Thursday, October 24, 2013

Your Guide to Underarm Rashes

Sometimes I'll receive e-mails from people telling me that they have a baking soda allergy, and can't use it in a deodorant. I wanted to talk today about this as well as other causes for underarm rashes.  

There actually is no such thing as a baking soda allergy. 
An allergy is an immune response to a substance that the body sees as "foreign." It sends white blood cells to attack the foreign substance, usually a protein or a substance that binds to a protein (called a hapten.) Baking soda is a simple substance that's easily soluble in water and breaks down in to sodium and bicarbonate ions (or to elemental carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen), which are common metabolites in the body. All are elements that the body needs to function. It doesn't act like a protein or bind to proteins to create a molecule that triggers an immune response.  There's no function whereby baking soda could be an allergen.

Now, that said, a person can get a skin reaction from baking soda, known as contact dermatitis.  There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant.  Baking soda reactions fall under the category of irritant contact dermatitis.  Baking soda is alkaline, so if high amounts are left on skin for a long time it can irritate skin because it disrupts the skin's acid mantle, leading to moisture loss.  Brief exposures can cause reactions in someone that has severely impaired skin function, such as someone who has been through radiation treatment for cancer, or been through other serious illnesses. But for most of the population, brief or low concentrations of alkalinity are just fine (and can be beneficial for cleansing purposes). Irritant contact dermatitis looks and feels like a burn. One will experience redness, dryness, or scaly/leathery-feeling skin. You will read a lot about this in forums with people making home-made deodorants because baking soda is usually used in too high concentrations in these formulas (usually around 30%, sometimes 100%!).

However, baking soda is usually not the problem
This rarely happens with our deodorants because the baking soda is used at a less than 5% concentration, plus our formula has the moisturizing oils that counteract the possible drying effect of the baking soda.  Additionally, if you sweat at all, you'll neutralize the baking soda (because sweat is mildly acidic) and it won't be an irritant any longer.

Most of the time, when using a natural deodorant, rashes are caused by perspiration.  

Other Common Causes for Rashes

Intertrigo is the most common form of underarm rash, which is irritation caused by skin-to-skin friction. When moist skin rubs against itself, that friction causes skin to become inflamed. You'll start to notice a red, raw spot right in the crease of your underarm (or other folds of skin.) It can progress from there and get larger. If it progresses untreated, it can get flaky, or infected and oozy.

To prevent intertrigo, the key is to reduce the friction in the underarm.  This is best done with a natural powder such as arrowroot or corn starch. Reapplying our Pit Putty sticks frequently throughout the day to keep the underarm dry and friction-free can control intertrigo.  This may seem counterintuitive because when you first get an underarm rash you might blame the deodorant. When in fact the deodorant can definitely help. Of course, if your rash is infected or doesn't go away, please visit a doctor.

Heat Rash
"This deodorant is clogging my pores!" might be your first reaction to seeing a heat rash because it looks like a bunch of pimples.  Heat rash is actually caused when perspiration gets trapped in your skin, causing infected and blocked pores. Liberally applying powders as mentioned above, frequently throughout the day, will help draw out that moisture and dry up the heat rash.  Cleaning with alcohol (rubbing or ethanol) can also help to dry out the infected pores and help keep the infection from growing. Cortisone creams can also help if you've got a tough case. Heat rash can happen in the underarm, the groin area, and other folds of skin that may be moist. If your heat rash doesn't go away or continues to spread, do see a doctor.

Infected Sweat Gland(s)
Excess perspiration can also cause sweat glands to become infected.  These will feel like deep tender bumps, and your lymph nodes may also become infected. This can also happen during anti-perspirant use, because the blockage that these chemicals cause.  Infected sweat glands can be serious and may require the use of antibiotics to treat. Keeping your underarms dry by applying powders frequently throughout the day can help to prevent infected sweat glands.

Allergic Dermatitis
Allergic dermatitis can be the cause of underarm rashes, although it is less common than the conditions described above. Rashes will present on all areas of skin the product was applied to, but also may spread out from there due to the immune response. Allergic dermatitis can come in the form of a simple rash, but can also be hives, itching, pustules, blisters, and thickening of skin.  If you suspect that you're allergic to a deodorant, one thing you can do is to apply the product to your wrist and see if you get a reaction on your wrist as well.  Also keep in mind that it can take 1-2 days for an allergic rash to appear, so if you just started a new deodorant and immediately noticed an allergic rash, you may want to consider that it may have been something that you put on your skin within the last 48 hours that's causing the rash. Additionally, there is a phenomenon called a memory response. If you previously had an allergic reaction, say, on your eyelids from a makeup, if your fingers (but not your eyelids) touch that substance again, your eyelids can flare up, even without that area of skin touching the substance. So if you're prone to allergic rashes, also consider not just what you put on that area of skin, but what other parts of your body has touched. Allergies can be very tricky to figure out; visit your allergist to pinpoint your exact triggers. 

[For educational purposes only, this information is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical conditions you may have. If you have an underarm rash that persists, visit your doctor. Bubble & Bee Organic does not make any implied or implicit medical or drug claims of our products.]


Anonymous said...

I used to get rashes under my arms all the time from shaving. Then I let the hair grow out and haven't had a problem since. I figure that God put that hair there for a reason ... for men AND for women. But since today's society frowns on this (for women), I just choose clothing that hides it. Been doing this for years and love it! Same with the legs. No more cuts, rashes, etc. and the hair is super soft once it's all grown out. No more pricklies ever. Aaahhh. And my husband is more than fine with it. In fact, sometimes when he's rubbing my legs, he thinks that I just shaved because my legs are so soft.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those persons who has not been successful use baking soda under the arm. I've tried numerous homemade and commercial "natural" deodorants over the last year. Currently I'm swapping btw a salt block and milk of magnesia (Dr. Oz). I use a commercial del/antiperspirant when I'll be out all day etc. unfortunately.
I did purchase one of BBs deodorants but it made me smell like a Thanksgiving turkey and I couldn't handle it so I stopped using it. Perhaps I will try another of your deo or putty with a different smell/EOs and baking soda since in such low concentrations. Thank you for the blog entry though because all this time I thought, like many obviously, that I had an allergy issue with the baking soda!

Anonymous said...

I have been using your super pit putty for a long time. Best deodorant I have ever used. I used to buy it from another vendor. When that vendor no longer carried it, I tried a cream version with similar organic ingredients, but it also included clove oil. A slight redness is an understatement. I needed to use apple cider vinegar to take care of the reaction. Not long after, I found your web site, and bought the super pit putty. Even if the products are organic and natural, it does not mean you cannot have a reaction. Still, even with the reaction, I never use any product on my hair, face or body that is not, basically, organic foods and/or essential oils.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Anonymous #2: Definitely contact us to take us up on our replacement guarantee! It's all about finding the right blend for your body chemistry!

@Anonymous #3: So glad to hear you're enjoying the Super Pit Putty! This highlights the importance of proper essential oil use when formulating. The Super Pit Putty does also contain clove oil. Used in too high a concentration and it can cause the irritant reaction that you described. We use it at a proper level (less than .5%) and in six years of the product haven't had a reaction like that reported ever. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks sooo much for this article! Very informative. I did try baking soda based deodorants and did get a pretty uncomfortable rash. I tried applying with Shea butter and or coconut oil in an attempt to dilute it some. I after some weeks finally gave up and went back to using mineral crystal roll ons. This is working for me and I plan to stick with the crystals but I am happy none the less that you took the time out to educate me and everyone else!

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Anonymous--Glad to hear you got your rashes to heal up. One thing, however, that you should know, is that the crystals are pure aluminum salt!

Anonymous said...

So what alternative is there. I use the crystals too because the baking soda/natural deordorants irritate me. I've successfully used just plain coconut oil. I didn't get a rash but my underarm began to hurt as if my lymph node was bothering yet wasn't swollen. I thought maybe my pores were clogged up. Is it safe to put oils on your underarm pits.

Anonymous said...

What alternative is there besides taking a chance at messing up your underarms or carrying around powder. I've had success just using coconut oil alone but then my arm starting hurting as if my lymph node was bothering me even though it wasn't swollen. Is it safe to put oils on your underarm pits. Will it clog your pores?

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Using a product like our Pit Putty and reapplying throughout the day would be my recommendation. The powders help to decrease friction and moisture. :)

Stephanie Greenwood said...

As far as oils are concerned, it is safe and they themselves won't likely clog your pores, but they don't do anything to control wetness, which is the cause of the swollen lymph nodes and irritation.

Krista Lamondin said...

For the past 4 months I've been making my deodorant and it's the best I've ever used. Never smelly, ever! But just over the past 3 weeks I've developed a horrible rash and swollen under the skin pimples. I stopped using my deodorant for 5 days and it cleared up. Also using witch hazel and castor oil to treat. I've been back using the deodorant and again I have a rash. Very upsetting. Could it be I'm using too much baking soda in the mixture? It's coconut oil, baking soda and arrow root powder. So the moisture is there from the oil. Thanks for this post. I thought there was something seriously wrong with my skin.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

When you stopped using your deodorant, what were you using instead?

Vida said...

Hi Stephanie,

A few weeks ago I decided to switch over to natural deodorant. I developed a rash a couple of days into it so I stopped using the natural deodorant. For two weeks now, I've gone completely natural and haven't used any deodorant (luckily I shower twice per day and work from home). I used a bit of organic coconut oil and lemon sometimes for the smell. Well for two weeks I've still had a rash and it's itchy. What gives? I'm not using any deodorant so I'm not sure what's causing the itch and rash?

Thank you

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Sure thing! I'll be happy to help! So...your it red and raw in the creases of skin? Any pimple-like bumps?

Irritated skin solutions said...

Baking soda is really good to use but people have to be careful not to use too much. Excess can cause the skin to become irritated and cause a reaction as well.

tina b said...

Hello! I've been searching for a deodorant for over a year now... I know that baking soda commonly irritates me, but even with liquid roll on baking-soda-free kinda, I get a rash. So I must allergic to something in those, too. My rash is commonly pime-like bumps. Any suggestions on which of your products would be good to try? I am wary to buy yet another product, because I have spent so much money only to use a product for a week and then have to toss it. If I am reading your guarantee correctly, I would not be allow to use the guarantee for rashes. Is that correct? Thanks for your help!

Also, I just tried emailing info at but it came back to me with an error :(

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Oh thanks for your question! I do have some suggestions--I actually think that what you're experiencing is a heat rash and you need a formula with a fair amount of powder, like our Pit Putty sticks! Yes, the guarantee works if the product you try didn't work out for odor, but doesn't cover rashes, as allergies are such an individual factor over which we have no control. However, I am confident that with our Pit Putty sticks we can find success with controlling odor AND rashes. Do email me at (not bumble) and I'll be happy to help!

Troy said...

Hi Stephanie,

I've had an armpit rash for nearly two weeks now. I've tried hydrocortisone and Neosporin.

When I used Neosporin last Sunday, the next day it seemed like the rash was starting to go away, but the itching and burning pain subsisted.

Now, the rash has gotten more red, like a dark red now. I guess there are very, very, very tiny little bumps but are barely visible.

I've been home for three days in a row, so no deodorant, but I'm heading out this evening, and I'll have to wear something.

I don't know what caused it. My other armpit is totally fine! I've been using the same deodorants and body washes for years!

Any suggestions on what to do? Please help. I don't really care to waste money on a doctor's visit just to get some cream when I could potentially help myself somehow else.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Troy--thanks for your question! Of course, if the rash persists or worsens, do visit your doctor. But, it sounds to me like you could have some intertrigo plus heat rash going on. You need something to really keep the area free from moisture. With moist skin it can rub against itself and create friction (and thus irritation) and big red welts can develop (intertrigo.) Heat rash happens when you have pores that get filled with excess perspiration, creating pimple-like bumps or boils. So, you need a product with a lot of powder (and probably reapplied throughout the day as any wetness is noticed) to keep the area dry, dry, dry. Cleansing the rash with rubbing alcohol before the powder application can help dry up the bumps and prevent infection. Apply a powder like arrowroot powder, corn starch, or even a clay. As a rash like this progresses they can get infected (either fungal or bacterial), so do visit a doctor if these tips don't start to work for you after a couple days.

Lipsia said...

Thank you for posting this. I have been using natural/organic deodorant for about a month and half and it does have baking soda. My under arms turned really dark and the creases are red. What should I do to help them heal? The deodorant I use works well, the only downside is the darkness and rash.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

If the creases are red you probably have some intertrigo going on, and possibly irritation from too high a concentration of baking soda. Contact me at and I'll be happy to give you some personal suggestions!

Stephanie Greenwood said...

If the creases are red you probably have some intertrigo going on, and possibly irritation from too high a concentration of baking soda. Contact me at and I'll be happy to give you some personal suggestions!

Cris said...

I've recently used natural deodorant and my under arms have reacted to it as well. I first started out having the rash and thought it may have been the little bit of tea tre used in it so I discontinued use of it and made one out of coconut oil, arrowroot powder and baking soda, then I now have a swollen lymph node ;-( I had to discontinue deodorant use for the time being. I feel like a funk ball.

Jessica Dultmeier said...

I recently started using a natural deodorant with cornstarch as a main ingredient. I've noticed the rash that you speak of has been occurring only in my left armpit. I'm questioning why it's only occurring in my left armpit. What should I do, it hurts! Thank you!! -Jessica

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Jessica Dultmeier

Not uncommon at all! Sometimes one underarm will sweat more than another. You're probably sweating through the deodorant and then getting friction. Also, we can hold our arms in different positions throughout the day that can lead to chafing--for instance one arm on a mouse, the other down at a computer. So, you may use that one particular arm more or use it in a position that leads to chafing more.

Hope that helps!