. It is also important to make sure your skin is dry before applying. They are much less effective on damp or wet skin.
These products do not work overnight! If you are committed to the switch then set your expectations to understand that these will take a few weeks to really kick in. I have read so many reviews that talk about how someone tried one product one week, another the next, and so on. Of course these will rate poorly – a week is not going to cut it! It’s hard to get used to a new normal but our bodies are incredibly able to adapt to our habits and environment. I try to convince patients to cut out various products from their skin care routines to minimize what we expose our skin to. The first few weeks can feel like something is missing. Then, suddenly, you just cannot remember why you used these products in the first place!