Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me About Postpartum Body Odor?

Unfortunately, many of the natural deodorants that I swore by for years—formulas that I raved about to friends, family, and as a beauty writer, the Internet—were failing me postpartum. Fellow moms in my network sang a similar tune. I swore there were a few heavily scented deodorants that were even making matters worse. Let me tell you—gourmand-scented deodorants did not mesh well with my underarm odor. After chatting with some experts, I learned that masking odor with fragrances can sometimes exacerbate the issue.

“When you sweat while wearing fragrances, the interaction between the sweat and the perfume can change the scent,” explains Dr. Davis. “The moisture from the sweat can dilute the perfume and alter its fragrance. Additionally, the natural oils and chemicals in sweat can interact with the ingredients in the fragrance, potentially creating a different scent than intended.”

After a ton of trial and error, I did eventually find a few natural deodorants that helped (you can check out some of my favorites below), but they never gave me all-day protection. In addition to my morning application, I had to swipe them on again in the afternoon if I didn’t want to risk a smell developing.

Because natural deodorants don’t prevent perspiration, and sweat mixed with bacteria is what causes body odor, they may not be the most effective option for fighting postpartum body odor. In other words, they can’t compete with antiperspirants.

“​​I think natural deodorants are just really hard to be effective because, generally, you need some type of chemical ingredient that’s going to stop the sweat or down regulate the bacteria,” says Dr. Gohara. “I just think, at some point, it’s just not strong enough because they’re not formulated [that way].”

In fact, if you’re trying to formulate a deodorant to match the effectiveness of antiperspirants, Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist, says it’s nearly impossible. “Deodorants rely on ingredients like fragrance and odor absorbers to mitigate malodor or ingredients that help keep odor causing bacteria in check,” says Dobos.

If you’ve ever shopped for a natural deodorant, you may have seen the phrases “odor-masking” or “odor-neutralizing” used to describe how a product works to prevent unwanted aromas.

Dobos says that “masking” refers to the use of fragrance, while ingredients like cyclodextrins or zinc ricinoleate interact with odor molecules directly to neutralize. “Cyclodextrins are ring-shaped molecules that form a cage around odor-causing molecules to prevent you from being able to smell them,” she says. “Zinc ricinoleate, the salt of a ricinoleic acid derived from castor oil, binds to odor causing molecules and prevents them being released into the air.”

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