Real Talk: Do you honestly need deodorant?
by Claire Reyes, contributor
When I started noticing the changes in my developing adolescent body, I also began to get conscious about my grooming. It was also at this point that I discovered products that I could apply to my underarms to keep me from smelling stinky, so deodorants and antiperspirants became new additions to getting ready for school. By the time I was an adult, applying deodorant had become as automatic as brushing my teeth or washing my face. It was part of my routine and I didn’t feel complete without it! Now that I’ve been paying closer attention to my beauty products though, I began to question if I actually needed it as I’d been taught to think.
What causes body odor?
First off, let's be clear on one thing: sweating is not bad. It’s a normal bodily function that allows your body to cool off and to expel stuff that it doesn’t need. Also, it’s not the sweat itself that causes you to smell but the bacteria that inhabits our skin. They break down the protein found in our sweat and cause that off-putting sour odor.
Genetics can also play a key role. Some people are simply wired to be a little more smelly than others, but I have some good news: as East Asians, we generally have fewer sweat glands compared to other races, so we’re actually less prone to body odor! But that can be negated by the food we eat, which can definitely make us smell funky. Aromatic foods like those containing garlic and spices contain scent compounds that linger in our system long after we've finished eating, and they can cause your natural scent to be more pungent than usual.
What solutions are available?
You probably already have a preferred weapon for fighting off that funk: deodorants work by disabling the odor-causing bacteria while antiperspirants purport to prevent sweating in the first place (this isn’t always true). Many products are a hybrid of the two formulas though, with a bit of fragrance thrown into the mix. These come in so many forms: liquid roll-ons, solid sticks, powders, sprays, and even lotions. The different formulas pretty much all perform the same way so you can just choose one that suits your preference. But if you’re keen on using something that ACTUALLY WORKS, you need to take a closer look at the ingredients list.
Most deodorant-antiperspirant hybrids have some form of aluminum-based compound in their formula. These form a temporary “plug” in your skin, preventing the release of the much-dreaded pit sweat. Aluminum chlorohydrate, one of the most common forms of this sweat-buster, has become controversial over recent years because of claims that it causes breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute has stated that there are not enough studies to back up this claim though. Products that contain this ingredient are best applied on dry skin at night, to give it enough time to absorb into the skin and do its thing.
Locally, tawas is easily available in wet markets in crystal or powder form, and you can even find it in beauty stores. It might be touted as a more natural way to keep stink at bay, but its chemical name is actually aluminum potassium sulfate—making it just another aluminum-based compound that works in exactly the same way as its cousins.
A small amount of emollient (typically oil) is also added to help the product glide across the skin and keep the underarms from drying out. Essential oils like sunflower oil and tea tree oil are popular additions because of their anti-bacterial, anti-darkening, and anti-blemish benefits as well. They also provide a more pleasant scent help pits stay fresher longer, without the potential irritants that synthetic fragrances may cause to sensitive skin.
Do you really need deodorant?
We all have different needs and preferences but now that we know more about what goes into our underarm products, maybe we can make wiser choices: do you really need these products in your routine? Should you switch to organic variants that are aluminum-free? What if you just pat your pits with tissue every time you feel some wetness? These all have to take your preferences and lifestyle into consideration.
For the most part, regular showers and keeping the area clean should keep you smell-free. You can also lightly exfoliate your armpits to remove dead skin. Opt to remove hair (through shaving, waxing, or laser) because it makes for the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive in. To keep odor at bay, it also helps to limit your consumption of spicy and garlicky food!
If the scent doesn't go away even when you've taken the following measures or if you just really don't mind using deodorants everyday, then it should be fine to keep it in your daily routine.
Do you use deos or antiperspirants for your underarms? What other practices do you follow to keep from getting bad body odor?