Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: Which is Better in a Natural Deodorant?

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: Which is Better in a Natural Deodorant?

You don’t need a PhD to control body odor naturally, but it does help to know a little bit about skin chemistry and biology.

Just like a forest or meadow in nature, your body’s skin is an environment that provides a habitat for a multitude of microscopic life from skin cells to bacteria. Biologists call this habitat the skin microbiome. And—even though it might squick you out to think of it—hair, oil, sweat, and even dead skin each play a critical role in shaping that environment.


Image by Andrewmeyerson [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons


For example, sweat and the oil produced by your skin combine with the top layer of dead skin to form a slightly acidic coating known as the acid mantle. The acid mantle serves to protect our skin from wind, cold, UV rays, and disease. It also helps to limit the amount and type of bacteria that can live on the skin.

Make sense? OK. Let’s put a pin in that and talk for a sec about body odor.

How Does Body Odor Work?

While aluminum-based antiperspirants try to block your sweat by plugging your sweat ducts, body odor is actually caused by certain types of bacteria feeding on the amino acids and other compounds present in that sweat. As the B.O. bacteria feed, they produce an unpleasant odor.

But not all bacteria are stinky! Lots of different species live in a forest habitatnot just skunksand the same is true for your skin microbiome. In fact, many kinds of bacteria contribute to your overall skin health.

So, controlling body odor naturally seems seems simple enough. Disrupt the B.O. bacteria and supercharge the healthy bacteria. Some natural deodorants use probiotics, specific cultures of lactobacillus, to introduce new bacteria to the skin. It’s the same approach as eating yogurt to promote gut health.

There’s one problem with this approach: each person’s skin microbiome is different, based on individual diet, genetic makeup, and overall health. How do you know if the probiotic strains in your natural deodorant are compatible with your own unique skin environment?   

But don’t lose hope. There’s another approach. What if, instead of introducing new “good” bacteria, you could help increase the good bacteria already living on your skin?

Prebiotics to the rescue!

Prebiotics are a soluble fiber found in many plants that act as a food source for beneficial bacteria. You probably already consume it in many of the foods you enjoy every day. From onions, garlic, and beans to bananas, oatmeal, and honey, you can find prebiotics in dozens of ordinary foods.

One particular type of prebiotic known as inulin is converted into short-chain fatty acids by the good bacteria found on your skin. Why is this a good thing?

Well, remember the acid mantle? By feeding on prebiotics, not only does the good bacteria thrive and grow, crowding out the bad B.O. bacteria. But by converting inulin into fatty acids, that good bacteria also contributes to your skin’s acid mantle. And that acid mantle helps to zap the B.O. bacteria while at the same time creating a perfect environment for the good bacteria to thrive!

You’ve just neutralized body odor with an ingredient found in bananas! Deodorant doesn’t get more natural than that.


Photo by Miguel Runa on Unsplash