Do natural deodorants actually work?

No longer the domain of alternative, health food stores, natural deodorants are popping up on supermarket shelves and beauty magazine listicles.

For a few dollars more than your standard, petrochemical-laden fare, you can have a pit stick made out of rainbows and pure bottled sunshine (read: eucalyptus oil and baking soda).

When the mercury rises, what should you be using to keep yourself feeling fresh?

When the mercury rises, what should you be using to keep yourself feeling fresh?Credit:Stocksy

But, as the weather gets warmer (and stickier), are natural deodorants worth a spot in your bathroom drawer?

Sydney dermatologist Dr Mei-Heng Tan says the main thing to remember when choosing a product to help you not smell like a 12-year-old boy at his athletics carnival is the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants.

"A deodorant is a substance applied to the body to prevent body odour caused by the bacterial breakdown of sweat in armpits," she says.

"Antiperspirants, however, affect odour but also prevent sweating by decreasing sweat production by sweat glands."

That Impulse aerosol can you used in the mid-2000s? Barely a deodorant (yes, that was a sweaty time for us all). Your mum's one from the chemist that shaves off like a soap? Definitely an antiperspirant. For everything between, read the label.

So, where does that leave natural deodorant? Not useless. But, as Dr Tan explains, also probably not the best option for the summer months if sweat is your concern.

"Ingredients used in natural deodorants include cornstarch, clay, baking soda, eucalyptus, aloe, coconut oil, eucalyptus and essential oils which have roles in absorbing moisture and combating odour-causing bacteria. These have varying degrees of effectiveness and are probably not as effective as clinical commercial antiperspirants."

While a natural deodorant might stop the stench, it won't stop its source – your sweat – and could still leave you feeling unpleasantly sticky (and your clothes unpleasantly stained). So, they might be fine for people who only sweat a little, but could cause problems for those who sweat more heavily.

If you want a product to stop your sweating, there are three things you should be looking for on the label: aluminium chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate and aluminium-zirconium compounds.

"These react with the electrolytes in sweat or keratin in sweat ducts to form a plug, hence blocking the excretion of sweat," Dr Tan says.

Sweating less this summer

Summer is a time we can become self-conscious about how much we sweat. But, beyond wearing antiperspirant, there are other ways we can try to reduce our sweat production. Wearing breathable fabrics like linen is an obvious change to make, and diet is a factor to consider.

"When your body comes into contact with spicy foods such as peppers, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine is activated in the brain and this triggers the body to try to cool itself off by sweating," Dr Tan explains, adding that garlic and onions can increase the smell of your sweat.

Regular coffees could be a problem, too.

"Caffeine can also stimulate acetycholine which can trigger the glands that cause sweating."

If you still feel you are sweating more than you should, it could be worth a visit to the GP or dermatologist. It is estimated that 3 per cent of Australians suffer from hyperhidrosis, the medical term for excessive sweating, and a number of prescribed treatments – ranging from botulinum toxin (Botox) injections, to oral medications or, in rare cases, surgery – could be the solution.

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