What You Should Know About Natural Deodorant

There has never been a better time to make the switch to a natural deodorant than right now. But should you?

To help you make the best decision for your pits, we’re breaking down natural deodorant, antiperspirants, and what to expect if you do make the change.

Let’s start at the source—armpits, sweat, and body odor.

HOW SWEAT, BODY ODOR, AND DEODORANT WORK

When we think about body odor, we tend to think of sweat as the culprit. But sweat doesn’t inherently smell. It’s sweat mixed with bacteria found on skin and body hair that smells.

But not all sweat is the same. Human skin has two types of sweat glands—eccrine glands and apocrine glands.

Eccrine glands
Eccrine glands cover most of our skin and pump out your standard salty sweat to keep the body cool. This is the sweat that occurs on a hot day, or when you work out.

Apocrine gland
Apocrine glands are found in areas of the body that are dark, damp, and dank—armpits, groins, hands, etc. This sweat occurs when you are stressed—like when you’re giving a presentation or talking to someone you’re attracted to.

The sweat emitted from the Apocrine glands is different from your standard cool-the-body-down sweat emitted from your eccrine glands, in that the apocrine gland sweat is loaded with fatty lipids.

Human skin is covered with bacteria, creating a diverse ecosystem of microorganisms—some good and some without much function. These various microbiomes exist all over your body.

Staphylococci are one of the main groups of bacteria taking up residence on your skin. But a variation of this bacteria, Staphylococcus hominis (S. hominis), exists almost exclusively in your pits and groin.

Here’s where things get a little weird. S. Hominis stay in your body’s cracks and crevices because they feast on the chemicals found in apocrine gland sweat. Yes, you read that correctly—bacteria in your pits eat your pit sweat.

By the time S. Hominis is done chowing down on your apocrine sweat, the sweat's chemical makeup has been transformed into thioalcohol. Because it’s an alcohol, it escapes quickly into the air. And because it’s sulfurous, it stinks.

To summarize—your pits secrete “stress sweat,” and bacteria eat it up, resulting in the dank funk we know as body odor.

DEODORANT VS ANTIPERSPIRANT

Deodorant and antiperspirant are often used interchangeably, but the two are notably different—particularly in how they attack the issue of body odor.

Antiperspirants work by clogging pores and sweat glands, preventing sweat from escaping—with aluminum compounds being the active ingredient responsible for plugging up your pits. No sweat means bacteria can’t eat—and that means no stink.

Deodorant, on the other hand, makes no effort to stop your sweat at all. Deodorants use antibacterial ingredients that neutralize or mask the odor-causing bacteria found in your pits.

Let’s break down each a little further and understand how each came to be the commodities they are today.

NEVER LET ‘EM SEE YOU SWEAT: THE RISE OF ANTIPERSPIRANTS

The first antiperspirant to come to market was called Everydry, and it launched in 1903. But it didn’t catch on at first and was generally regarded as a superfluous product.

A decade later, another antiperspirant company named Odorono happened to be in the right place at the right time—at an exposition in Atlantic City during a sweltering New Jersey summer. The product sold well that summer and left Odorono with enough money to hire the J. Walter Thompson Company—a New York advertising agency.

What followed was decades of advertisements targeted exclusively at women with a straightforward premise—if your pits sweat, good luck finding a husband.

It caught on like wildfire—at least with women.

Men still considered sweating and body odor masculine and would continue to feel this way well into the 1930s. But as men transitioned from primarily manual work to office environments, advertisers found a new slew of men's insecurities to target.

Since then, the advertising message regarding antiperspirants has remained relatively unchanged. Antiperspirant advertisements have created some of the most iconic taglines in our vocabulary—the type of phrases that transcend advertising and become a part of our everyday lexicon.

For example, take the phrase, never let ‘em see you sweat. It’s an idiom that has become synonymous with our idea of what a good leader is—someone who keeps a level head, can handle the heat and performs when the pressure is on. It’s become an incredibly common phrase. It’s something your father or uncle has probably said to you on one occasion or another.

Never let ‘em see you sweat was written as an advertising campaign by copywriter Phil Slott to sell Dry Idea antiperspirant in the 1980s, featuring prominent actors, comedians, football coaches, etc.

Take the transcript of this Dry Idea advertisement from 1984 featuring then Denver Broncos Head Coach, Dan Reeves:

Dan Reeves: I think there’s three nevers to being a winning coach. Never let the press pick your starting quarterback. Never take a last-place team lightly. And, really, no matter what the score, never let ‘em see you sweat.
Announcer: That’s what new Dry Idea aerosol is all about. It keeps you drier than the leading aerosol.
Reeves: Everyone feels pressure. Winners don’t let it show.
Announcer: Dry Idea. Never let them see you sweat.

We went down a rabbit hole of watching antiperspirant advertisements on YouTube. While the brands change and the way the information is presented changes, the message is pretty clear—sweating means you’re not confident, and if you’re not confident, you’re a loser. And the best way to ensure you’re not seen as lacking confidence? Plug up your pits with aluminum-based antiperspirants.

Now, maybe there’s some validity to the way we view sweat and confidence. After all, Richard Nixon lost in a landslide to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election, and many historians agree that voters lost confidence in Nixon after his sweaty, nervous-looking appearance during the first televised debate.

Could an antiperspirant have saved Tricky Dick’s 1960 campaign? Who knows?

What we do know is that there’s been a growing pushback against plugging your pits with aluminum.

ALUMINUM FOILED: A BACKLASH AGAINST ALUMINUM

Since the 1960s, there has been a growing wave of health concerns surrounding the use of aluminum in antiperspirants.

Many believe that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants are absorbed by the skin and lead to a higher likelihood of cancer—particularly breast cancer in women. However, the American Cancer Society has found claims regarding aluminum and breast cancer to be largely untrue.

In more recent years, the health concerns about aluminum-based antiperspirants have centered around kidney disease and Alzheimer's.

This rising tide of aluminum concerns has led to a massive expansion in companies producing and marketing natural deodorants. Even though the FDA and other health organizations have found little in the way of conclusive evidence regarding the health risks associated with aluminum, many of these companies have capitalized on consumer fears.

As Vice reports, there really isn’t any conclusive reason to believe that aluminum isn’t safe to use. That said, the tides appear to be changing as more and more people transition to natural deodorants.

Maybe the one actual legitimate outcry against aluminum has more to do with your clothing than your pits. Those yellowish-green stains that show up in the pits of your white shirts are all due to aluminum.

AU NATURAL: THE RISE OF NATURAL DEODORANTS

The term “natural” deodorant can be a little misleading. When products have “natural” slapped on the label, we tend to believe that it is formulated with only natural ingredients—or at least natural ingredients make up a majority of the formula.

Instead, natural deodorant seems to be a catch-all for any deodorant that isn’t an antiperspirant, which basically boils down to mean natural deodorant is any deodorant that doesn’t contain aluminum.

Up until recently, natural deodorants have been viewed as the weird hippie cousin of antiperspirants. If this was high school, then antiperspirants were the jocks, while natural deodorant was the kid whose parents brought him to one too many Grateful Dead concerts.

But slowly, over time, natural deodorants took hold and maybe exploited the unfounded concerns surrounding aluminum and antiperspirants.

That said, there are quite a few benefits of using a natural deodorant over an antiperspirant.


However, not all natural deodorants are the same. Natural deodorants feature a wide range of formulations, and finding one that works for you can be a challenge.

Understanding the common ingredients used in natural deodorants can help you weed out what works for you and what doesn’t.

COMMON NATURAL DEODORANT INGREDIENTS

We looked at many of the most impactful or commonly used ingredients found in natural deodorants. There are all kinds of natural deodorant formulas out there. Some use all of these ingredients, while some use just a few.

The critical thing to keep in mind is that everyone’s skin is different, so ingredients will never be consistently effective across the board. You may have to try a few varieties of natural deodorants before you find what works for you.

Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda)
Good old baking soda—the stuff you stick in the back of the fridge to soak up odors but forget to change for ten years. Baking soda actually is excellent for covering up stink, which made it a popular go-to ingredient for early natural deodorants. And it’s still one of the most widely used ingredients.

Baking Soda Pros:

  • Inexpensive, making it a good option for lower-priced natural deodorants.
  • It’s an effective deodorizer.

Baking Soda Cons:

  • For some people, it may cause irritation, rash, and burns.
  • Baking soda has an average pH level that is higher than the pH of human skin.
  • Can have a grainy texture that is hard to apply and leaves white marks on clothing.

Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is used in various products, including packaged foods, medicine, and cosmetics. It was initially created as a synthetic byproduct of petroleum, but many companies have switched to an eco-friendly plant-based variation in recent years.

Propylene glycol is excellent as a base ingredient in natural deodorants because it attracts water and locks it into the skin. This helps to soak up underarm wetness while simultaneously maintaining hydration in the skin and increasing smoothness. Because propylene glycol is so smooth, it makes application easier than baking soda deodorants.

In recent years, propylene glycol has come under fire among natural deodorant enthusiasts. Some people voice concerns because propylene glycol is also found in antifreeze. However, propylene glycol is considered safe for use by the FDA, and it can be found in many frozen foods such as ice cream.

Some of the more recent concerns regarding propylene glycol may have more to do with its use in e-cigarettes, where it is being heated up and inhaled.

That said, propylene glycol is also a known allergen, and it is estimated that between .8 and 3.5% of people have a skin allergy to it. As with all cosmetic products, there is a risk of allergic reactions and skin irritation with propylene glycol.

Propylene glycol pros:

  • Highly effective at absorbing and locking in water to keep pits dry and hydrated.
  • Is easy to apply.
  • Gel-like consistency goes on clear and smooth.

Propylene glycol cons:

  • People with an allergy to propylene glycol will want to avoid it.
  • For some people, it may cause skin irritation and rash.

Arrowroot
Arrowroot is a starch native to Indonesia and is a popular ingredient in homemade natural deodorants. Though more companies are using arrowroot in their formulations now. It is useful in absorbing moisture while respecting the natural perspiration of the body.

Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch is very similar to arrowroot, and it helps deodorants absorb sweat while respecting the natural perspiration of the body. Tapioca starch is a common alternative to the harsher baking soda.

Saccharomyces Ferment
Saccharomyces Ferment comes from the fermentation of vegetable feedstock. It contains naturally-occurring, live enzymes that break down sweat molecules, and effectively fight both odor and wetness. The enzymes use bacteria and ammonia to make amino acids. The yeast enzymes help increase cellular respiration and metabolism to improve structural proteins such as collagen and elastin, aiding in smooth and hydrated underarms.

Charcoal Powder
Charcoal is the “it” ingredient right now. It’s in everything from toothpaste to deodorant. Charcoal has become so popular that anything marketed as having it feels a little bit gimmicky. That said, charcoal has been shown to be great for reducing wetness and odor. Charcoal is also generally considered to be safe to use.

Magnesium
Magnesium is effective at absorbing and soaking up liquids and adjusting the pH levels of the skin. According to Garrison Minerals, "Magnesium Hydroxide does not absorb into the skin." Instead, its main purpose in a natural deodorant is to counteract any odor-causing bacteria on the surface of the skin.” Most of the information on magnesium deodorant comes from companies who sell magnesium deodorant, making it difficult for an unbiased assessment. That said, magnesium seems promising, and it’s worth a try if other natural deodorants aren’t working for you.

Other things to keep in mind
The ingredient listed first on a natural deodorant is generally the base ingredient. Most natural ingredients tend to have either baking soda, propylene glycol, or water as the base ingredient.

Water may seem like the no-brainer base ingredient to go for, but water-based deodorants are more likely to grow bacteria. Therefore, they are typically loaded with alcohol—which can also cause irritation. Alcohol serves as a preservative, helping to keep the deodorant fresh, but it doesn’t serve any additional benefit.

Experiencing slight skin irritation is normal when transitioning to a natural deodorant (something we’ll cover a little later). However, if you experience any of the following symptoms for more than a couple of days, it may be the sign of an allergic reaction:

  • Painful red skin
  • Inflamed skin
  • Hives
  • Prolonged itching

This is why it’s essential to try different deodorants until you find one that works.

THE BEARDBRAND CASE FOR NATURAL DEODORANT

Many companies use scare tactics to push the benefits of using a natural deodorant over an antiperspirant. At Beardbrand, we’re always leery of that kind of marketing. As we mentioned above, there really isn’t enough definitive scientific evidence at this time to say that aluminum is harmful to you.

At Beardbrand, our product ethos is to create high-quality products that don’t alter your body’s natural chemistry. Sweating is a part of your body’s natural chemistry and therefore preventing your body from doing its thing kind of goes against our ethos.

When we began working on Beardbrand Deodorant, our goal was to create something that allowed your body to do its natural thing while still smelling awesome. So it was pretty clear to us from day one that we were going to be making a natural deodorant and not an antiperspirant.

We also wanted to create a deodorant that had a smooth gel consistency, was easy to apply, and didn’t leave marks on our clothes. We spent years perfecting the formula and ultimately coming up with a mix of eight simple ingredients for our Deodorant.

Many natural deodorants feature extensive lists of ingredients. We’re excited to offer ours with a little over a handful of ingredients:

Propylene Glycol - We use an eco-friendly, vegetable-based propylene glycol that allows Beardbrand Deodorant to go on smooth and easy while helping skin retain moisture.

Water - Good old H2O helps emulsify and dissolve all ingredients into one smooth odor-neutralizing stick.

Fragrance - Beardbrand’s legendary fragrance blends that use only fragrance oils that occur naturally or are safe synthetics.

Sodium Stearate - This sodium salt is produced by the saponification of vegetable oils and fats and helps create a firm gel-like texture.

Saccharomyces Ferment - this yeast enzyme, made through vegetable feedstock fermentation, contains naturally-occurring, live enzymes that break down sweat molecules and effectively fight both odor and wetness.

Sorbitan Oleate Decylglucoside Crosspolymer - This fragrance solubilizer is made from 100% bio-based raw materials and allows the fragrance to evenly disperse throughout the deodorant.

Tapioca Starch - Helps the deodorant absorb sweat and is less harsh than baking soda.

Polyglyceryl-4 Laurate/Succinate - A plant-derived ester of a polymer of glycerin used to mix everything smooth and easy to apply.

We’re excited to have Beardbrand Deodorant available in all three Silver Line fragrances. And with 11 other grooming products available in Tree Ranger, Tea Tree, and Spiced Citrus, you can finally have a Deodorant that matches the fragrance of your Beard Oil, Soap, Shampoo, Conditioner, and styling products.

TRANSITIONING FROM ANTIPERSPIRANTS TO A NATURAL DEODORANT

This section only applies if you have been using an aluminum antiperspirant and are making the change to a natural deodorant. If you are new to natural deodorant, this section is crucial.

If you've been using an antiperspirant, your body will need time to adjust.

Antiperspirants work by plugging your sweat glands, preventing sweat from escaping to the outer layer of your skin. Your body, however, is still producing sweat—it just can’t escape through your plugged up pits.

When you stop using an antiperspirant and stop gunking up your apocrine glands, the typical result is an increase in underarm sweat. It’s like opening up the floodgates. This sudden increase in underarm wetness can also lead to skin irritation or sweat chafing. Yeah, your skin actually becomes so accustomed to sweating that it becomes chafed by its sudden appearance.

But that’s not all. Your new pit sweat is likely going to smell a little bit more pungent than usual. This happens because antiperspirants kill off more bacteria in your armpits than deodorants or no product at all. And remember, not all bacteria on your skin is bad or odor-causing.

Research suggests that when you stop using antiperspirant, bacteria generates in your armpits at a much faster rate and that the type of bacteria can be a bit random at first. This leads to that extra dank funk that you experience when you stop using antiperspirant.

Are we doing a good job of convincing you to switch to natural deodorant yet?

The good news is that this increase in extra funky sweating is temporary. For most people, it only lasts two weeks. Your body will adjust to your sweat glands' new openness and stop pumping out so much fluid, and your microbiomes will return to a more normal state. Many people even find that they sweat less than they used to when using an antiperspirant.

The key takeaway is that you need to give it time—at least two weeks, but it may be more like three or four. And as we pointed out above, everyone’s body is different, so the first natural deodorant you try may not be the best option for you.


Why take these steps?

Natural deodorant targets the bacteria that cause odor. Applying natural deodorant to clean, dry pits is essential for its success. Existing water or sweat and bacteria on the skin diminishes the strength of the deodorant’s bacteria-neutralizing ingredients.

Two to three swipes of natural deodorant are really all you need. Anything more is overkill and just wasting your deodorant. If you end up with deodorant buildup under your arms after applying, you’re likely swiping too many times.

If you find yourself sweating during the day due to heat or exercise and need to reapply deodorant, always wipe your pits with a wet cloth and dry before reapplication. As mentioned above, applying deodorant on top of already sweaty pits reduces its effectiveness.

IS NATURAL DEODORANT RIGHT FOR ME?

Ultimately, this is up to you to decide. That said, natural deodorant may not be the best option for everyone. If not sweating is more important to you, than an antiperspirant might be the best product for you. We haven’t found any legitimate health risks with using aluminum antiperspirants, so if having that extra protection makes you feel more confident, go for it.

Some people also produce excessive amounts of sweat. If this is the case, you likely already know that you sweat more than average and have more than likely already seen a dermatologist about it.

Allergies are also a significant reason why natural deodorants may not be right for you. Natural deodorants tend to feature all plant-based ingredients, and plants, in general, are allogenic.

Lastly, if you fall into the small 2% of the world population with a specific gene for stink-free armpits, you probably don’t need deodorant at all. That’s right, research has found that a small percentage of the population has a gene that prevents them from having smelly pits. Those people also have dry earwax. Weird, right?

Keep on Growing.

Want to talk about deodorant, or need some grooming and style advice? Shoot us a message at [email protected], or Text "STYLE" to 512-879-3297 for a free personalized consultation. We’ll be happy to help you out.

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TL;DR

Antiperspirants work by clogging pores and sweat glands, preventing sweat from escaping—with aluminum compounds being the active ingredient responsible for plugging up your pits. No sweat means bacteria can’t eat—and that means no stink.

Deodorant, on the other hand, makes no effort to stop your sweat at all. Deodorants use antibacterial ingredients that neutralize or mask the odor-causing bacteria found in your pits.

If you are switching from an antiperspirant to natural deodorant, your body will need time to adjust. Since you’re no longer gunking up your sweat glands, you may experience some slight sweat chafing, and an increase in more-pungent-than-usual underarm wetness as your body creates a healthy microbiome under your arms. This is natural and typically only lasts two to three weeks.

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