I started writing this post weeks ago – long before the news about Matthew McConaughey and Lizzo no longer wearing deodorant came out.
I’m not sure what they do instead, if anything. I think they actually don’t use anything at all except showers.
I’m sure that works great for them, but for me, soap and water just don’t seem to cut it.
Did I ever think I’d be blogging about body odor? No. But, here we are, and I think this information can be helpful to others.
In my search for alternatives to traditional deodorant – which stained my clothes, always balled up under my arms, and clogged my underarm pores causing acne and in-grown hairs – I stumbled upon the corner of the internet discussing the use of acids as odor killers.
At least in North America, acids are more commonly used in facial skincare.
I’ve found very few actual websites or blogs talking about acids for underarms, so most of my research took place on Reddit.
I’ve been experimenting for over two years now (I think?), but the experimentation has really picked up over the pandemic because of what I can only assume are supply chain issues with what has been my go-to product (Stridex).
Now, these don’t really qualify as “DIY deodorant alternatives” and I wasn’t really seeking out 100% all-natural or anything, because my main concerns, as noted above, were pore clogging, clothes staining, and product balling (an official phrase I just made up). To be totally honest, I’m also going for convenience, because I just don’t want to have to be mixing anything on a regular basis, which is also why I focus mainly on alternative commercial products / commercial products with uses other than what they’re sold for.
SO, if you’re interested in ditching deodorant for whatever reason – minimalism, better/fewer ingredients, skin irritation, or anything else – keep reading, because at this point, I’ve basically tried everything (NOTE: My product research below does NOT include actual commercial natural deodorants, because my brief experience with them years ago was HIGHLY unsuccessful and was way worse for my skin/pores than “regular” antiperspirant/deodorants).
NOTE: Everything below is ALCOHOL FREE.
Stridex in the Red Box ($9/90 count box) (2% salicylic acid – BHA)
The most popular deodorant alternative is Stridex (in the red box!). It’s also probably my favourite among what I’ve tried so far.
I’ve been using Stridex acne pads for a couple years now. They don’t stop sweating, but they absolutely stop odor by making your underarm environment uninhabitable for odor-causing bacteria.
If you’re in the US, then you’re in luck. These are an American product and always seem to be available there.
If, like me, you’re in Canada, you may encounter long shipping times, or worse, times when the product is simply not available.
We do have similar acne pads in Canada (made by Oxy), which do work for odor, BUT, every single formula has alcohol in it, so they’ll be really drying for your skin.
Whether you try Stridex or seek out an alternative, the most important thing is getting something that’s alcohol free.
The only thing I don’t love about Stridex is that the container is not super travel friendly. Once you’ve broken the seal, the liquid soaking the pads inside leaks out, so I always have to put it inside two ziplock bags to protect my luggage from it.
COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid (~$20) (7% glycolic acid)
I decided to try this after my beloved Stridex was out of stock everywhere – even Amazon – unless I wanted to pay a zillion dollars for shipping from the US. I didn’t.
I was nervous to branch out because Stridex was so reliable, but also because Stridex is BHA, and this product, as per the name, is obviously AHA.
I pour some into a little spray bottle and spray it on instead of using a cotton pad. I found the cotton pads resulted in me using SO much of the liquid, whereas spraying – or misting – directly onto my underarm was not only more effective, but conserved the liquid.
This worked fairly well for preventing odor; however, I found it to be irritating for my skin. I ended up with itchy redness on the skin surrounding my “pit” so while it definitely works, it’s not my first choice.
COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (~$25) (4% betaine salicylate – BHA)
Aaand, back to my beloved BHA. I’m not sure why I didn’t try this one first when I couldn’t get Stridex (probably so I could experiment with AHA), but this one performs AND doesn’t cause the irritation I had from the AHA power liquid.
For BHA, 2% seems to be a standard amount and works great.
This was my, “Oh no, I’m almost out of Stridex and it’s not available anywhere, I need something else right meeeoooow!” purchase.
This performs similarly to the other BHA products, but is definitely at a higher price point, and not something I’d make my go-to BHA product, especially when there are others that perform just as well and are easier to use.
Easier to use, you say? That’s right. The bottle of this product is really hard to open completely, so I haven’t been able to pour it into my tiny spray bottle. Cotton pads would absorb too much product, so I essentially dab some on my hands and rub it on my underarms that way.
E.L.F. Supertone (~$30 on Amazon, $10 at Shoppers Drugmart) (glycolic acid – BHA, % unknown)
I don’t know why I was skeptical about this, but possibly because it uses glycolic acid (an AHA, which I didn’t have a good experience with via COSRX), and maybe because the AHA ingredient wasn’t highly marketed. I kept questioning whether it was in there, even though it is clearly written in the ingredients. Power of marketing, eh?
So anyway, so far this product seems to work really well. It seems one application per day is sufficient, even when a shower is mixed in. If I applied in the morning, then shower at night, I don’t need to reapply post-shower, and I’m still good through the morning (though I would reapply before going out for the day).
I really love the citrus scent of the E.L.F. Supertone, which comes from the lemon peel oil. It also has witch hazel and aloe, so it’s nice on the skin.
And so far, no irritation.
I also love the price point of this. I’ve just been applying with my hands so far, but the plastic bit seems to come out fairly easily, so this could easily be used with a spray/mist bottle.
Reversa Acnex Purifying Solution (~$29 at Shoppers Drugmart) (2% BHA + 10% AHA)
Ooooh, y’all, this one is really good! I wasn’t sure how the 10% AHA (glycolic acid) would go down at first (it’s listed as a non-medicinal ingredient) in combination with the 2% BHA (my fave, salicylic acid), but it’s totally fine.
Acnex eliminates current odor, lasts through a shower, lasts through a workout, lasts more than a whole day, and isn’t drying or irritating in any way.
It’s super easy to use with cotton pads based on the design of the bottle (a press-down pump situation); however, I’m sure if you’ve read this far, you know I like to pour things into a spray bottle (makes the liquid last longer and reduces cotton pad waste). You’ll have no issues twisting off the top of this bottle to pour into something else, which is amazing.
Now, this is a higher price point than the E.L.F. Supertone, but this does come in a slightly larger bottle, and each individual application seems to last longer.
Is Reversa Acnex my new face? Yep.
I actually did not buy these for odor. I initially bought them after a guest on Dave Asprey’s podcast mentioned them as something he takes everyday (in addition to carbonite and charcoal).
However, after having them for some time, I came across this other supplement being promoted online as an odor-prevention product.
The main/active ingredient? Chlorophyll. Which happens to be in high supply in chlorella.
Since then, I’ve been more conscious about taking them to test them out in this way, and I do find that when I take them regularly, I have less odor even without using one of the above products.
This is what I use instead of antiperspirant.
This contains aluminum, so do with that information what you will.
I don’t use this product regularly, but kind of use it in advance of planned events where I know I might want to wear certain tops without sweating buckets through them.
Also, for whatever reason, sweating in a top with polyester in it leaves me with BO, so if I have a top with poly in it that I want to wear, this helps (though I really just try to avoid polyester in my tops and dresses).
BUT, you apply this at night, so whether you’re planning ahead for a particular event or not, there will always be an element of planning. You can never just throw it on at the last minute.
Things I’ve tried that DON’T work
- The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser
- This is a cleanser, and I thought I would be able to wash my pits with this in the shower and be good to go. I was not good to go. It doesn’t work that way.
- While it doesn’t work for underarm odor, it seems to work okay as a bikini line scrub post-shave or wax to prevent in-growns and razor bumps.
- Witch hazel
- Just straight up does not work. Nice as a facial skin toner though.
- Apple cider vinegar
- I tried using pure ACV, and the ACV smell didn’t fully go away, so I diluted 1:1 with witch hazel, since I had so much leftover from testing it out.
- It works OKAY, but for short durations and in low-pressure situations. It doesn’t hold up throughout a sweaty workout.
- It is NOT an all-day solution, but does “eliminate” odor after the fact, so reapplying throughout the day seems to work okay.
- I don’t want to have to reapply multiple times each day, which is why I don’t recommend ACV or rank it highly on my personal list (but would still use it in a pinch).
- The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser
Things I’ve seen recommended but haven’t personally tried
- Paula’s Choice Daily Pore Refining Treatment 2% BHA
- I’m not sure when I’ll try this because it’s from the US and I haven’t seen it stocked in any Canadian shops, so I’d want to have an order worthy of shipping costs. AND, I also don’t want to love and rely on a product that could potentially encounter shipping/supply chain issues like Stridex.
- Paula’s Choice Daily Pore Refining Treatment 2% BHA
I’ve added green highlights to identify my personal favourite products, and to note winners in price, longevity, and ease of use.