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These days, everyone seems to be on the hunt for a natural deodorant that doesn’t suck. The problem is that so many natural deodorants — even the ones from supposedly great brands like Schmidt’s and Lavanila — don’t manage to control body odor all day. They can also be thick and greasy, weirdly scented, make one’s skin feel wildly irritated, and even result in additional skin pigmentation from ingredients like baking soda. A lot of people hoping to switch to a natural deodorant are so frustrated by their options that they either spend a ton in search of The One or give up and go back to a traditional deodorant/antiperspirant.
But the best natural deodorant may very well be in your skincare stash right now: an acid meant for your face. The discovery that acid makes a fantastic deodorant came about when some gnarly ingrown hairs made me apply facial acids to my pits in the hopes that I could unclog pores and exfoliate away hyperpigmentation from past underwire-enabled cysts. Only after using acid for a few weeks did I notice that I no longer had any body odor emanating from that area.
I should be more clear about what I mean — I no longer had body odor even 24 hours after my last acid application, despite cartoon flies otherwise circling my head due to a general funk.
Before realizing that acid was the cause of my perpetual freshness, I got kind of full of myself and I thought that maybe I just no longer smelled, as if you reach a certain age and level of wisdom and your body decides to grant you the power of always smelling neutral. Yeah, that turned out to be absolutely not true.
For me, acid makes a better deodorant than stick deodorant itself, whether it’s a natural one or traditional. It doesn’t smear on clothes and bras, it doesn’t result in a hot deodorant fragrance wafting around every time I flap my arms, and it doesn’t clog my pores.
The only thing it can’t do, in my experience, is stop sweat. Acids don’t work as an antiperspirant because they don’t contain aluminum salts, which reduce the amount of sweat released by glands. If you’d like to control sweat, acid is not the solution you’re looking for. If you’d like a natural deodorant that’s awesome, acid might be the answer.
I’d recommend testing watery 2% BHAs or 7-10% AHAs: strong enough for serious daily use, but not peel strength. I’ve experimented with how often to swipe, and it seems like once per day from a cotton round or pre-moistened pad in the morning is the sweet spot for me; it’s enough power to kill odor, but not enough exfoliation to leave my skin irritated and tender. Unshaved pits? Experiment with the pad options, but consider adding an acid spray such as Paula’s Choice Clear Acne Body Spray to help spread the low-pH love around.
I was curious about why acid meant for my face worked so well to control BO, so I contacted Gloria & Victoria, skincare chemists who run the Chemist Confessions Instagram account. “BO is directly linked to bacteria breaking down the lipids and proteins in your sweat,” they told me. “The most likely mechanism is that the acids lowered the pH to a point where the environment is no longer favorable to the BO bacteria.”
The duo say that there shouldn’t be any risks associated with using AHA or BHA on your pits, but be sure to watch for irritation and don’t overdo it. Gloria & Victoria linked the effect of acid on underarms to a new area of research: skin microflora and microbiome, or the unique way our body works with bacteria and the bacteria blend that’s particular to each of us. Since we’re all working with different sweat and oil glands, skin types, and bacteria, my deodorant routine might not work for everyone.
I shared my acid deodorant experiment on the skinternet, and skincare fans around the world actually joined in the testing to see if acid is truly a universal solution to the natural deodorant problem. Two Twitter users, who shall go unnamed for the sake of their mentions, reported successfully using cult skincare classics Pixi Glow Tonic and even Biologique Recherche’s luxe Lotion P50 to kill odor and ingrown hairs after the products didn’t work on their faces.
MSN said that BHA worked better than AHA and recommended Cosrx One Step Original Clear Pads for the job. Selianth recommended Stridex Natural Control Pads with 1% BHA, finding that they once even warded off BO for a whole two days. Clare Oparo, who blogs at Skincerely Clare, reported “Loved it!” redbcuzofScully said tests have been “So far so good!”
That’s not to say that every acid is going to work for everyone. Ivory shared that “it worked for me on days I wasn’t exercising. But it had to be a liquid AHA. No serums (too sticky).” Mimi tested several acids and application techniques before concluding that the technique didn’t work for her. Charlotte found that Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme took too long to dry down to be useful. And Your Perma-Bitchfaced Nemesis recommended a hack for those who want to get the skincare benefits of acid while still blocking sweat: Use an acid under a regular antiperspirant deodorant.
I started my pit experiment with some Garden of Wisdom 8% Lactic Acid Exfo Pads left over from a lactic acid orgy I had last year. The pads were great, if quite strong on my face, so I wondered if they could maybe somehow convince my underarms to stop freaking out after the Great Backpack Strap Chafing Incident of 2017. The good dose of daily-strength lactic acid at a very low pH delivered a significant (but not unpleasant) tingle on the raw areas, but quickly exfoliated my skin, untangled the ingrown hair situation, and left me fresh AF.
I happened to have a spare bottle of Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment With 10% AHA on my vanity a few months later and swiped it on one day when I really wanted to see how much my pit skin could take before screaming. Not only did the glycolic acid formula sting very little and control stench for more than 24 hours, it actually cleared up some stubborn ingrown hairs and — I’m not kidding — started to chip away at the years of hyperpigmentation issues that have piled up in the region. It’s like a spa for your pits.
Not everyone has enough facial acid stockpiled to survive a total meltdown of society, but that’s where my long-term plan comes in: the super famous, affordable, and actually awesome Stridex Maximum Strength Pads, which are available at US drugstores. The pads contain 2% salicylic acid and no alcohol, so they’re a good pore-unclogging affordable pad option.