What causes armpit rashes and irritation? It could be baking soda (bicarb) and/or essential oils.
Bicarb, or Sodium Bicarbonate (AKA baking soda), is a super-effective deodoriser. It’s a natural salt used in deodorant for its antibacterial properties. It stops body odour in its tracks by creating an environment impossible for bacteria to grow. Because bicarb is alkaline, it can affect your skins’ pH during periods of heavy sweating, especially if your natural pH is very acidic or if your skins’ microbiome has been compromised (after antibiotic use).
In my experience, around 10% of people will not be able to tolerate bicarb for one of those reasons.
Armpit Rashes and Irritation
Reactions to bicarb usually present as a rash with redness, sore spots and mild to moderate itching. This is often more pronounced when bicarb is applied to freshly shaved underarms and in hot weather. Shaving actually causes micro-cuts on the skin, making anything you apply to the area directly afterwards (especially a salt) feel uncomfortable. Shaving can increase the chance of armpit rashes and irritation. Hot weather increases perspiration and the wetness, friction and change in pH can become very uncomfortable.
It’s very important to note that not all skin reactions are due to a pH imbalance caused by bicarb. If you’ve had a reaction, you shouldn’t automatically assume that a bicarb free natural deodorant is the answer.
Similar reactions are also caused by sensitivity to perfumes, essential oils and sometimes even benign ingredients like coconut oil. There are also some medical conditions that present with rash-like symptoms or underarm skin discolouration but are not caused by topical cosmetics at all (read this if you’re skin looks dark or discoloured).
Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer with sore underarms if you experience irritation from natural deodorant. Here’s how to fix yourself up:
If you start feeling itchy or sore, don’t ignore it and keep using the product. If you ignore your armpits, they will get mad at you and it will be much harder to sort them out. Trust me, you don’t want angry armpits!
For itchiness: Reset your pH
Dilute 1 part raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) with 10 parts water (ACV : Water, 1 : 10) and apply to the area 2-3 times per day or as needed until your skin feels normal. If a pH imbalance is the problem, you’ll feel relief instantly. You can probably go on to use your bicarb deodorant again after your skin is back to normal. You might find that you’ll need to reset your pH on occasion, after antibiotics, major changes in diet, etc.
For redness, soreness and rashes: Soothe first, then Reset your pH
It’s usually good to let that redness come down enough so that it’s not too painful to apply a soothing oil. Remember, anything on severely inflamed skin is going to be uncomfortable. Apply raw coconut oil to the area in the morning and at night (if you might be sensitive to coconut oil, try aloe vera gel). Coconut oil is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It will help soothe your skin and bring down redness, helping it to heal itself faster. Once the inflammation has gone down, try resetting your pH.
When you don’t know what caused the reaction
Don’t keep using a product if you suspect it caused a reaction. Get your skin back to normal (see steps above), then use the process of elimination to work out what caused the reaction. You can try using a natural deodorant that does not contain any bicarb AND doesn’t contain any fragrance, natural or not. If you can tolerate that, then you know you’re sensitive to bicarb or fragrance/essential oils and not a benign ingredient. If you find that this makes your armpits happy but it’s not strong enough to stop body odour, the next step is to try a bicarb free natural deodorant that contains natural essential oils. If you can tolerate this, then you’ll know you’re reactive to bicarb. If you can’t tolerate it, then you know your underarms are sensitive to fragrance. If everything causes irritation, it’s time to look at common ingredients and your lifestyle factors.
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Disclaimer: Lifestyle factors, pregnancy and use of antibiotics can all affect how your body reacts to anything you apply to your skin. The purpose of this post is to provide general information, resources, discussion, and share experiences about health, the environment and related subjects. The words and other content provided within the Awake Organics Health & Wellbeing platform, and in any linked materials, are not intended as medical advice. If you have a medical health concern, please consult with your primary health-care physician.