by Matthew Fure, Wellness Assistant Manager
Now that it’s summer, it’s time for our body’s natural cooling system to kick into full force. That’s right, sweat (or perspiration for the prim and proper). We all know that it’s the process of evaporation that cools us off, but ever wonder why our armpits produce such a, shall we say, distinctive aroma?
Sweat glands are distributed over pretty much the entire body. They are basically a long coiled tube in the dermis that connects to a pore that leads to the surface of the skin. There are two different types of sweat glands—the eccrine and the apocrine. Eccrine glands are the ones that cover the majority of the body. They produce sweat that is composed of water and salt. The apocrine glands are the pesky ones in the armpits and a couple other choice parts of the body. They produce sweat made of water, salt, protein, and fatty acids. It’s those two extras that cause all the problems. When they come to the surface, the bacteria on your skin and hair feed on them. The aroma is one of the byproducts of their feast. Now that we understand the cause better, we can better understand the solutions.
Antiperspirants vs. deodorants
There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to stopping the odor: stop the sweat or stop the bacteria.
Antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds that clog the pores stopping the sweat from coming to the surface where the bacteria live. This keeps you dry and odor free but also stops the pores from doing their other important functions. One of these functions is releasing toxins from the body. Also, some studies have shown elevated levels of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, which creates an uncomfortable potential correlation for many. Most antiperspirants also contain deodorants, which brings us to our next weapon.
Deodorants contain antiseptic and antibacterial ingredients. These ingredients help break down the proteins and fatty acids, and also keep the bacteria at bay. Some also contain ingredients that help absorb moisture and odor. Many are also scented to help further avoid any unpleasant odor.
Because of the increasing concerns over the chemicals we are surrounded by, many of us have decided to try and cut as many chemicals as possible out of our lives. So, why should the product you apply to the sensitive skin under your arms be any different? This doesn’t mean you just have to get used to odor. Although there are no other options for antiperspirants, we have been given a huge array of natural deodorants to choose from. If you absolutely must have dry pits, you could also consider only using antiperspirants when necessary, and apply a deodorant when doing chores, working out, or any of the other activities where you already expect to be sweating.
You also need to consider the fact that since deodorants work on the skin, it is very important to apply them to the whole area under the arm. Just putting a swipe down the center will do little to stop odor from developing.
Deciphering the choices
It may seem a little overwhelming at first when confronted with all the different choices out there. There are a few things to consider which can help narrow down the choices. First off, if you tend to sweat a pretty decent amount, a deodorant containing ingredients such as corn starch or clays may be the route to take. These help absorb some of the moisture keeping you a little drier without clogging the pores. Also, many sprays are plant extracts which have antibacterial and antiseptic properties in an alcohol or witch hazel base. The alcohol and witch hazel acts as an astringent, which can tighten the pores a little. This helps reduce sweat without clogging the pores.
If you seem to produce a decent amount of odor with very little actual sweat, you may have a pretty high concentration of protein and fatty acids in your sweat. There are deodorants that have added enzymes such as aloe leaf juice or saccharomyces ferment. These enzymes help break down the proteins in your sweat into compounds the bacteria can’t consume. There are also numerous plant extracts added for both their aroma and antibacterial properties. These may include but are not limited to sage, citrus, lavender, and tea tree. Lichen is also a pretty popular bacteria-fighting ingredient.
To use crystal deodorants, you wet your armpit and rub the crystal around making sure to thoroughly cover your entire armpit. This leaves a layer of mineral salts, which inhibits bacteria growth. If you tend to sweat a lot, you may need to apply a couple of times a day. There is also a spray-on version of the crystal deodorants now available, if the idea of rubbing a crystal around your armpit seems a little too farfetched for you.
Making the switch
If you’ve decided to switch to a natural deodorant, here are a few things to consider. First off, if you’ve been using antiperspirants up until now, it will take some time for your body to adjust. As your sweat glands start flowing freely again, they may go into overdrive for a while. Your body is releasing all the things that have been trapped in your pores. One way to cope with this period is to cleanse the armpit area with a gentle antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer a couple times a day. You could even keep hand-sanitizing wipes with you to make freshening up a breeze. After cleaning the area just reapply the deodorant and continue on with your daily activities knowing you’ll be