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Natural Deodorant explained with Jessica Olsen of Primary Elements


As the formulator of a nontoxic deodorant, you could say I'm something of a natural deodorant evangelist. The reasons for switching are many, and if you're reading this - you're probably already familiar.

My favorite reason, though, is that using low pH skincare products like PRIMARY Mineral Deodorant can help balance the delicate underarm ecosystem and keep it functioning properly - so that over time, you might not need to wear deodorant at all - natural or otherwise. 

Still, I'll be the first to admit that the transition isn't always as smooth as we might hope. The truth is, when making the shift from antiperspirant to a natural deodorant, you may go through what is commonly referred to as a 'detox' period, where you smell, well, worse for just a little while, before you smell better. What better a time to transition than now? Nobody can smell you from six feet away or over a Zoom call. 

To appreciate why this transitional period happens, it’s helpful to understand a little bit about sweating, what causes body odor, and how antiperspirants work.  Sweat itself is virtually odorless. It's only when naturally-occurring bacteria start to break down the sweat that we may find ourselves getting stinky.



Why do we smell? 

How do antiperspirants work?
The way antiperspirants confront this issue is by stopping sweat from ever making it to the skin. No sweat, nothing for the bacteria to feed on. But in order to block sweat from flowing to the surface of the skin, antiperspirants use aluminum to create a superficial plug in the sweat glands. The sweat is still in there, the antiperspirant just restricts access to the upper part of the sweat gland so it can't come to the surface. Those plugs can stay in place for days - even through showers.


Effects on antiperspirant use on the microbiome 
Let's say you want to stop using an antiperspirant. Good idea! Your body’s sweat glands are likely to try and overcompensate from being clogged up, potentially making you sweat more than you typically would. Add to that any of the particles that may have been trapped inside your bod also finally making an exit. While that purge is happening, the normal collection of bacteria that lives on the skin’s surface starts to shift back into balance. This is a good thing!


Restoring natural armpit flora 
Depending on factors like how long you've been using antiperspirants, stress levels, hormones, and diet, the process of reestablishing the skin's natural microbiome can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. But don't worry, the stinky-est part of the process will likely be within the first week. 



Tips for making the switch  

So now you know what you’re likely in for. Here are a few tips I've found to be helpful for powering through this transitional phase and encouraging skin renewal.

Dry Brushing 
The lymph nodes in the underarm area are responsible for draining excess waste and play a vital role in the body’s immune system (which needs some TLC now more than ever). Using a dry brush with natural bristle can help drain the lymph nodes to unclog pores. The best time to dry brush is in the morning right when you wake up before you shower. Starting at your fingertips, work upward using slow, gentle strokes on both the upper and lower sides of the hands and arms. When you reach your shoulder, begin stroking toward the chest/heart. One side of the body and then the other. You're brushing here, not scrubbing. Be gentle with yourself. Note: If you've had breast cancer, consult with your doctor before dry brushing.

Lather up those armpits with soap and water *everyday*!  Most commercial bar soaps (dial, ivory, nivea, dove) are super alkaline which can disrupt the skin's acid mantle -- the opposite of what we want to accomplish! Liquid soaps are typically (but not always) a better option. The best skin-friendly soap bars I’ve found are from AHAVA, Asepxia, Eucerin, and pHisoderm. A body wash with 2% Salicylic Acid could be beneficial for balancing pH. Just avoid using additional chemical exfoliants the same day to avoid irritation. 

Gently manually exfoliate
Bacteria love dead skin cells. Exfoliation promotes cell turnover. This allows dead skin cells clogging the skin to shed, uncovering new healthy skin cells below. When sudsing up, use a washcloth to help exfoliate dead skin cells. This is especially key for those of us who choose not to shave or wax. Don't overdo it. No harsh scrubs are needed - a washcloth should do the trick. Just make sure to use a clean washcloth everyday. Washcloths left to air dry in the shower create an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive.

Dry off well
When you step out of the shower, make sure you fully dry your underarms with a clean, dry towel.
Chemically exfoliate
Once a week, a swipe of an AHA or BHA toner can dissolve dead skin and help rebalance the skin flora. But again, just be sure not to over do it - listen to your skin. The goal is to help the skin’s barrier function, not compromise it.

Wear natural fibres
With the understanding that you will likely be sweating more than you’re accustomed to, it helps to choose natural linen or 100% cotton tops that breathe, rather than polyester or other synthetic blends which can harbor bacteria and trap body odor in the fibers. 

Take supportive supplements 
Researchers have studied chlorophyll for its potential as a deodorant for decades and while there is only one (outdated) scientific study to back it up, chlorophyll is known to support the process of detoxification and stimulate the immune system.  It’s also high in magnesium which is the key ingredient in Primary Mineral Deodorant.

Don't switch back and forth
I know it can be tempting but you aren’t making it any easier on yourself when you reach for that Clinical Strength antiperspirant. Each time you do, your skin has to readjust.  

And of course lots of water, exercise, good sleep hygiene and avoiding overdoing it on caffeine and alcohol will help. You know the drill.

My hope is that the comfort of knowing you are transitioning into a healthier life choice every day will make the transition feel a little less daunting. You've got this - just stay the course and trust that your underarms (and body) will definitely appreciate your efforts.


- Jessica Olsen, Primary Elements. Shop her Mineral Deodorant below. 


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