I don’t know if this is a good indicator of the following of my social channels or not, but the two things I’ve posted that have gotten the most engagement have been about (1) when I eloped and about (2) trying to find a good natural deodorant. Sorry romance lovers, this post will not be discussing my search for eternal love, but rather the smelly second topic.
I’ve heard for years that deodorants with aluminum are not safe for women. I’ve never really researched that claim until now. I’ve also tried four different kinds of natural deodorants in search of a winner and haven’t found one yet. I’ve also gotten some feedback from friends on what they like. I’m learning that different sources tell you different things about the safety of deodorant, and that every individual has personal sweat levels and smell preferences – hence the wide range of opinions on the subject.
So, what’s the science on deodorant?
The claims you hear online or in ads take issue with antiperspirants, not deodorants. There have been some fears that because these treatments are applied so close to breast tissue and because of the chemical composition that they could be tied to breast cancer. There have also been fears that antiperspirants are tied to Alzheimer’s Disease and kidney health issues. This article from WebMD cites experts from the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, a professor of dermatology and the National Kidney Foundation. The conclusion is that while there is aluminum in antiperspirant (aluminum salts in antiperspirants form a plug through a chemical reaction with the water in your sweat to block sweat ducts), it would be really really difficult for your body to absorb enough aluminum to cause health issues. Regarding kidney health, it is recommended that those with kidneys functioning at 30% or less should exercise caution in using antiperspirants, because their bodies wouldn’t be able to efficiently remove aluminum if absorbed into the body. A spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation says in the piece,
Unless you eat your stick or spray it in your mouth, your body can’t absorb that much aluminum.”– Leslie Spry, MD, FACP, spokesperson for National Kidney Foundation
This article from University of Pennsylvania Medicine talks about parabens. Parabens (which you’ve probably never heard of until you recently saw all this packaging telling you that their product doesn’t have it anymore) prevent bacteria, fungi and yeast from growing on your deodorant. This is why they’re commonly in makeup and beauty products, as well. (Think about it, you use most shower related beauty products in a damp environment, and your beauty products may or may not come into direct contact with your skin, oils on your fingers, etc). Parabens can be absorbed through your skin and function similarly to estrogen, and a higher exposure to estrogen over a lifetime can lead to higher risk for breast cancer. I talk about this in another one of my posts on eating tofu. The Food and Drug Administration has not found evidence that parabens are linked to breast cancer.
Some individuals are sensitive to certain fragrances, essential oils, or even the carrier oils that are in beauty products (like Vitamin E). If you have a reaction (like a rash) when using a product, stop using it and talk to a dermatologist about what might be causing your issue. If you can isolate the irritant that is bothering you, you can avoid it in the future beauty products you buy.
Why do we even need deodorant?
The reason why most people choose to wear deodorant is to prevent body odor that emits from sweating. A deodorant does not prevent you from sweating, but it helps to mask the odor. An antiperspirant (often includes deodorant, as well) blocks your sweat ducts from producing sweat AND prevents body odor.
Sweating is a natural part of your body’s function. The human body has over three million sweat glands. The apocrine sweat glands are the ones that bother some people, as sweat in these areas (primarily scalp, armpits and groin area) has a higher fat content. When that higher fat content sweat mixes with bacteria present on the surface of your body – it creates your own personalized funk – which we’ve been trying for years to cover with beauty products. Sweat is mostly water – but about 1% is composed of salt and fat.
Your body sweats as a temperature monitoring feature, can be a physical response to certain emotions (like stress, fear, anger, embarrassment), may result from things you eat, can be related to certain illnesses and is associated with menopause (not looking forward to hot flashes).
We don’t *need* deodorant or antiperspirant, but it is a cultural norm that many people adhere to. It’s a personal preference – but sweating is perfectly natural. It isn’t gross or an indicator of personal hygiene, it’s just your body doing its thing.
Trying natural deodorants
Before researching the science of this in depth, I got on the natural deodorant train and wanted to see if there was a more naturally composed antiperspirant or deodorant that had fewer chemical ingredients and see how they worked. I tried four natural deodorants and antiperspirants, only which one of really worked for me. As of the writing of this post, I’m back on the chemical antiperspirant train.
Humble Brands Deodorant was my first try – it boasts only five ingredients and no aluminum or parabens. It is a gel stick (no white marks on your clothes) and did not irritate my skin. I tried it for about two months, but realized that I sweat right through it. The essential oil smell was okay, but a little too fragrant for me. I did feel good about the ingredients, but it never felt like it really dried on my skin and I felt sticky/smelly most of the time. I will note that I did not exclusively use this application – I was still using an antiperspirant when exercising, otherwise I couldn’t bear to be in the same room as myself. Click on the image above if you want to visit their website.
Secret Aluminum-Free Deodorant was my next stop in the fresh daylily scent. I had similar complaints with this one as I did with the Humble Brands deodorant. I did like the scent of this one better, but I had the same experience of dampness (at the time of application that did not go away) and sweating through it. This one also irritated my underarms, leaving a minor red rash on my skin. Click on the image above if you want to visit their website.
Crystal Mineral Deodorant Roll-On. The internet raves about this Crystal Deodorant, but I don’t really get it, you guys. This had SO MANY reviews on Amazon but it just didn’t seem to work for me. I gave this a solid try – approximately three months – before I just was tired of stinking. This is a liquid roll-on – which means that it goes on VERY wet and you have to let it dry. (Maybe this is the mistake I was making with the other two stick versions I tried earlier)? It takes about 60 seconds to dry – so I would apply this first thing in the morning and then stand with my arms over my head for a minute waiting for my armpits to dry out. It was weird. But once dry, I could count on a few hours of dryness. However, once you start sweating, IT POURS with this deodorant and the essential oil scents don’t hold on for long. If you want to reapply mid-day (I work out over my lunch hour and usually reapply before going back to work), you have to apply on clean skin. I found myself using a towelette to clean my armpits and then reapplying (and allowing for re-drying) for another 60 seconds with my arms over my head. It was very annoying. I also realized that with prolonged use, my armpits and skin near my armpits got very dry and itchy. I’m not sure if this was correlated or not. Click on the image above if you want to visit their website.
Native Deodorant seems to be the trendy millennials’ deodorant because I feel like it is the only deodorant I’ve seen influencers promoting. The packaging is pretty sleek and minimalist and if I’m remembering their ads correctly, this science-y brother created this formula for his sister when she was pregnant to protect her skin and unborn baby. I can’t imagine any of my family members creating a deodorant for me (or what message I would take away from being gifted a custom deodorant) so I couldn’t really relate at all. However, some friends messaged me saying that they loved it, so I tried it. It has a coconut oil base, so it is super creamy/lotion-y and feels good on your skin. The coconut vanilla scent is pleasant without being overwhelming. This can get really messy on clothes. I found that, like the others, it doesn’t really hold up to sweating while exercising, but it does offer fairly good odor prevention and doesn’t negatively impact my skin. I still wear this deodorant on days when I’m not working out. Click on the image above if you want to visit their website.
I haven’t tried Schmidt’s Deodorant, but a friend recommended that I try this brand. I like their more gender neutral scents and would like to try out the cedarwood scent.
Another friend recommendation that I have not personally tried is the Arm & Hammer Essentials brand of deodorant. Some of these incorporate baking soda and plant extracts, I’d actually imagine that baking soda would work well for sweat absorption. Again, haven’t tried it, but the price point is so low, I may.
Do you actually have to detox your armpits?
I read some internet horror stories about people fully “detoxing” their armpits before switching to natural deodorants to pull out toxins, or let your pores breathe. They all kind of sounded like BS and were loosely scientific AT BEST. This horror story in Teen Vogue is definitely a gem – I mean who wouldn’t be intrigued by a lead-in line like this:
My armpits were red, hot and stank like apple cider vinegar”Zoe Weiner, article author
These detox procedures sound truly horrifying and, no, I did not do one. I just used my normal antiperspirant and then one day, switched to a natural deodorant. A good thing to know about switching from an antiperspirant to a deodorant is that you will feel like you sweat significantly more.
Antiperspirants block your sweat ducts, so you probably are pretty far removed from knowing how much you sweat and what it smells like. I don’t think you’re actually sweating MORE because you’ve “unblocked your pores and unleashed the toxins”, you’ve probably just worn an antiperspirant deodorant everyday for a decade or more and don’t remember what your body odor smells like.
Knowing that you will seem to sweat more, dress and come to work consciously – I always have deodorant with me and I avoid wearing silky tops that are snug on days when I’m not wearing an antiperspirant. A fabric that doesn’t breathe well in combination with a non-antiperspirant deodorant is a smelly and unpleasant situation.
Long story short, I tried a few of these deodorants over several months, found one that I like sometimes – but am going back to a traditional antiperspirant for days when I’m exercising. I’m not worried about the health concerns after doing my homework, but I am worried about not stinking out the people around me.