Conventional deodorants and antiperspirants contain some pretty scary stuff.
I’ve known about this for years, and yet I was still wary of giving up my perfumey deodorant in lieu of a natural solution. (I admit, I was nervous about being seen as a smelly hippy, which is probably why I waited so long to try a healthier alternative.) Before I dive into what I use now, I’m going to give you a quick run-through of why you want to avoid conventional deodorants in the first place.
This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read the affiliate policy here.
Where conventional deodorants fail:
The active ingredient that’s used as an antiperspirant in traditional deodorants is aluminum. The aluminum-based compound acts to plug up your sweat glands. Plugging up the sweat glands might sound like a good idea (especially if you’re a heavy sweater), but it’s really not.
Your armpit area houses lymph nodes. The lymphatic system basically works with your immune system to get rid of waste products and other crap that can cause damage to your body, including things like toxins, pathogens, and even cancer cells. If this area is plugged up, it can mess with immune function and limit how much of the junk floating around in your body can be removed.
Aside from that, aluminum is an element of hot debate – it has a potential role in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological diseases… and some say that aluminum may increase cancer risk (though studies surrounding aluminum are definitely mixed).[Even though studies are conflicted about aluminum, why risk it? Would you rather get a shitty and life-threatening diagnosis before you come to the conclusion that maybe you should’ve avoided aluminum and other toxins? I sure don’t… but I digress.]
If this wasn’t enough to make you want to toss your deodorant, hold your horses… I’m getting to a couple other ingredients that are also troublesome.
Endocrine disruptors are another major concern for deodorants/antiperspirants (they’re also found in a wide range of other things you’re exposed to… but that’s for another post).
Endocrine disruptors are basically chemicals that disrupt your normal hormonal balance. This is a problem because when hormones are out of whack, it can lead to things like fertility issues, growth and development issues in kiddos, behavioral issues, thyroid issues, cancer, and others (even the World Health Organization recognizes the potentially devastating effects of endocrine disruptors on health).
Endocrine disruptors are virtually everywhere and they’re stored in fat tissues, which means your exposure to them can be fairly lengthy (and they can build up in your body pretty easily). It’s best to take measures to avoid exposure to them whenever possible.
Parabens and phthalates are a couple of the common endocrine disruptors found in deodorants/antiperspirants. (FYI – “fragrance” is a common catch-all term that can mean that there are hidden phthalates.)
So, now that I’ve gone through some of the concerns regarding conventional deodorants and antiperspirants, let’s launch into safer alternatives to eliminate underarm stink.
Before I discovered my current favorite for underarm odor, I tried several other methods with so-so results.
I didn’t particularly like the idea of purchasing the fancy health food store deodorants because: (a) they can be pretty pricey, (b) they have seriously mixed reviews, and (c) some of the popular brands still contained some questionable ingredients.
I’m also the type who likes to take the DIY route when it comes to beauty and personal care items, that way I know exactly what’s going into ’em (and I can control the quality of the ingredients used).
The first route that I took was a recipe that basically combined baking soda with coconut oil. This actually worked really well initially, but I discovered that after using this method for a couple weeks or so, I started developing a nasty rash underneath my arms (it was red, tender, and peeling… not a pretty sight).[Some say that this can be a detox response initiated by the baking soda and that it should get better over time, but I just couldn’t handle waiting it out. I also suspect that the baking soda was just too abrasive for my sensitive skin.]
After scouring the interwebs for a while, it seemed like the most popular deodorant recipes called for baking soda in some capacity. So, I ended up just using coconut oil with some essential oils for a while, but it definitely wasn’t ideal because I would have to re-apply it throughout the day to keep odor at bay. (The coconut oil and essential oil combo did help my rash heal pretty quickly, though!)
Eventually I discovered (quite by accident) that magnesium oil can make a wonderful deodorant (it’s even held up in the 80-90 degree temps and 1,000% humidity that’s common during Michigan summers). Magnesium oil can be purchased already made, or you can make it yourself with magnesium flakes (which is a much more economical solution).
Magnesium oil recipe
Bring 1/2 cup of distilled water to a boil. Place 1/2 cup of magnesium flakes in a glass bowl, then add the boiled water – stir until dissolved. When the mixture cools, you can transfer it to a spray bottle (or for even easier application as a deodorant, a roll-on applicator). Easy peasy. (Note: DISTILLED water should be used to extend the shelf life of the mixture.)
Some people find that magnesium oil can cause somewhat of a burning/tingling/itching sensation. This may be more of an issue with folks who are super low in magnesium (it usually gets better over time as magnesium stores are brought up). If this is bothersome for you, you can dilute the magnesium oil further by adding more water (you can also apply coconut oil or aloe afterwards, if needed).
You may also want to avoid applying magnesium oil to freshly shaven pits if you’re new to it (otherwise, shaving prior to application may cause some extra stinging).
Magnesium oil is an awesome option because it serves a dual purpose: it works to keep odor down in a much safer way than conventional deodorant AND it helps bring your magnesium levels up. Most people are LOW in magnesium (for many, many reasons that I won’t get into in this post), so this is one way to get some extra magnesium into your routine.[Magnesium oil can also be used for headaches/migraines and for tons of other reasons, but that’s for another post.]
Adding essential oils
Some people like to add essential oils to their magnesium oil because of their therapeutic properties and scent. One thing to note, though, is that magnesium oil isn’t really an oil, so essential oils won’t disperse well (water and oil don’t mix… so you’ll find little globules of essential oils floating around in the magnesium oil). If you want to add essential oils, you should always dilute them with a carrier oil first (like fractionated coconut oil or sweet almond oil), then you can add that to your magnesium oil (you’ll still have little globules, though, so you’ll have to shake up the deodorant mixture each time before applying).
Diluting the essential oils in a carrier oil is recommended because essential oils are extremely potent and can cause sensitivities over time if proper care isn’t taken (some essential oils can even burn you if applied directly to the skin without a carrier).
Another option is to just apply essential oils (diluted in a carrier) directly to your skin after applying the magnesium oil. This is a nice option because then you can switch up your essential oils easily depending on your mood that day.
A note about switching from conventional deodorants…
If you’re used to conventional deodorants, you may have an adjustment period when switching to a more natural deodorant – you may be sweatier and stinkier than you normally would be… this should improve over time. One thing that might help is to do an armpit detox (to help get rid of some of the gunk that’s been plugging up your pits all these years).
Here’s how you can detox your armpits: combine 1 tablespoon of bentonite clay with 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar (mix with a non-metal spoon). Add 2-3 teaspoons of water and stir. You’re going for a thick, pasty consistency (like peanut butter). Apply this to your armpits and leave it on for 10-20 minutes or so, then wash it off. (If you notice any pain after applying this clay mixture, wash it off right away.) You can repeat this process as many days as needed if strong underarm odor persists (you may notice improvements within a week or so). Many folks have reported that after the detox period, very little natural deodorant is needed to keep odor down.
There you go: DIY deodorant that’s effective, inexpensive (when you make it yourself from magnesium flakes), and helps get magnesium levels up (potentially providing you with other health benefits along the way).
Let me know how this works for you in the comments below!
Amanda Austin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified LEAP Therapist who approaches health and wellness from an integrative and functional perspective. She loves a good DIY, making a mess in the kitchen, and working up a sweat. She’s also obsessed with her incredibly spoiled fur-babies, which includes a rambunctious Boston Terrier, 2 cranky house cats, and 3 boisterous chickens.