Who cares if you’re a little stinky in quarantine?
I hesitate to start a sentence with “There’s never been a better time to…” when the “time” in question is the unprecedented time alone that accompanies a global pandemic. But fear not. The suggestion that follows has nothing to do with starting a podcast or learning a language or writing a novel while quarantined (because you do not have to be productive right now). It’s quite the opposite, really. There’s never been a better time to embrace your BO.
As anyone who’s made the switch from antiperspirant to natural deodorant knows, things can get stinky. This is where government-suggested social distancing comes in. With six feet between you and the nearest person—you are staying six feet away from the nearest person, yes?—your armpits are free to adjust without judgment.
WHY TO SWITCH
For the three people on the planet who have yet to hear, antiperspirants have issues. (Most traditional “deodorants” are actually antiperspirant-deodorants, FYI.) “Antiperspirants contain metallic salts, which are aluminum-based, like aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride, and aluminum zirconium, to name a few,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Alicia Zalka, founder of Surface Deep Anti-Odorant. “When combined with sweat, these create a plug of the sweat duct.” That plug keeps you from sweating, which, yay. But it also keeps you from sweating—which is kind of a necessary bodily function.
Besides regulating body temperature, “sweating is an important way by which our bodies detox,” confirms Vivian Chen, a UK-trained physician and the natural-living expert behind Plateful Health. “Studies have shown that sweat can contain glyphosate, heavy metals, and BPA, so I am not a proponent of blocking our sweat glands.” She’s not alone there. The organic deodorant market is expected to be worth over $158 million by 2025.
It’s worth noting that aluminum is not the only offender in regular antiperspirant-deodorants. Some feature parabens, triclosan, and phthalates (often hidden under the umbrella term “fragrance”), all of which are suspected endocrine disruptors.
WHY YOU SMELL
If you attempt to go natural and notice a little funk, that’s normal—and no, it doesn’t mean your new formula isn’t working. It means your body is.
“When you first stop using aluminum-based deodorants, the sweat glands are effectively ‘unblocked,’” Chen explains. Enter: a steady stream of perspiration and some previously plugged-up toxins.
While that’s happening, the microbiome of your armpits (the totally normal collection of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live on the skin’s surface) starts to shift back into balance. “The skin’s microbiome is sensitive to the chemicals we put on our bodies, our diet, our stress levels, and the skin’s pH,” Chen says. “It can take time for the skin pH and microbiome to go back to a natural state.”
Sweat is actually odorless, but bacteria is not. So as your microbiome gets used to its “new normal,” your pits start to stink. Naturally.
HOW LONG IT LASTS
“There is a lag time when you stop using an antiperspirant for the ‘purge’ to be complete,” according to Dr. Zalka. This period typically lasts for seven to 10 days, depending on your body chemistry.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. “For some people, natural deodorant can work really well for them straightaway,” Chen says. Others, like Chen herself, don’t even have to wear deodorant. (“I am not very stinky,” she notes, making me all sorts of jealous.) Some poor souls will smell indefinitely or until they “correct the underlying causes of their body odor,” which can include diet and stress.
WHAT TO DO
To power through that transition phase a little faster, Dr. Zalka recommends treating your armpits with exfoliating acids to “lower skin pH and help reduce sebum oils, which makes the skin inhospitable to odor-causing bacteria,” and probiotics to “keep the skin barrier function undisturbed and prevent irritation.”
But what’s the rush? We will all be social distancing for the foreseeable future, and no one can smell you from six feet away. So sit back. Relax. Stew in your own stink (and in seven to 10 days, you won’t even have to do that).
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