When I began converting to natural beauty products, I thought I’d never switch to a natural deodorant. I assumed none of them would actually work, and let’s just say that I didn’t want to smell, you know, natural.
Then I had a baby. I breastfed her, and, as I sat for hours and hours as she nursed, I realized that her tiny, delicate face with her little nose and mouth sat pretty much in my armpit. I knew I had to do something about my deodorant situation. It had to be natural and non-toxic: I didn’t want my defenseless little one inhaling anything potentially harmful as she breastfed for hours at a time. It also had to work. I didn’t want to subject her to my stinky BO if my deodorant didn’t work.
Thus started my natural deodorant quest, and after a few tries, I discovered that many of them are pretty damn good, and most of them actually work. So, end of story, right? Nope. Enter a whole other issue that plagued me for the next six years: underarm irritation.
I know, I know, it’s a very glamorous and sexy topic, and I just love going public about the fact that I’ve had sore, red, welt-covered armpits for years, but I feel like it’s important to share because I’ve come to learn that many people suffer from this affliction. And since I’ve actually discovered the life-changing product that has solved my problems, it’s worth talking about my bumpy, red pits.
For years, it went like this: I’d find a new natural deodorant and I’d try it. I’d be delighted how well it absorbed wetness and prohibited odor, even in the heat of summer. I’d use it for a few days. I’d break out in painful red bumps on my armpits and get really, really discouraged.
I came to my own conclusion that I must be allergic to baking soda. After all, why do so many of these companies make baking soda-free “sensitive” formulations? But I had the same rash in reaction to all the baking soda-free versions I tried.
I gave up. I resigned to having red, irritated armpits. I wasn’t willing to go back to conventional antiperspirant, and I didn’t want to use the crazy supersteroid my doctor prescribed (hello, side effects!), so I bought some long-sleeved clothes, stopped shaving my armpits regularly, and settled unhappily into my fate.
And then, it all changed. I stumbled across a blog post by Stephanie Greenwood, founder of Bubble and Bee, which makes one of my favorite natural deodorants, and it said:
“Baking soda is usually not the problem. This rarely happens with our deodorants because the baking soda is used at a less than 5% concentration, plus our formula has the moisturizing oils that counteract the possible drying effect of the baking soda. Additionally, if you sweat at all, you’ll neutralize the baking soda (because sweat is mildly acidic) and it won’t be an irritant any longer. Most of the time, when using a natural deodorant, rashes are caused by perspiration.”
Greenwood was suggesting that most people are more likely breaking out in rashes as a result of their own perspiration. My own sweat? Seriously?
“People don’t really get rashes from their own sweat since it’s mostly water with just tiny bits of other things like urea and ammonia,” says Shari Marchbein, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine. “Now, if the skin is wet and irritated from sweating, you can obviously get a rash from the moisture, and some people get hives from heat and/or sweat (called cholinergic urticaria).” Sweat and moisture can also contribute to fungul rashes, according to Marchbein, however the cause is fungus, which happens to thrive in warm, humid conditions. “The bottom line is that you can’t really be allergic to your own sweat.”
Marchbein also lists fragrance as a common culprit for issues in the underarm area. “Although there are various causes of rashes in the armpits, allergic contact dermatitis to a fragrance contained in the deodorant is one of the more common rashes dermatologists see in this location.” Luckily, many of these natural deodorants are available without fragrance! Here are a few I like: Ursa Major’s No B.S. Deodorant, Schmidt’s Fragrance Free stick, and DeodoMom from Some30weeks
Okay, so maybe I’m not actually allergic to my own sweat, but it was clear that excess moisture might be what was causing the irritation, which is when I realized I had a magic solution in my very own closet. I had been sent a Powder Deodorant months before — but, of course, I had never tried it, because I assumed, incorrectly, that I was allergic to baking soda.
And this is the product that literally changed my life: Mamalani’s Deodorant and Body Powder.
It had previously seemed counterintuitive to me to add more powder to a situation I assumed was caused by powder. But since it was my own sweat, moisture, and chafing probably making my poor pits so irritated, I tried the Mamalani powder for a few days. The results were nothing short of miraculous. The red bumps disappeared, the welts healed. The irritation ceased, and I busted out my favorite tank tops. My struggles (in this arena, at least) were over!
Nowadays, I apply a coat of Bubble and Bee Pit Putty or Schmidt’s (current favorites are Coconut Pineapple and Charcoal + Magnesium). Once that’s had a chance to absorb, I apply a dusting of the Mamalani Deodorant and Body Powder. I usually use my fingers for that, as advised in the directions, but I’ve also found that an old, fluffy blush brush also works.
I’m not going to lie to you: It’s not always a perfect solution. I do have to reapply the powder halfway through the day if it’s hot or humid, and I often walk around with white residue on my shirts as a result. The latter is why Mamalani founder, Mele Kalama-Kingma, believes more brands don’t have powder-based formulas. “Powder may not be viewed as convenient, or [people think it is] more messy,” she says. “However, it’s still my favorite because it’s safe, edible, will never melt, and does not require any kind of preservative.” But the mess and the hassle can be easily fixed with a little bit of education. “Powder was commonly used before the 1960s. This is an instance where we have to look to the past to help us out.”
I, personally, feel like this is a very small price to pay to have pain-free armpits. I honestly don’t care! If people see that I’m obviously wearing deodorant, well, then, great! Yeah, I wear deodorant — and I’m proud to admit it.
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