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What Happened When I Tried an Armpit Detox

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When it comes to my beauty routine, if there's anything I can do to make it more natural, I'm all about it. Natural makeup, peels, and sunscreen, for example, are all my jam. But natural deodorants? That's one code I haven't been able crack. They always leave me feeling stinky or with irritated skin. Still, with all the growing concerns about antiperspirant being linked to cancer and dementia, I was determined to find one that really worked.

So I tried an armpit detox. And by armpit detox, I really mean an armpit mask that's no different from the kind you put on your face. The recipe seemed simple enough: Equal parts apple cider vinegar and bentonite clay. Wax on, wax off, and—voila!—brand new armpits. Or at least, that's how the theory goes.

What's the benefit of an armpit detox? Well, many in the beauty community insist it removes toxins and chemicals from your skin, balancing bacteria in your armpits, controlling odor, and remedying skin irritations. But dermatologist Nancy J. Samolitis, M.D., says those claims are a big-time myth, as there's not enough scientific data to provide proof. However, there are some promising studies regarding other health benefits of the clay, and since enough people swear by this DIY as the secret to natural deodorants, I had to try it for myself.

For the first test, I was out camping so I really put it to the test—two days without showering while surrounded by wilderness is a sure way to see if the stuff works. I ran errands all day on Friday before we left (keep in mind that I live in Arizona, where temps are still in the 90s, so this is usually enough to stink me up all on its own). Then I drove north to our camping spot. I didn't shower until Sunday and, I promise you, I didn't smell. I was hooked, ready to call the experiment a success. But I knew I needed to keep testing the limits.

I spent two weeks wearing two different brands of natural deodorant, and endured three 30-minute sessions of my armpit mask (when I quickly realized I would also have to keep my arms somewhat elevated for 30 minutes. Accidental workout? It counts.). I spoke to not one, not two, but three dermatologists about armpit health. And after all that, this is what I learned:

Though experts aren't quite willing to give the green light, there may be something to an armpit detox. But it's not exactly a miracle worker. What you really need is the right natural deodorant. As Barry Resnik, M.D., points out, we can't change the fact that our bodies make "food" for the bacteria in our armpits (which is what results in body odor). You're always going to sweat, and because your armpits have special glands that expose sweat to oils and cause pheromones, you're always going to have an odor.

So when it comes to finding the right natural deodorant, Michael Swann, M.D., says you need to look for options that do not contain fragrances and other ingredients that irritate skin. Oh, and don't apply deodorant right out of the shower or just after shaving— dermatologists say it's best to apply only once your armpits are totally dry, or at night when pits are their driest.

Luckily, I also accidentally discovered a real winner in the natural deodorant department: Schmidt's Natural Deodorant was, hands down, the best I've ever tried. You have to be willing to apply it with your fingers because it comes in a tub, but it more than did the trick every time I wore it. When I started to smell after skipping deodorant one day, I put it on and it was bye-bye BO.

All in all, armpit detoxing paved the path, but simply having the right deodorant took me to the finish line.

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