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None of us want to be stinky, so it is no wonder that deodorant is a non-negotiable part of our daily hygiene routines. Unfortunately, the toxic ingredients in conventional deodorants do a lot more than just prevent smelly pits.
From disrupting our hormones to interfering with the body’s natural ability to sweat, several potential health concerns have been linked to chemicals and ingredients found in the typical conventional antiperspirants and deodorants.
Luckily, there are alternatives on the market that don’t contain these nasties. We no longer have to choose between risking our health and scaring off friends and family with stinky underarms.
Today, we’re examining some of the common ingredients found in conventional deodorants and how they might impact our health. We’ll also look at how natural alternatives work to keep us fresh and odor-free, while also protecting us from harmful chemicals.
Before we look at individual ingredients, we first need to understand the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants.
Although these two are often considered interchangeable, there’s actually a key difference. While deodorants help to prevent smells, antiperspirants go a step further and reduce the amount we sweat in the first place by temporarily blocking some of our pores.
At first glance, this seems like a bonus, especially in the summer. But our bodies are designed to be able to sweat. It is an important part of how we regulate our temperature and it is also one of the ways that our bodies release toxins.
While we might not enjoy having sweaty underarms, sweat on its own doesn’t have a powerful odor. What causes BO is the bacteria that live on our skins. When we sweat, the bacteria that live under our arms break down proteins in the sweat, which is what causes the smell.
Deodorants typically contain ingredients that discourage bacteria, reducing body odor. Many also contain scents and fragrances designed to mask whatever smelliness remains. However, they don’t block our pores or prevent our natural sweat.
Antiperspirants, on the other hand, typically contain aluminum salts. These temporarily block our pores, meaning our bodies can’t release sweat as they are designed.
Aluminum doesn’t only interfere with our bodies' natural processes. It may also be bad for our health.
According to the Environmental Working Group, aluminum is a neurotoxin that is easily absorbed by the skin. It has even been linked with developing breast cancer at a younger age, although the National Cancer Institute says that there is not yet firm evidence that aluminum from antiperspirants increases the risk of breast cancer.
There is also a potential link between aluminum and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. For example, one long-term study in France found that a higher level of daily exposure to aluminum was significantly associated with an increased risk of dementia.
Other studies have been less conclusive, so we don’t know yet exactly what the association between aluminum and dementia might be. So far, there’s no convincing research that has linked aluminum in antiperspirants with dementia. However, many of us will prefer not to take the risk.
Since deodorant doesn’t try to stop us from sweating, it usually doesn’t contain aluminum. So, you might be wondering if deodorant is a safer choice than antiperspirant.
As usual, it isn’t quite as simple as that. Yes, deodorants don’t usually contain aluminum salts, so you’ll avoid that risk. But aluminum isn’t the only potentially harmful toxin that we need to worry about when we’re choosing a deodorant.
Here are a few of the other ingredients found in conventional deodorants and antiperspirants that you may prefer to steer clear from:
Many conventional deodorants use synthetic fragrances to mask any odor. Often disguised behind the innocent-sounding ‘parfum’, these fragrances can contain any number of chemicals.
Some people find they experience skin sensitivities and allergies when exposed to synthetic fragrances. Even for those of us who don’t have issues, not knowing exactly what is in the products we apply to our skin is an issue, unless you've done extensive research on the brand and their values.
A well-known group of toxins, parabens, are found in many conventional personal care products, including deodorants and antiperspirants. They are preservatives used to extend the shelf-life of products and prevent them from going moldy.
Unfortunately, parabens are also endocrine disruptors, which can mimic the hormone. According to the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP), parabens are easily absorbed through our skin. They affect the growth of breast cells, potentially increasing our risk of developing breast cancer.
Another common group of ingredients in deodorants and other personal care products is phthalates. Like parabens, these chemicals are well-known endocrine disruptors.
According to Made Safe, which campaigns for safer products, phthalates are linked with lowered sperm count in men and thyroid issues in women.
Phthalates are often used in fragrance formulations. So, even if a conventional deodorant or antiperspirant doesn’t list phthalates on the label, they could still be in the product if it lists parfum or fragrance as an ingredient.
More usually found as an active ingredient in aircraft de-icers, propylene glycerol is also found in conventional deodorants and antiperspirants. This is because it makes them softer and easier to apply. It also helps other ingredients absorb into your skin – which may not be good!
Propylene glycerol is typically derived from petrochemicals, which already raise some red flags due to their environmental impact. The Environmental Working Group lists propylene glycerol as a skin irritant and potential allergen, as well as likely to be toxic to our organs.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent and was often used in products such as antibacterial hand soap or body wash. Of course, deodorants aim to control bacteria under our arms, so it is no surprise that many conventional deodorants contained triclosan as an ingredient.
However, concerns were raised over the safety of triclosan for human health. As a result, the FDA issued a ban on triclosan in regular household items in 2016 and further restricted its use without premarket review in over-the-counter drugs in 2017.
However, it is worth noting that antiperspirants are considered an over-the-counter drug because of their effect on the body’s natural ability to sweat. As a result, some products may still contain triclosan if they have completed a premarket safety review. Always check the label.
The list of potential toxins above is an eye-opener. But before you swear off all deodorant for good, let us reassure you – there are other (and better!) options available.
Increasing awareness of the chemicals in our personal care products has inspired brands like Wellnesse to develop natural, toxin-free alternatives to conventional deodorants and antiperspirants.
Instead of using harmful chemicals, these deodorants typically draw on safe active ingredients that naturally discourage bacteria and protect against odors.
Many natural deodorants, including ours) use antibacterial agents like sodium bicarbonate help reduce smells by keeping away some of the bacteria that turn our sweat into stink. Sodium bicarbonate is also known for its odor-absorbing properties. It’s no wonder it has become a popular home remedy for smelly teenage sports shoes.
It's worth noting that some skin irritation can be caused by products heavy in baking soda. Because of this, we have kept the amount of baking soda very, very minimal in our Mineral Deodorant. In fact, the amount is so small that anyone who tested it and is allergic to baking soda did not have any reaction to it.
Unlike the synthetic fragrances found in most conventional antiperspirants, natural deodorants can also use essential oils to provide a soothing and toxin-free scent. Many essential oils have antimicrobial properties, so they also help to discourage bacteria and keep your underarms smell-free.
Natural deodorants don’t only provide an effective alternative to conventional antiperspirants. Many also include nourishing ingredients to soothe and moisturize the skin under your arms. This is especially good news for anyone who prefers to remove underarm hair, as these ingredients will help to protect your skin from irritation and damage.
Aloe vera is well-known for its ability to soothe irritated skin, which is why many of us love to keep it on hand during the summer to treat sunburn. It also has antimicrobial properties, making it a great ingredient to look out for in natural deodorants.
Shea butter and coconut oil are another two ingredients to keep an eye out for. Simultaneously moisturizing and antibacterial, they are deeply nourishing for your skin.
If you are used to antiperspirants, you may worry about feeling damp under the arms. But many natural deodorants contain tapioca starch to absorb moisture and keep you feeling fresh and dry.
In short, natural deodorants are a safer, effective alternative to toxin-laden antiperspirants. So, we can all choose to be free from dangerous chemicals AND body odor.
If you haven't tried Wellnesse Mineral Deodorant yet, click here to check it out! After a year of perfecting the formula and making it ideal for both women and men, we are certain you will love it!
Why Do I Have Body Odor? Why Sweat Stinks and How to Smell Sweeter:
Aluminium Powder: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/700324-ALUMINUM_POWDER/
McGrath K. G. (2003). An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. European journal of cancer prevention : the official journal of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation (ECP), 12(6), 479–485. https://doi.org/10.1097/00008469-200312000-00006
Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet
Rondeau, V., Jacqmin-Gadda, H., Commenges, D., Helmer, C., & Dartigues, J. F. (2009). Aluminum and silica in drinking water and the risk of Alzheimer's disease or cognitive decline: findings from 15-year follow-up of the PAQUID cohort. American journal of epidemiology, 169(4), 489–496. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwn348
Fragrances in Cosmetics: https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics
Andersen, F. A. (2008). Final amended report on the safety assessment of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and benzylparaben as used in cosmetic products. International journal of toxicology, 27, 1-82. https://doi.org/10.1177/109158180802704s01
Chemical Callout - Phthalates: https://www.madesafe.org/?s=phthalates
Propylene Glycol: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/705315-propylene_glycol/
5 Things to Know About Triclosan: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/5-things-know-about-triclosan