Deodorant is one of the hardest products to replace with natural alternativesThe reason conventional deodorant is difficult to replace with more natural alternatives is because of the aluminum compounds it contains; this ingredient is what prevents you sweating.
Sweating is actually a good thingSo, while nobody wants sweaty pits, no one wants cancer or Alzheimer's disease, either. Though not always socially acceptable, sweating has its benefits. As Vani Hari – AKA the Food Babe – explains, sweating results in a clearer complexion, helps lower body temperature and wards off sickness.
Deodorant chemicals linked to cancer and hormone disruptionPropylene glycol, an active ingredient in antifreeze, is another one to look out for. When paired with other chemicals, this substance can be downright dangerous, as it's linked to central nervous system damage and testicular cancer in men.
Americans spend $18 billion a year on deodorant and antiperspirant in a quest to cover up body odor and reduce sweating. For many, applying deodorant is a regular part of their morning routine, but it hasn't always been this way.
The first deodorant, which killed off odor-producing bacteria, wasn't introduced until 1888. The first antiperspirant, which reduces both bacterial growth and sweat production, came about 15 years later. Even then, however, most people were wary of applying such products to their underarms.
The Smithsonian wrote of these early products, "many people — if they had even heard of the anti-sweat toiletries — thought they were unnecessary, unhealthy or both."
It wasn't until the early to mid-1900s that the idea of regular deodorant usage took off, thanks to a clever copywriter who created controversial advertisements warning women that their armpits might be smelly and they might not even know it.
The strategy of exploiting female insecurity worked, the Smithsonian reported, with sales of one deodorant reaching $1 million by 1927.
In 2017, we've come full circle in a sense, as some people are realizing that applying various personal care products every day isn't always necessary, effective or, importantly, healthy. Do you need to worry about the health risks of applying your deodorant?
Antiperspirants May Kill Off Beneficial Armpit Bacteria
It's becoming widely known that your body's microbes play an intricate role in your health. You cannot survive without them, and it's best to work with them, for instance by eating fermented foods and avoiding antibacterial soaps, rather than killing them off indiscriminately.
Researchers recently revealed, however, that habitual use of deodorants and antiperspirants has a significant effect on armpit bacterial density and variation.
For starters, when use of such products was discontinued, there was a marked increase in bacterial density, approaching that which was found among individuals who regularly do not use any such products.
When antiperspirants were applied, bacterial density dramatically declined and differences in the types of bacteria were also noted. According to the study, which was published in the journal PeerJ:
" … [I]ndividuals who used antiperspirants or deodorants long-term, but who stopped using product for two or more days as part of this study, had armpit communities dominated by Staphylococcaceae, whereas those of individuals in our study who habitually used no products were dominated by Corynebacterium.
Collectively these results suggest a strong effect of product use on the bacterial composition of armpits.
Although stopping the use of deodorant and antiperspirant similarly favors presence of Staphylococcaceae over Corynebacterium, their differential modes of action exert strikingly different effects on the richness of other bacteria living in armpit communities."
There's still a lot to learn about what health effects this microbial tweaking may cause, although it's known that Corynebacterium bacteria, which produce body odor, may help protect against pathogens while Staphylococcaceae bacteria can be beneficial or dangerous.
Antiperspirants May Increase Odor-Producing Bacteria in Your Armpits
The reason your sweat smells is because the bacteria living in your armpits break down lipids and amino acids found in your sweat into substances that have a distinct odor.
Antiperspirants address this problem using antimicrobial agents to kill bacteria and other ingredients such as aluminum that block your sweat glands. However, separate research has revealed antiperspirants affect the bacterial balance in your armpits, leading to an even more foul-smelling sweat problem.
Those who used antiperspirants saw a definitive increase in Actinobacteria, which are largely responsible for foul-smelling armpit odor. Other bacteria found living in people's armpits include Firmicutes and Staphylococcus , but the odors they produce are milder, and they're not produced quite as readily.
It turned out the less odor-causing bacteria may be killed off by the aluminum compounds (the active ingredient in most antiperspirants), allowing bacteria that produce more pungent odors to thrive instead.
In some participants, abstaining from antiperspirant caused the population of Actinobacteria to dwindle into virtual nonexistence.
This means using an antiperspirant may make the stink from your armpits more pronounced, while quitting antiperspirants may eventually mellow the smell. The researchers explained in Archives of Dermatological Research:
" A distinct community difference was seen when the habits were changed from daily use to no use of deodorant/antiperspirant and vice versa … Antiperspirant usage led toward an increase of Actinobacteria, which is an unfavorable situation with respect to body odor development.
These initial results show that axillary cosmetics modify the microbial community and can stimulate odor-producing bacteria."
Is There a Link Between Antiperspirant and Cancer?
If you look at the ingredients in your antiperspirant, you'll likely find that it contains aluminum, which acts as a "plug" in your sweat ducts to reduce sweating.
Aluminum antiperspirants may act as a long-term source of exposure to aluminum, which research suggests may accumulate in breast tissue in women.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, as aluminum may cause alterations to DNA as well as epigenetic effects that could potentially support cancer development.
Aluminum (specifically aluminum chloride and aluminum chlorohydrate) is also known to interfere with estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells, and estrogen plays a well-known role in breast cancer.
Studies also show a high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, nearest to where antiperspirants are applied, together with "genomic instability." Back in 2005, researchers concluded:
" Given the wide exposure of the human population to antiperspirants, it will be important to establish dermal absorption in the local area of the breast and whether long term low level absorption could play a role in the increasing incidence of breast cancer."
In 2013, researchers found increased levels of aluminum in nipple aspirate fluid from women with breast cancer compared to women without the disease. They also detected increased levels of inflammation and oxidative stress, noting:
" … [O]ur results support the possible involvement of aluminum ions in oxidative and inflammatory status perturbations of breast cancer microenvironment, suggesting aluminum accumulation in breast microenvironment as a possible risk factor for oxidative/inflammatory phenotype of breast cells."
Parabens in Deodorant May Be Linked to Breast Cancer
Parabens are preservatives that are found in many antiperspirants and deodorants. These chemicals have estrogenic activity in human breast cancer cells, and research published in 2012 found one or more parabens in 99 percent of the 160 tissue samples collected from 40 mastectomies.
Separate research also detected parabens in 18 of 20 tissue samples from human breast tumors.
While a definitive link hasn't been made, the growing collection of research suggests caution is warranted. Considering chemical antiperspirants and deodorants are an optional product, it may be a risk that's not worth taking.
Are Natural Deodorants Safe?
In general, deodorants may be somewhat safer than antiperspirants simply because they don't typically contain aluminum.
Tips for Reducing Your Body Odor Naturally
Body odor certainly isn't dangerous, but it can be offensive to others. Not everyone produces smelly sweat under their arms, by the way. About 2 percent of people have a single gene variation that leaves their underarms sweat- and odor-free. It's the same gene variation that causes dry flaky earwax as opposed to "wet" sticky earwax. Research shows that even these odor-free people typically use deodorants and antiperspirants anyway, even though they don't need to.
If you have foul body odor, this is typically related to toxins being expelled; it's probably not your "natural" scent. If you're living a "clean" lifestyle, meaning a lifestyle in which you're minimally exposed to dietary and environmental toxins and therefore have a low toxic burden, your sweat will be close to odorless.
Please don't attempt to stop your body's natural sweating by using antiperspirants. Profuse sweating can actually help decrease body odor. Your body releases sweat to help regulate its body temperature to prevent you from overheating, and there are many other benefits to it as well.
Sweating helps your body to eliminate toxins, which supports proper immune function and helps prevent diseases related to toxic overload. Sweating may also help kill viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as on the surface of your skin.
Interestingly, research involving bacterial transplants to stop excessive body odor is being conducted. The idea is to fight odor-causing bacteria with their own kind: more bacteria. Researchers explained:
"We have done transplants with about 15 people, and most of them have been successful … All have had an effect short term, but the bad odor comes back after a few months for some people."
Another option for eliminating body odor, aside from washing regularly with soap and water, is exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet light, specifically UVB, is a very potent germicidal. I have noticed that by tanning my armpits it eliminates armpit odor nearly completely, probably because the UVB kills any odor-causing bacteria.
In our bid to smell fresh and rosy and adhere to social norms we often subject ourselves to a host of unwanted side effects! Here are eleven scary reasons why we shouldn’t be wearing conventional deodorants, and some natural things we can do instead to smell fragrant all day, every day…
1. They Contain Toxic Chemicals…
Deodorants contain a myriad of unpronounceable ingredients, many of which pose serious health concerns.
And putting chemicals on our skin may actually be worse than eating them , because they enter the bloodstream without any filtering. (Whereas when we eat, enzymes in the saliva and stomach break down what’s ingested and flush it out of the body).
2…Like Hormone Disruptors…
Some of the chemicals found in deodorants and antiperspirants are known endocrine disruptors – such as a class of substances called parabens (listed under the names butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben).
These preservatives prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast, but research shows they negatively impact the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.
Aluminum compounds (like aluminum chlorohydrate) are used in deodorants to block the sweat ducts. They have been found to mimic estrogen, which promotes growth of breast cancer cells.
It should be noted that studies on breast cancer and aluminum are inconclusive due to conflicting findings, although at least one study has found that the age of breast cancer diagnosis was significantly earlier in women who used antiperspirant deodorants and shaved their underarms more frequently.
Similarly, parabens come under the spotlight in relation to breast cancer too. A 2004 study found parabens in 18 out of 20 samples of tissue from human breast tumors (although researchers cannot say the parabens caused the tumors).
4…And Even Pesticides
Despite being registered as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency, an antibacterial agent called triclosan is commonly found in deodorants (and several soaps and other personal care products).
Triclosan is flagged as a risk to both human health and the environment, and animal studies have shown it alters hormone regulation and contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Research has also linked triclosan with allergies, weight gain, inflammatory responses and thyroid dysfunction, and there are concerns it may interfere with fetal development in pregnant women.
Worryingly, research in 2008 found triclosan in the urine of nearly 75% of people tested!
(Discover even more toxic ingredients in your skincare products here).
5. They Can Irritate the Skin
Ever had a bad reaction to your deodorant? It’s not surprising.
Ingredients like silica and triclosan are known skin irritants that can cause itchiness, rash, swelling or redness. Alcohol, parabens and artificial fragrances are also prime suspects when it comes to a deodorant-induced skin reaction.
Not only is the thin skin of the armpits especially prone to allergic reactions and irritations, but the moist environment is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, making it even more important to be choosy about what you apply there.
6. Antiperspirants Don’t Stop Sweat!
Given all the toxic chemicals added to these products, you would think they do their job – namely, stopping perspiration. But that’s not the case.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only requires that a brand reduce sweat by 20% in order to claim it provides ‘all day protection’, according to the Wall Street Journal. Those who state their product is ‘extra strength’ need only cause a 30% reduction in dampness.
7. Sweating is Healthy
It’s probably a good thing that antiperspirants are pretty ineffective. After all, we’re born with between two million and four million sweat glands for a reason!
Sweating is a natural and vital process that helps the body stay cool and eliminate toxins. It also supports proper immune function, prevents diseases related to toxic overload, kills certain viruses and bacteria and cleans the skin’s pores, reducing blackheads and acne.
8. They Become Less Effective Over Time
Our bodies are incredibly adaptable. So much so that, given enough time, they even find a way to thwart the efforts of our strongest antiperspirant.
While scientists haven’t discovered why our deodorants become less effective over time, it’s hypothesized that the body finds a way to unplug the ducts previously blocked by the aluminum in commercial deodorants.
Experts recommend that you switch brands every six months to avoid this annoying occurrence. But why not go one better and ditch the chemical-laden sticks in favor of a more natural approach?
9. You May Not Even Need Deodorant!
There are a lucky few out there who don’t even produce any armpit odor and don’t need to wear deodorant at all. Yet research shows that 75% of these people still wear it!
Wondering if you are one of the chosen ones? There are a couple of ways to find out. You could just stop wearing deodorant and see if your friends and family give you a wide berth. Or, you could check your earwax. Yes, really!
A few years ago, scientists discovered that a gene called ABCC11 determined whether people produced wet or dry earwax. Those who have a pale, flaky wax lack the chemical in their armpits that bacteria feed on to cause underarm odor. Those with dark, sticky wax aren’t so lucky!
10. They Stain Your Clothes
Whether its white marks on a black dress, or yellow stains on a white shirt, deodorant is one of the worst offenders for staining clothing.
The Wall Street Journal reports that deodorant makers, detergent manufacturers, stain-removal companies, doctors and textile professors all disagree on what exactly causes the underarm staining, although many believe it’s the aluminum in the antiperspirants – just another reason to give these harsh chemicals a miss.
11. They Are Expensive
Sure, you can pick up a deodorant stick for a few dollars but when you can go without, or make your own all-natural version for mere cents, why waste your money on the conventional varieties?
How To Smell Fresh Naturally
So you’ve seen the pitfalls (no pun intended) of store bought deodorizing sprays and sticks, and you’re concerned for your health. But you also don’t want to smell like onions or cheese on a daily basis…which is pretty understandable.
Fear not, there are natural ways to stay fresh and odor-free, without compromising your health. Firstly, always maintain good hygiene by washing regularly and thoroughly drying your skin to avoid bacterial or fungal growth. Secondly, consider what you eat – food impacts more than the smell of your breath. Finally, make (or buy) an all-natural deodorant, free from carcinogens, skin irritants and other chemicals. Keep reading to find out more!
Check Your Diet
Certain foods cause the body to sweat more so limit your intake of these if you’re struggling with excessive sweat or body odor. These include:
Help keep your body cool by staying hydrated with plenty of water, and water-filled foods like cucumber, celery, pears, watermelon etc.
Herbs like parsley, basil, mint, sage and rosemary, along with supplements like chlorophyll and wheat grass, are all said to be natural body deodorizers.
Make sure you’re getting enough of the B Vitamins, and Vitamin C, as these water soluble nutrients encourage toxins to be eliminated via the urine rather than the skin.
Finally, reduce or eliminate the meat from your diet. A 2006 study carried out in the Czech Republic, found that vegetarians have a ‘ significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense’ odor than their omnivorous counterparts.
Natural Homemade Deodorant Recipes
If you can’t go deodorant free then simply replace your chemical-laden brand with one of these all-natural deodorant recipes made with nourishing ingredients like coconut oil, essential oils, baking soda, witch hazel and shea butter.
Shea Butter & Essential Oil Deodorant Stick – While this recipe by Wellness Mama takes more time than going to the store, this deodorant will last longer and is a whole lot healthier! With coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda and essential oils, this deodorant stick is silky smooth and delightfully scented.
Homemade Non-Toxic Citrus Deodorant – Using coconut oil, baking soda, arrowroot powder and lemon essential oil, this zingy solid cream will give you a much needed morning boost when you apply it! You can mix it up in just two minutes and it keeps in a glass jar for several weeks.
Homemade Deodorant For Sensitive Skin – Made without baking soda, this gentle formula works well for those with sensitive ‘pits. Instead it uses cornstarch and coconut oil along with diatomaceous earth – a powder made from fossilized phytoplankton which is highly antimicrobial.
Two-Ingredient DIY Deodorant – This one couldn’t be simpler to make! Just blend a quarter cup of baking soda with 10 to 20 drops of essential oil of your choice, and pat it under your arms each morning after your shower. It’s a little bit messier than a stick deodorant so make sure to do it over the sink!
Witch Hazel & Aloe Vera Spray Deodorant – If solid or powder deodorants don’t do it for you, how about a spray? Containing organic witch hazel, Aloe Vera gel, baking soda and Clary Sage oil, it smells as wholesome and natural as it sounds.
Apple Cider Vinegar Deodorant Spray – Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an incredibly useful product to have in the house – just check out all its benefits! It works wonders in this deodorant too, especially with the added power of witch hazel, distilled water and essential oils.
Pink Himalayan Salt Deodorant Spray – Pink Himalayan salt is another super product to have on hand. With antibacterial properties, it stops the growth of odor-causing bacteria. Blend it with soothing organic witch hazel, essential oils, baking soda and potent grapefruit seed extract and you’ll end up with a spray that’s more effective than any store-bought brand.
Magnesium and Essential Oil Spray Deodorant – with just two ingredients, and in spray form, this deodorant is a winner with many! Not only is it incredibly effective at preventing underarm odor, but you get a boost of magnesium – something many are deficient in! Add some essential oils for antibacterial power and feel-good smells.
Magic Pits paste - Our all natural pit paste allows you to sweat but neutralizes the odor. It means your body can emit the toxins building up but without the smell. It contains only natural ingredients, such as baking soda, arrowroot powder, coconut oil, shea butter and more. You need only a pea sized amount per application meaning each jar should last at least one month. You can buy it here.