People fed up with the harsh chemicals used in everyday products tend to see baking soda as a natural cleaning alternative that’s great for nearly any situation. Some swear by its powers to safely clean your house, whiten your teeth, keep your skin fresh– you name it! By the looks of it, it seems to be an all-purpose miracle elixir that takes care of anything you need!
Now, more people than ever consider deodorants with baking soda to be a better option than those with harsher ingredients like aluminum. However, baking soda’s drawbacks tend to get left out of the conversation.
It’s important to get the full story if you’re thinking about using or have been using baking soda on your skin.
Baking soda is the #1 cause of skin irritation in natural deodorant today, and it is in no way dermatologist-recommended. Besides that, it comes with other issues that don’t make it the best ingredient to rely on in a deodorant.
It may be great for keeping kitty litter boxes fresh or whitening your teeth, but when it comes to applying it to your underarms or anywhere else on your skin, here’s why the negative side effects outweigh the benefits of baking soda.
Many people are so determined to get away from aluminum or other concerning ingredients on their pits that they turn to baking soda instead.
Baking soda (AKA sodium bicarbonate) is a chemical compound that’s usually mined naturally or produced commercially. It was formed when, millions of years ago, the world’s salt lakes began to evaporate and was popularized for household use by Arm & Hammer in the 1840’s. It’s in deodorants for its ability to absorb sweat and, due to its antibacterial properties, it takes curbing odor a step further.
It’s assumed that, if a deodorant contains a higher percentage of baking soda, it’s a stronger defense against odor.
But, a greater concentration of baking soda means it’s more damaging to skin.
I hope you have your safety goggles on, because it's about to get real nerdy in here! Let's talk about what happens when you apply baking soda to your skin.
First, here’s a little background info about what keeps our skin healthy. Our skin maintains optimum pH levels of 4.5-6.5 (on a scale of 0-14). 7 is a neutral pH, while anything above that’s a base, and anything below is an acid. The fine, oily layer that surrounds and protects our skin– known as our “acid mantle”– is maintained at this slightly acidic pH. This means, for our skin to be at its highest functioning level, it needs to be slightly acidic within 4.5-6.5.
Baking soda has a very alkaline (or basic) pH of 9. It’s alkaline enough that it’s used as a relief for heartburn, because it helps neutralize stomach acid. When you apply baking soda to your skin, it messes with your healthy acid mantle (a lot like hand-washing that’s way too excessive).
This sets off a whole bunch of issues.
As soon as your skin’s pH goes over 6.5, your acid mantle is thrown off, and your skin is left exposed to damage and infection. Each point increase in the pH scale makes a huge difference. In fact, an increase of just one point means it’s a pH that’s ten times more alkaline than the point before it.
This means that baking soda, with a pH of 9, is well over a hundred times more alkaline than the undesirable 6.5 mark. Yikes!
When baking soda stays on the skin, it disrupts enzyme activity on the surface along with “good” bacteria that love acidity. The result? The “good” bacteria’s is less likely to fend off viruses, “bad” bacteria, and breakouts (along with other contaminants that are alkaline in nature). When the skin loses its oily protective barrier, it can become dry and cracked, let in infection, or you can even get extra oily skin to compensate for the loss of moisture.
Baking soda commonly irritates, discolors, dries out, ages, and sensitizes skin to sunlight as direct results of the havoc it wreaks on your protective acid mantle barrier. It’s crazy what a slight difference in pH will do!
This isn’t exactly new knowledge for a lot of people who’ve tried deodorants with baking soda. Itchy, burning armpit rashes rank highly among the list of common complaints. The rash may not always start right away. It can take a few days, or even weeks, before it comes.
Many natural deodorant brands mention that some people’s bodies can take as long as six weeks to “get used to” them. Many of them toss around the euphemism “armpit detox” when referring to the period of time when your armpits feel like they’re on fire because of baking soda altering your skin’s proper pH. Whether you are someone who experiences concerning outward symptoms from baking soda or not, the changes to your skin that you might not see could still be a cause for concern.
You might have noticed that a lot of natural deodorants also have a separate line of products for “sensitive skin.” These products are usually free of baking soda and instead rely on magnesium hydroxide for odor control. While people with certain skin types generally experience less negative side effects with magnesium hydroxide than with baking soda, the odor control is not as effective. This also means there’s a greater awareness of the problems caused by baking soda, but it’s still something that’s kept pretty hush-hush.
Applying baking soda just once is enough to dry out your skin and damage its protective barrier. When the barrier is damaged, it can take a little over two weeks to heal. The longer it’s used, the greater the damage it can cause over time.
Besides damage to your protective acid mantle and skin irritation (including rashes and discoloration), deodorant with baking soda can also stain your clothes. I decided long ago that I’m not a huge fan of grease marks and resurrected B.O. residue on my favorite band tees. Some of those are vintage! (Which makes me feel old, now that I mention it… But, I digress.)
When a deodorant contains a greater percentage of baking soda, that still doesn’t mean it’s all that great at controlling B.O. Strength isn’t everything when a deodorant isn’t doing its job to begin with. Baking soda minimizes body odor for single-digit hours at best and doesn’t even get at the heart of what actually causes odor. It’s all just one big cover-up! (Take note, conspiracy theorists!)
Hopefully now you can see why baking soda in the armpit = problems. The Notorious B.I.G. put it best when he said: "mo baking soda, mo problems" (or something like that). Heck, if we gave time back to everyone who’s wasted countless hours dealing with the headaches caused by problem ingredients in deodorants, we may just end up with world peace... or at least more time to fall asleep watching Netflix.
I know I’ve put up with a number of these issues from deodorants in the past myself. Many of us have done it or are still doing it. We’ve used products that don’t even do what they say they’re going to do (get rid of odor!) because at least this one makes us smell a little less bad than the other, or this one at least has less awful ingredients in it...
But if you didn’t have to, why would you (or I, or anyone) tolerate baking soda in a deodorant?