When your natural deodorant isn’t working

When your natural deodorant isn’t working

Say, you already know all about the harmful ingredients in your antiperspirant deodorant. Maybe you even went a step further and are already using a natural alternative. You might be happy with what you’ve got but what if your new purchase does not deliver? Or, worse, what if it irritates your skin? Or if this seemingly safe product, which is so well reviewed by many, only prompts you to scratch your head in despair and confusion?

No need to worry, you are not alone. Experiencing disappointment when switching to a natural deodorant is very common. What is important to get to the bottom of why you might not be getting the desired results. It is all to do with how our bodies work, namely how your particular body works. Last but not least, you can try some of the tried-and-tested tips for a smooth transition to a natural deodorant.

Body chemistry

Your bodily odours are determined by a whole range of factors: diet, genetics, hormones, lifestyle, climate, mood and the clothes you wear. All of this explains why one and the same deodorant might work for one person but can be totally unsuitable for someone else.

Our skin is covered in trillions of tiny bacteria which together form our microbiome. This accumulation of microelements supports our immune system and plays a key role in protecting our skin from infection. The apocrine glands located in our underarms and some other parts of our bodies produce sweat. Apocrine glands are triggered to go full steam ahead as soon as you experience stress, agitation or anger.

The resulting secretion consists of fat and protein and is odourless in itself. That is until it starts feeding the bacteria on our bodies which break down those fats and proteins which our sweat is made of. It is these broken down molecules that give off that all-familiar smell of sweat.

Where does the smell come from?

Where does the smell come from?

The mystery formula goes something like this: sweat + bacteria = bad odour. The colonies of bacteria that inhabit our underarms are as complex and diverse as the ones that live in our gut and mouth. According to scientific research, people who use antiperspirant deodorants have a higher diversity of underarm bacteria than those that do not use a deodorant or prefer a natural alternative.

Your microbiome begins to change as soon as you switch from using a mainstream deodorant to a natural alternative. The bacteria that used to inhabit your underarms are replaced. The ferments produced by these bacteria and its associated odour also begin to change. The offensive odour is hence a result of the type and quantity of bacteria that lives in your underarms. A full change of biome takes around four weeks. Many users ditch the idea of using a natural deodorant before even giving it a chance, making the logical assumption that it simply does not work.

What really happens: step by step

Week one

In the first week you might not even notice the difference between an antiperspirant and a natural deodorant. Users often rejoice at this transformation, assuming that the difference is slight.

Week two

After a few days of continuous use, the new deodorant causes the underarm bacteria to change. This leads to a change in odour and its intensity. When switching from an antiperspirant, which blocks perspiration altogether, you might experience a temporary increase in perspiration.

This increased perspiration is not a result of a detox. On the contrary, it is all to do with a changing microbiome. If you choose to stop using a natural deodorant at this stage, your body will need to also readapt from scratch to an antiperspirant.

Tip: to help you go through the biome change and reduce unpleasant odour try using some antibacterial wipes recommended prior to applying your deodorant. Make your own vinegar solution (1 part vinegar to 2 parts water). If any irritation occurs, stop using this method.

Week three

The underarm microbiome continues to change and is becoming more normal. The smell and perspiration levels usually normalise at this stage.

Week four

By this point the underarm microbiome will have completely changed. This is when users begin to recognise the deodorant’s efficacy and begin to finally feel comfortable.

Body chemistry

Irritationstill your foe? Try these solutions

If you are still experiencing irritation, itchiness or a burning sensation in week four, something is going wrong. There are a few possible reasons why your journey might have turned into a bit of a bumpy ride.

Baking soda in your deodorant. Everyone’s sweat has a different pH. On average it is around 4-6 pH. Soda’s pH is around 8-9. So, if the acidity of your sweat is higher than average, you might experience irritation.

Incorrect application. By applying the deodorant too vigorously, using it on wet skin or using too much of it, you increase your chances of irritation.

Shaving irritation. Every time you shave your underarms, you create micro cuts on their delicate skin. It is best to shave in the evening, when you might not be using a deodorant right away. Your skin will heal overnight, meaning that you can happily apply the deodorant first thing without the risk of irritation.

Skin dryness. Sometimes the skin in our underarms becomes too dry which is when it begins to give off alarm signals. Try applying some quality oil (olive, coconut or jojoba) before bed before your deodorant.

Synthetic clothing. Polyester and other synthetic fabrics prevent the skin from breathing, forcing it to produce more bacteria as well as perspire and smell. This is another good reason to opt for natural materials like linen, cotton, silk and wool.


Be patient and let your body adapt. Do not stop using a natural deodorant half way through. Your body will thank you later.

Read the ingredients label and keep an eye on the way your body reacts. There is a chance that you might be allergic to baking soda or your skin is overly dry. In this case it is worth eliminating these causes or trying a different product. Not all natural deodorants are made the same. Experiment and you are bound to find a natural deodorant that works for you.

Top picks

Underarm Primer
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Underarm Primer
A primer for your underarms that helps when transitioning to a natural deodorant. Also suitable for long-term use when paired with a deodorant for sensitive skin.

Coconut & Charcoal Underarm Detox Scrub
Coconut & Charcoal Underarm Detox Scrub
Underarm detox in the form of a coconut scrub with activated charcoal for a swift transition to using a natural deodorant. Can be used regularly for maintaining a healthy skin balance.

Dry Shampoo + Body Powder
Dry Shampoo + Body Powder
A multi-tasking underarm powder with clay and activated charcoal. Helps eliminate moisture and odour. Can also be used as a dry shampoo.

Chemistry Aha Serum Deodorant
Chemistry Aha Serum Deodorant
A roll-on deodorant containing an acid complex to promote a healthy underarm microbiome. Efficient after a week of use.

Charcoal Magnesium Deodorant
Charcoal Magnesium Deodorant
This deodorant stick nourishes skin and neutralises odour with a gentle blend of charcoal and magnesium.

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