SKINCARE HACKS : GLYCOLIC ACID IS THE NATURAL DEODORANT THAT WORKS!
I first wrote about using Glycolic Acid as a deodorant some time last fall. It sounded weird then and it sounds weird now, I know! So I thought now was the perfect time to update the blog article — with nearly a year of experience day in and day out and new, more accessible product recommendations.
Since my initial experiment, several new Glycolic Acid toners, solutions, and even pads have come out that I’ve been testing for exactly that purpose — replacing my morning deodorant. I’m confident that I’ve found a natural deodorant that works!
So yeah, for most of the past year, I’ve literally not used deodorant. I don’t have a single one in the Skincarma Vault (aka my medicine cabinet!) — or even in the product stash in the closet. Funny, as I was packing for the move to Brooklyn, I remember going through product after product, tossing things out that I didn’t use or need any more — and wouldn’t have room for.
And there it was, my tried-and-true Old Spice Swagger deodorant. I really loved that stuff. Over the years, I probably went through 20-30 of them. But I outgrew it; it was time to say good-bye. Down the trash chute it went with any lingering reminders of my ex. I kinda miss the scent — but I don’t miss deodorant (or my ex!). All that icky, sticky, white gunk.
I first discovered this bizarre skincare hack for Alpha Hydroxy Acid, and particularly Glycolic Acid, in an article on the site Racked called, “The Best Natural Deodorant Is Acid”. The piece declared that using an AHA or BHA treatment featured in numerous “shelfies” as a deodorant was actually a safe, effective alternative to conventional deodorants. It sounded crazy at the time, but I had to know if it was legit — or all bullshit. One of the products the article’s writer used in her own experiment was the Paula’s Choice Advanced Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA. I just happened to have the exact product in my stash at the time. Good thing I hoard skin care like most people hoard, well, useless stuff.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I have a love-hate relationship with Glycolic Acid, especially when it’s at a high 10% level — and I’m careful not to use too much, too often. But who doesn’t love a complete resurfacing of their complexion that leaves it glowing in the dark? That’s why the ultra popular AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution from Deciem's The Ordinary brand is a cult favorite. And why, no matter what, I’m addicted to it, too.
Except my own addiction with Glycolic Acid is in using it in my underarms — not on my face! In the months since I came across the hack, I’ve recommended it to friends dozens of times. Every single one who’s tried it is a convert. It simply works.
Why does this natural deodorant hack work, though?
I spoke in detail about the science behind it with a dermatologist who has her own experience with the use of a glycolic treatment as a daily deodorant. Think about the area of skin treated with Glycolic Acid as the surface of Mars. Life cannot thrive there. And that includes odor-causing bacteria! It’s really simple science, explained to me like this:
Glycolic Acid makes the surface of the skin inhospitable to odor-causing bacteria in places where they thrive — hot, moist environments like your underarms. By depriving them of the nourishment they need to proliferate, bacteria cannot survive where Glycolic Acid is present on the skin. If they can’t thrive, they can’t create odor. You see, it’s simple science!
Outside of neutralizing the skin’s surface, Glycolic Acid, at just the right pH level (below a pH of 4), has remarkable benefits on the skin. We know that in a solution with a pH between 3-4, glycolic functions as a potent, effective chemical exfoliant. A weekly high-powered treatment like The Ordinary’s crimson 30% AHA serum can electrify the complexion for sure. But a more gentle glycolic toner with a concentration around 5%, 7%, even 10% can be used daily.
My skincare guru Paula Begoun has this to say about Alpha Hydroxy Acids:
“AHAs are derived naturally from various plant sources and from milk, but 99% of the AHAs used in cosmetics are synthetically derived. In low concentrations (less than 3%), AHAs work as water-binding agents. At concentrations greater than 4% and in a base with an acid pH of 3 to 4, these ingredients can exfoliate by breaking down the substance that holds dead skin together. The most effective and well-researched AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid may also be effective.”
And, Ms. Begoun would be proud to know that it was her own well-formulated 10% AHA solution that got me started. While it was perfectly effective at neutralizing odor-causing bacteria, it could slightly irritate the skin in my underarms from time to time, though it wasn’t severe. It’s not recommended for daily use, after all. I don’t know if it was that the 10% glycolic concentration was just too high or it was the combination of that with a super-low pH of 3.5 that caused the slight redness. No matter, more and more options have become available — most of them around a 5%-7% concentration.
The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner
I love this product and it’s become my daily deodorant go-to when I’m not testing anything else. In fact, I’ve probably gone through a half dozen of The Inkey List’s Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner since it launched late last year. Funny, come to think of it I’ve rarely, if ever, actually used it on my face!
It took some initial trial and error to find one that worked perfectly — but when it comes to a glycolic-toner-deodorant-concoction, this one is the holy grail! It has just the right balance of ingredients and has never caused any irritation. At a 10% concentration, Glycolic Acid is the the second ingredient. Third is Propanediol, a glycol that can enhance the absorption of the actives (such as Glycolic Acid) into the skin. Honestly, I think that’s a main factor in why it’s such an effective hack for deodorant.
I don’t love the added denatured alcohol, though it contains no fragrance or fragrant plant oils that would cause irritation and perhaps even nourish the odor-causing bacteria. With a pH of 3.6, this toner is everything. One of the main concerns I hear from people surrounding the use of a glycolic toner in place of a deodorant is price. If they’re too expensive, it’s just not worth it. Most of us are used to paying $4 for a product that lasts a couple months. But The Inkey List’s Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner makes more sense at $10.99. One 3.4 oz. / 100 mL bottle lasts me about 2 months.
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution has earned its place alongside The Inkey List’s Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner. They are similar formulas, though The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid toner is formulated with a lower concentration of AHA. There are many more soothing extracts in this one — and at much higher levels, meaning The Ordinary’s glycolic toner is less likely to irritate the skin or cause a reaction in sensitive skin. The ingredients immediately following water and Glycolic Acid in the INCI are Rosa Damascena Flower Water and Centaurea Cyanus Flower Water — an extraction of common European cornflower that’s rich in antioxidant polyphenols and, when used in skin care, possesses anti-inflammatory, skin conditioning and astringent benefits.
But it’s that multitude of skin-soothing botanical extracts that are likely the reason The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% toner is so well-tolerated by the skin — on the face and in the underarms. I have never experienced any irritation when using it as a chemical exfoliant or as a deodorant. It just works every time.
Again, like The Inkey List’s Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner, it’s quite affordable (even more so since it’s twice the size!), making it ideal for use as a daily deodorant. It’s just $8.70 for an 8 oz. / 240 mL bottle on Sephora.com. That’ll last you up to four months!
**WATCH MY VIDEO REVIEW OF MY LIGHTWEIGHT SUMMER MOISTURIZER RECOMMENDATIONS ON MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL HERE.**
Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic
I’ve had just a few glycolic deodorant “misses” among the considerable hits above that just don’t meet the efficacy of, say, the Paula’s Choice 10% AHA and The Inkey List’s Liquid Toner. In my experiments, it’s become clear that a glycolic toner doesn’t work as a deodorant if it contains a high level of plant oils, as opposed to extracts — they seem to nourish the odor-causing bacteria or otherwise impede the necessary neutralization of the skin surface. It needs to be super liquidy and perhaps even oil-free. And it cannot have skin-sensitizing ingredients like fragrance or fragrant plant oils. But I suspect the pH level plays as significant a role as oil content does. Again, Glycolic Acid is most effective as a chemical exfoliant when the pH level is between 3 and 4. The cult classic Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic has a purported pH somewhere between 4 and 5, meaning its efficacy as a chemical exfoliant is not all that great. (Psst…that’s something Pixi will never tell you!)
Introduced more than a decade ago, Pixi’s Glow Tonic was the first of the AHA-powered toners. I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of posts on Pixi’s famous Glow Tonic over the years. How many similar Glycolic Acid toners has it inspired? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? But guess what, many of those inspired formulas — including The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution and The Inkey List’s Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner — are far superior products.
Since the Glow Tonic formula’s pH is somewhere between 4-5 (most reviews I’ve read come in closer to 4), and AHAs like Glycolic Acid require a pH below 4 to exfoliate most effectively, Glow Tonic will exfoliate but doesn’t have the exfoliating power you’d expect from a 5% Glycolic Acid solution. That’s exactly what I found using it on my own skin. The results were kinda blah. That doesn’t mean that it’s not going to brighten your complexion some — it just may not live up to all the hype.
The more problematic issue with Glow Tonic pertains to the inclusion of ingredients that are known skin irritants, most notably, fragrance. Both options from The Inkey List and The Ordinary are fragrance free. Glycolic Acid can be highly sensitizing — which is why it’s so important for there to be soothing ingredients like botanical extracts and humectants like Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice and Glycerin that keep skin from drying out. The presence of fragrance in a Glycolic Acid treatment is a recipe for disaster. Personally, I found it irritated the skin on my face and in my underarms.
If you have sensitive skin, Glow Tonic isn’t for you. Online reviews of it bear this out — you find complaints of irritation all over the place. Honestly, after 12+ years on the market, it’s a bit of a dated formula.
Replenix Gly/Sal 5-2 Pads
One of the drawbacks to using Glycolic Acid as a deodorant is that these products are hacks — they’re not developed for use in your armpits. For a lot of people, the idea of pouring a liquid into their palms then massaging it into their underarm area is too weird. Personally, I have no problem with that. Especially given the fact that I shower in the morning and my underarms are squeaky clean!
So, I was eager to find the perfect AHA-infused pads or wipes that could potentially solve that conundrum. I’ve tried a few glycolic-soaked pads and two of them stand out to me — for good reasons. Both of them work! The first is the Replenix Gly/Sal 5-2 Pads from obscure dermatologist brand Replenix. They’re drenched in a solution of 5% Glycolic Acid and 2% Salicylic Acid. One tiny Gly/Sal 5-2 pad is all you need — one side for the left armpit, flip it over for the right. As a matter of fact, these were only the second AHA product hack I’d tried after the initial Paula’s Choice experiment — and one application lasted all weekend. They’re available on Amazon in a 60-count jar for $24. If you use one pad per day, that’s a two-month supply.
Sephora Collection Glow Peel Pads
I recently got my hands on the new Sephora Collection Glow Peel Pads and crash-tested them, using them every day on my nose — and in my armpits. I gotta say, I like them a lot. Even though I can’t seem to find the pH of these anywhere online, the formula is super gentle and works as a mild facial exfoliant and a daily deodorant.
The Glow Peel Pads are made with “96% ingredients from natural origin” and are one of twelve new Sephora Collection products that are classified as clean beauty. I recently reviewed a few of these super accessible, effective skin care treatments on my blog article, Skincarma Approved : Sephora Collection Clean Affordable Skincare.
The 60 heavy cotton, textured pads are soaked in a good-for-skin, non-toxic blend of natural fruit acids derived from several common extracts — including Sugar Cane Extract, Orange Fruit Extract, Lemon Fruit Extract, and Sugar Maple Extract.
Interestingly, the second ingredient in the INCI is one that I’m seeing quite a lot lately, Vaccinium Myrtillus Fruit Extract or Bilberry Extract. Has there been some sort of bilberry explosion? You can grab a 60-count jar at Sephora for just $15 which, like the Replenix Gly/Sal 5-2 Pads is a two-month supply.
I hope you’ll consider trying the hack out for yourself. Hey, I’ve been at it for nearly a year now and only once have I noticed any odor — during my experiment with the Pixi Glow Tonic. If you’re looking for a natural deodorant that works, this is it! I invite you to drop your thoughts in the comments below — especially after you’ve tried it for yourself.
**WATCH MY VIDEO REVIEW OF MY LIGHTWEIGHT SUMMER MOISTURIZER RECOMMENDATIONS ON MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL HERE.**
The Ingredient List of The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner:
Aqua (Water), Glycolic Acid, Propanediol, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Butylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Alcohol, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Betaine, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Boerhavia Diffusa Root Extract, Ethylhexylglycerin, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate.
The Ingredient List of The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution:
Water, Glycolic Acid, Rosa damascena flower water, Centaurea cyanus flower water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Propanediol, Glycerin, Triethanolamine, Aminomethyl Propanol, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Aspartic Acid, Alanine, Glycine, Serine, Valine, Isoleucine, Proline, Threonine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Glutamic Acid, Arginine, PCA, Sodium PCA, Sodium Lactate, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose, Urea, Hexyl Nicotinate, Dextrin, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 20, Gellan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.
The Ingredient List of the Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic:
Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Extract, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Seed Extract, Glycolic Acid, Ammonium Glycolate, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol (and) Fructose (and) Glucose (and) Sucrose (and) Urea (and) Dextrin (and) Alanine (and) Glutamic Acid (and) Aspartic Acid (and) Hexyl Nicotinate, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Biotin, Polysorbate 20, Fragrance.