What You Put Under Your Arms Doesn't Have To Be The Pits

Armpits deserver better than what they usually get—a daily swipe of some chemical-laden white stuff that prevents sweat, sure, but by blocking the pores of the skin. Tough treatment for that delicate intersection between arm and torso.

Concerned about what goes under their arms, as well as in their bodies, many are seeking natural alternatives. And there is an ever-increasing number of products that combat perspiration and odor-causing bacteria without the nasty stuff.

The key ingredients? Mineral salts, essential oils and antioxidants.

The options?

Antiperspirants block the flow. Traditional antiperspirants rely on aluminum chlorohydrate, or its derivatives, to plug underarm glands and prevent sweating. Some natural products, including crystals, use mineral salts (specifically alunogenite, a natural astringent that is a kind of naturally occurring aluminum but kinder and gentler than aluminum chlorohydrate).

Deodorants inhibit bacteria that cause odor. Natural deodorants may contain antioxidants, such as vitamin E, or baking soda for scent and moisture taming, as well as an array of essential oils and herbs to deter odor.

Crystals, made up of naturally astringent mineral salts also known as alum, leave a layer of salt on the skin surface that inhibits bacterial growth. Crystals, otherwise known as deodorant rocks, require a splash of water—either on the stone itself or the armpit—to work.

Prepare for the flood. There is a discernible difference in how these products work. "When first making the switch to natural deodorants, many experience an upsurge of perspiration. Think of it as purging toxins," says Melissa Jochim, director of training and education at Avalon Natural Products. "With time, glands make an adjustment and sweating declines after regular use. Natural deodorants are most effective when reapplied frequently during the day in the first week after the switch," she says.

—Kristine Merrill