When it comes to the underarm hair debate, being a woman can, literally, be the pits. We’re encouraged to express our personalities through our beauty choices yet seen as “less than” if we buck tradition, like deciding to go unshaven. Still, women’s underarm hair is making a comeback. Here’s how women are going au naturel—from the hair itself to the products used to care for it.
A century of shaving
The decision to shave or not to shave was not always an aesthetical preference or cultural statement—it came down to basic cleanliness. Ancient art depicts men and women without body hair, often a practical choice made to stave off lice and other parasites.
It wasn’t until 1915, when fashion magazines promoted underarm hair removal and Gillette marketed its first razor for women, that bare underarms became the idealized beauty standard largely for aesthetic reasons. The message: Body hair on women is masculine, indelicate, and unhygienic.
More than 100 years later, attitudes toward women’s underarm hair haven’t changed much. One qualitative study garnered an overwhelmingly negative response toward women letting their body hair grow with descriptions of their experiences including family and partner disapproval, internalized disgust and dirtiness, and homophobic and racist sentiments—much of which stems from ingrained societal pressures and beliefs, as well as the power dynamics between men and women.
Still, many women today are choosing to embrace the bush. Armpit hair is making appearances alongside couture gowns on the red carpet, on celeb and influencer social media pages, and in brand-name advertising campaigns, paving the way for the masses to feel more comfortable letting it grow.
Quell the smell au naturel
Whether your preference leans hair or bare, many of us want to smell fresh while making the healthiest choice about what we put on our bodies. Before you slather your pits with your ocean-breeze-scented stick, consider making the switch to a natural deodorant that may be gentler on your skin and the environment.
While claims of increased Alzheimer’s and breast cancer risk due to the aluminum found in traditional antiperspirants—which plug pores to prevent sweating—have largely been debunked, the mainstream products on drugstore shelves can often include, pesticides, skin irritants, and other potentially harmful chemicals.
Natural deodorants, on the other hand, often include ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and even cocoa butter, which may be gentler on sensitive skin, especially for kids and teens who may be experimenting with deodorant for the first time.
One of the biggest complaints users of natural deodorant voice is that it doesn’t work as well as traditional deodorant, but there are some common strategies that natural deodorant enthusiasts swear by to stop the stink:
- Exfoliate to remove smelly dead skin cells and bacteria.
- Make sure your skin is dry before you apply. Moisture makes it harder for skin to absorb deodorant.
- Remember to reapply throughout the day, especially after activities like exercise, since natural deodorants don’t stop sweat production like antiperspirants.
- Try giving your sweat glands time to air out. Although research has yet to prove or disprove the effectiveness of an “armpit detox,” some believe that traditional deodorants cause bacteria and chemical buildup that can take weeks to clear.
- Shave your armpits. Yup, even after all the underarm hair hype, you may still want to shave if you’re considering natural deodorant.
Natural deodorant versus underarm hair
While natural deodorant and unkempt pits seem like a perfect match for those wanting to live a more clean, green lifestyle, there’s one hairy situation to consider: Underarm hair has many useful functions—such as reducing chafing—but it’s also prone to trapping smelly bacteria, which can counteract a natural deodorant’s effectiveness.
What does that mean for the relationship with your razor? You may not want to break up with it quite yet. Removing hair and allowing deodorant to get as close to the skin as possible can help to quell smell. And while shaving or waxing are effective ways to achieve this, it’s not the only option for women and men committed to maintaining their underarm hair. Trimming with electric clippers or grooming scissors offers a happy medium between bald and bushy, but no matter the length, a key step is to let your hair and skin dry completely before applying natural deodorant.
Summer skin care
Sunscreen should be the number-one product in everyone’s summer skincare routine, but there are some important things to consider before slathering it on.
- Choose a mineral-based sunscreen with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide rather than a chemical sunscreen (which can contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, known to disrupt hormone production and harm marine life).
- Ensure your sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays.
- Opt for SPF 30 or higher.
- If you’ll be splashing around, get a water-resistant sunscreen for longer-lasting protection.
Supplement your natural sunscreen with other products to help nourish, protect, and soothe your skin all summer long. Think SPF lip balm, a hydrating cleanser, protective clothing, and aloe vera for the burns that sneak through, no matter how careful you are.
Sex and your natural scent
Is a natural deodorant the key to finding your soulmate? Maybe. Research shows the pheromones we secrete through sweat attract potential mates, so rather than blocking those underarm pores with a traditional antiperspirant, opt for a natural product that might let a little of your innate aroma waft through.