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by Toby Gibson 25 May 2023 0 Comments

Totem Eco co-founder Toby here!

I feel it’s important to talk about why we decided to formulate our own range of Totem Eco natural deodorant pastes and why we feel so passionate about what we do.

My wife Katie has a similar personal story which I’ll leave for her to share, but for me, the switch to natural deodorant paste all started over a decade ago…


I have always been an active person and I’m not afraid to say that my personal mojo could get a little on the nose at times.

But I always had a trusty commercial roll-on deodorant within safe reach - I didn’t care what brand - just anything that looked like it could tackle the sporty type or better still, happened to be on sale - I really didn’t think much of it as long as it got rid of the stink!

I didn’t just use roll-on deodorant for those active times, I also trusted it for important social and work events when stress or anxiety threatened to summon that oppressive odour that so many people feel so self-conscious about. I can’t recall how many expensive white and black business and dress shirts I ruined with my trusty roll-ons. All the armpits of my shirts were either stained an unsightly yellow, or imbedded with crusty white residue made of who knows what!?


Shirts ruined by roll-on deodorant and sweat residue
Shirts ruined by roll-on deodorant and sweat residue


But I’m a loyal consumer, and I continued to trust the old faithful commercial roll-ons (a product I had used blindly since I was a teenager) until I experienced something frightening…

I started to get very sore lumps under my armpits - right where more than 20 lymph nodes exist (small lumps of tissue that are part of the body's lymphatic system, which help fight infection and clear the body of toxins). These lymph nodes normally cannot be felt through the skin and here I was with noticeable sore lumps and immediately jumped to the worst conclusion -

Swollen lymph nodes, also known as lymphadenitis, in the armpit indicate that your body is responding to an infection, injury, or a disease, like cancer.

I immediately stopped using my roll-on deodorant for fear of making a bad situation worse. To my relief, the lumps gradually went away and I decided to dismiss the symptoms as a random event and quickly returned to daily life as usual - just thankful to be able to wear my deodorant again and socialise with the confidence of knowing I smelt like a beautiful chemical factory - a smell that I, and others, have been conditioned (from our adolescence) by big brands and their massive marketing budgets, to love!

But my relief was short-lived. No sooner had I started to reapply my roll-on, the sore lumps under my armpits reappeared. This was too much of a coincidence, so I started to question my love affair with my long term deodorant partner, and decided to do some research.


I quickly discovered information about the active ingredients (like aluminium compounds) in commercial roll-on deodorants and how they work to block your sweat glands and/or contract pores to prevent perspiration which seemed to make sense. What didn’t make sense, was the negative symptoms I was experiencing as a result of applying these chemicals to my body - and not just applying them to the sweat glands of my body - but also to the vicinity of sensitive lymph nodes and glands under my armpits.

It's worth noting that approximately 60% of chemicals applied to the skin are claimed to be absorbed directly into our bodies. As such, it goes without saying, that we should think very carefully about the contents of topical products, like deodorants, that we choose to use as part of our daily personal care routines.

I quickly discovered that you don’t have to look very far to find published scientific journals either debating the health risks of conventional commercial antiperspirants or flat out citing potential risk factors. Given the mounting literature warning of possible health risks, and my recent first hand account of negative side effects associated with using commercial roll-on deodorant, I decided (perhaps for the first time in my life) to take the more cautious approach, and immediately STOPPED using roll-on deodorant!

Surprise, surprise, the lumps under my armpits gradually went away again and -

There was no way in hell I was going to go back to my old ways of using conventional deodorant, stink or no stink!

Well, there certainly was a stink! I spent the next 12mths or so, either changing shirts throughout the day, or layering my clothing to try and mask any body odour when active or going out to social gatherings. While far from a perfect solution, this approach seemed the lesser of two evils until the day someone asked me if I had tried natural deodorant paste? - a natural alternative without the nasty sweat blockers, synthetic chemicals, preservatives and artificial fragrances used in conventional commercial deodorants.


I must admit I was sceptical about using a natural deodorant and the concept of applying a pea sized amount of paste to my armpit as opposed to rolling on a liquid was foreign and seemed just weird.

But to my amazement, it worked - No stink. No sore lumps. A miracle!

There was no turning back, I was a true convert, and began actively spruiking the product to anyone who would listen...

But again, my new love affair was short lived. While there was no sign of lumps, I found myself experiencing minor skin irritation (a bearable stinging sensation) and the dreaded stink soon returned, no matter how many times I reapplied.

My past life as a research scientist made me question the effectiveness of the brand products I was using and I could only assume that the naturally occurring microbes in our pits, were eventually adapting to the active ingredients in these products (mainly being bicarb) and soon returning to their odour producing bad habits as they feed off our sweat (Fun fact - Sweat has no significant smell. Body odour occurs when bacteria living on your skin break down your sweat.  But the biochemistry behind the microbial conversion of sweat to odorous by-products is still not completely understood. However, the odor can be largely attributed to the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including volatile fatty acids and thioalcohols.)


Electron microscope view of actual armpit bacteria

And, as for the skin irritation, similar accounts from other users were being reported which was soon attributed to the use of sodium bicarbonate (aka bicarb or NaHCO3) which is still used in many natural deodorant pastes today (often at high concentrations).  By nature, bicarb has a crystalline structure and is abrasive when rubbed on the skin which can lead to irritation, dilated blood vessels and hyperpigmentation. The result? Red, itchy, irritated and/or discoloured pits. 

If your natural deodorant is causing you a rash it's probably got bicarb in it.

So what did I decide to do? I decided to try other natural deodorant pastes and soon found a less than desirable system that worked. But it worked! I discovered, that I could use one brand of natural deodorant paste until my body's bacteria finally got used to it (self-evident by the return of unwelcome body odour), then switch to the other brand for a similar finite period of time - a game of armpit ping pong if you like, as I tried to stay one step ahead of those clever little smelly microbes. And as for the bicarb skin irritation, I decided that was a small price to pay for what I believed was a satisfactory solution to addressing the problem of body odour without the use of potentially harmful commercial deodorants.

I also found it was beneficial to be using more than one natural deodorant paste as I found some were rock hard in the colder months of winter, while others couldn't stand up to our Australian summers and were too runny.


Looking back on this now, it's funny to think how I just accepted all these shortcomings and the inherent problems with all the natural deodorant pastes I had tried. That is, until my wife and I, with the welfare of our new little family in mind and drawing upon my science background and Katie's career in the beauty industry, decided to start our own personal body care business, Totem Eco.


It was our goal to formulate truly natural deodorant pastes you could rely on.  A natural deodorant paste that wouldn't stop working and could always control body odour regardless of how long you used it, while bicarb and irritation free for all skin types. A natural deodorant paste that was neither too hard or too soft, no matter what time of the year it might be.


If you've already made the switch to a natural deodorant paste, thinking about making the switch, or just curious - Now's the time to make one of the most important decisions of your life by making the switch to our Totem Eco range of Australian all natural deodorant. Once you’ve made the switch, you’ll never look back and you'll be smelling fresh as a daisy, every day, all day long.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! 💛

Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter as we’ll have more blogs to come on this and other exciting subjects from your friends at Totem Eco very soon…

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