Moth and Toad Apothecary

Herbalism, self-sufficiency, and low-waste living

Why Your Natural Deodorant Doesn’t Work—and How to Fix It

I’ve been using some form of aluminum-free deodorant for roughly a year and a half. While I can say I’ve found my favourite formula and feel confident in my routine, I can’t say it was easy. I’ve had my fair share of rocky starts, trial and error, and fails. These tips gleaned from the internet and personal experience may seem simple, but they’ve really helped me along when I decided to replace my antiperspirant for an aluminum-free alternative.

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You expect it to prevent sweating.

Unfortunately, deodorants and antiperspirants are two different things; deodorants reduce the smelly bacteria under your arms, neutralizing body odour without hindering your sweat glands. Antiperspirants work by filling your sweat glands with aluminum (most of the time) to prevent the sweat from feeding the bacteria under your arms (most antiperspirants also contain deodorants as well). Natural or aluminum-free deodorants do not reduce sweating. Some formulas contain clays or powders to help absorb excess sweat, but your sweat glands are not blocked like they are by aluminum antiperspirants. Reapplication every 3-6 hours can help when using these kinds of formulas. Keep in mind that most deodorants without aluminum recommend a minimal swipe at every application to avoid clothes staining and discomfort from cakey pits.

You have an overabundance of bacteria under your arms.

This is super common, and a big reason why we have deodorants and antiperspirants in the first place! Bacteria thrives in damp, warm environments like the groin and underarms. Sweat = moisture, and it contains proteins that feed bacteria. As the bacteria on your skin breaks down the compounds in your sweat, thioalcohols are released, causing body odour. So while sweat is odorless, it contributes to body odour. If you can’t reduce sweat production with an antiperspirant, the next thing to try is reducing the amount of bacteria under your arms altogether.

Try washing up extra well in the shower; if multiple swipes of soap isn’t cutting it, consider using an antibacterial option. In the past, I used panoxyl face cleanser for a few months to get my microbiome under control; while it worked very well, and I didn’t need to reapply my deodorant at all, I grew sensitive to it. I find that the bar soap I now make works well for me, while liquid soaps tend to be less effective. It may take a few days of consistent washing for you to notice a difference, but it can really help reduce body odour overall. I have linked a few options you can check out at the end of this post! Look for ingredients like charcoal, clays, and antibacterial herbs such as tea tree, lavender, and calendula.

Many people claim that your body goes through a “detox” for a few weeks after starting an aluminum free deodorant; however, it seems more likely that the bacteria on your skin is simply being fed by the new presence of sweat, and thus creating body odour you wouldn’t have noticed before. If you experience this, try one of the bacteria-busting tips above and see if it helps! Some have found success in using clay masks to reduce the bacteria under their arms as well.

Another factor to consider when reducing odour is how much hair you have under your arms; having underarm hair can sometimes make it more difficult to wash thoroughly, and it provides more space for bacteria to thrive on.

You’re sensitive to the ingredients.

Even if you’ve used the same formula for a year, your body can slowly become sensitized to any of its ingredients. In the same way that someone allergic to peanuts will progressively experience worse reactions to them over time, you can experience compounding reactions to a seemingly non-sensitizing ingredient. Things like baking soda, preservatives, and fragrances can be sensitizing. Anyone can experience reactions to ingredients that are traditionally thought to be gentle and safe. Signs of sensitization include dryness, itchiness, and redness in the area you apply your deodorant. There’s not a foolproof way to know what ingredient is bothering you, but the process of elimination tends to be a good way to rule out topical irritants. For example, if you are using a deodorant with a high content of baking soda, switch to a baking soda free option with minimal ingredient differences aside from it. If you think it’s fragrance, try to find a fragrance free option from the same brand.

It’s also worth noting that once your skin’s moisture barrier is compromised and your skin becomes sensitized, you may experience sensitization from ingredients that would not normally be sensitizing to you, which can make ruling out ingredients much harder. If you notice a lot of redness or tenderness, try to avoid wearing any deodorant until it starts to clear up. Wash with gentle soap and wear loose-fitting clothing. Once the irritation subsides, you can try the next formula and note any reactions as a positive indicator of sensitization. You may have a sensitivity to more than one ingredient as well. You can always consult a dermatologist or esthetician if you have lasting effects or react to several different formulas, as you may have a skin condition that needs special care. Also take into account the soap or cleanser you use, and what you use to wash your clothes!

You haven’t found the right formula.

I have tried 5 different formulas, and only recently decided that one particular brand tends to work best for me. There can be diversity even within one brand of deodorant, ranging from sensitive skin formulas to bars designed for sports. There are many more options now than there were when I first started looking into aluminum free deodorant in 2015, and it makes it so much easier to jump in and test the waters. You can always purchase travel size bars to test a formula before committing to a full size product, which is how I avoid wasting products like this. Just like identifying your go-to moisturizer or face wash, finding deodorant is a process. Once you find your formula, you’ll be feeling fresh and clean for years to come. Be patient, and be willing to test out formulas over the weekends and on days off!

The fragrance is too heavy or too light for your preference.

Some people find fragrance in deodorant to be delightful! Others opt for light scents or go fragrance free to avoid smelling like their bar all day long. If you don’t like the strength of your deodorant, try a lighter or heavier scent depending on your preference! Read reviews and ask about specific brands and scents to get an idea of what a particular scent is like before purchasing.

Fragrance can also change depending on who is wearing it. This is true for perfumes, body sprays, and yes, scented deodorant. When the fragrances mixes with our pheromones, a secret “note” surfaces and can become quite noticeable! If you like the smell of a deodorant before you put it on, but find yourself averse to it after a few hours, you may need to try another fragrance or go for a fragrance free option.

I hope these tips help you in your journey towards an aluminum-free deodorant! Below are two of my personal favourites that I have had great success in using, in a few scents I love. I particularly like that Native has a paper packaging option, which can be found in stores or on their own website! Schmidt’s also has a sustainable packaging option, with their deodorant packaged in a mini jar.

Let me know what you have found works best for you! Below these are a couple great antibacterial washes that may help control body odour as well. Keep in mind that if you purchase using any of the links below, I will receive a small commission! If you’d like to avoid that, just search up the product in amazon or your chosen marketplace!

My Favourite Aluminum-Free Deodorants

Body Washes and Masks

Some of these may be marketed for face washing, but they are great options for underarm care!

Deodorants I’ve Been Recommended

These are some deodorants I’ve been recommended but haven’t tried! I’ve had lots of wonderful reviews on these. I also included one deodorant that I tried but didn’t find effective, because it was recommended very frequently to me! It obviously works for some, so I thought I would add it at the very end.

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