From lumps in your armpits to painful rashes, natural products that just don’t work and aluminium is not our friend, deodorants are a fraught subject. You’ve tried traditional antiperspirants and deodorants, you’ve tried natural deodorants and crystals, and you’ve found fault with all of them? Me too! So I did a little digging…

Formulators have been using the same active ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants for many years, keeping consumers convinced of the notion that humans are innately disgusting stench emitters, civilised and tamed only by the zealous use of commercial deodorants. The marketing has made us so terrified of releasing our inner caveman, we have become chained to a slew of products designed to prevent our body odour from wafting freely into the nostrils of those around us. Deodorant marketing has been just as effective as the dairy industry’s sales pitch, “But where will you get your calcium?”

Trawling the internet, I stumbled upon a few ideas that have real potential to help us ditch our dependence on deodorants. This is the simple fact that changed my perspective on the subject: it is bacteria, not sweat, that creates odour. In areas where we have hair, humans excrete what’s known as apocrine sweat, unlike the other areas of our body where we excrete benign eccrine sweat (water and salt). But in addition to water and salt, apocrine sweat is also comprised of fats and proteins that bacteria love to feast on, causing a mighty stench as they party.

Vegan deodorant alternatives

Traditional and natural deodorants and antiperspirants employ three methods to combat odour:  Strong fragrance to overpower any unpleasant smell, crystal salts or aluminium to plug sweat glands, and/or a potentially sensitizing or abrasive absorbent powder such as bicarbonate soda or charcoal to soak up odour and moisture. But could the stench be better eliminated by addressing the bacteria and their preferred environment? Let’s consider the science.

1. Bacteria love a warm, moist environment, which is why they love our armpits, so keeping dry is one option to consider. After a workout, or as you find yourself sweating throughout the day, use a clean, dampened washcloth to gently exfoliate and wipe away sweat and offensive bacteria, then importantly, towel dry before lowering your arm. As long as you can keep the area dry and clean, your pits will smell fresh, without interfering in your body’s excretory process.

2. Use a slice of lemon wiped over your armpits to dissolve build-up, which feeds stinky bacteria, and to raise the pH of your skin in that area. Other useful odour killing substances include dilute solutions of apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil. These substances are antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial and render the skin environment more difficult for bacteria to thrive. To offset a slightly raised pH, these solutions are best applied to armpits before an application of a rich emollient such as coconut oil or vegetable glycerin to ensure skin barrier health.

3. Popular Youtube vegan dermatologist, Dr Dray’s favourite deodorant tip is to use an antibacterial wash in the shower. Ideally, she says, this would contain benzoyl peroxide, but I have not found a vegan wash product available in Australia. An alternative might be to apply and rinse off after a few minutes, a lotion containing benzoyl peroxide such as Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment With 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide. This may seem like radical idea to repurpose acne medication, but seeing as she’s medically qualified and an exercise-loving vegan, I’m inclined to take her advice. Of course an antibacterial lotion could also be used throughout the day, or after a workout. As with previously suggested options, an emollient can be used to mitigate the potential for dry or irritated skin.

4. Highly rated and internationally sold out, Kosas’ newly released vegan serum deodorant called ‘Chemistry’, uses alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) both commonly used as chemical exfoliants in skincare products, to dissolve any tasty fats and proteins from your apocrine sweat, as well as to disrupt the pH of your armpits. The product promises that those reeking bacteria will disappear into the ether never to return. It is also balanced with skin loving ingredients to counteract any skin dryness. At least to my knowledge, using AHAs and BHAs in deodorant is an innovation in armpit management. If indeed, here in Australia we are unable to source such a prized product, I have to wonder if indeed we could just use an AHA/BHA solution such as Paula’s Choice Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% AHA, which also contains BHA on our armpits just as effectively? I decided to try it, and so far I’m impressed with not only the product for it’s intended use, but with my own ingenuity in finding a vegan alternative, as well as my odour free pits.

I hope this has given you some ideas for your own deodorant journey. Have you tried any of these options? Are you game? Afterall, now is the perfect time to discover your perfect deodorant routine, before the summer weather hits, and while we are laying low, keeping out of circulation, -although I’m sure you’ll want to throw your hands in the air and dance for sheer joy!

Editor’s note: If you’re keen to try some natural vegan deodorants, we road tested 11 that actually work. You can read about them here. And be sure to check out an impressive vegan deodorant range at Flora & Fauna.


About the Author

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Jessica Ferguson grew up on a nudist health farm in the Sunshine Coast hinterland to vegetarian parents, and was raised with ethical consumerism at the forefront of family life. In a small country town in Queensland, these ideals were often viewed as suspicious and against the norm.

While studying a Masters of Teaching, and a Bachelors degree in Anthropology from Sydney University, Jessica spent many years working part time in modelling and television, where her interests in beauty and fashion developed.

Making a sea change to the NSW Hunter Region earlier in 2019 with her surfer husband and twins in tow, has been a revelation, revealing a vibrant and fresh lifestyle, rich with dynamic and motivated people.

Jessica feels this is an exciting time to grow the vegan voice, as we witness an enlivened global movement towards plant-based lifestyles and social awareness.

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