Companies don’t always have our health in mind when they are developing cosmetics. The goal is to create a product that makes people more attractive, whether by making their skin look younger, adding luster to their hair, or by covering up natural body odor. Too often these goals are achieved by incorporating harmful ingredients to make products more shelf stable or the right consistency or to smell better. Deodorants and antiperspirants are no exception.
Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant: What’s the difference?
Deodorant is intended to inhibit bacterial growth with the use of an antiseptic (the bacteria is what causes the odor). Deodorants do not reduce perspiration, though, so they are simply considered a cosmetic, rather than a drug.
Most antiseptics require some kind of preservative to retain their effectiveness over time, so most deodorants contain parabens for this purpose. Parabens are absorbed through the skin, mimic estrogen, and the connection between parabens and breast cancer is hard to deny.
Antiperspirants rely on aluminum chlorhydrate to block the pores from producing sweat. This does two things: 1) prevents unsightly sweat rings in the armpits, and 2) discourages odor by eliminating the moisture that odor-causing bacteria feed on. Most antiperspirants include a deodorant of some kind, too, to mask any odors that might slip through after it begins to lose its effectiveness. Antiperspirants are considered a drug, because they interfere with an essential function of the body (perspiration).
While it is commonly believed that the aluminum used in antiperspirant increases the risk of breast cancer, any studies performed seem to have only found a “potential connection,” not hard evidence; but that “potential risk,” combined with the danger of parabens, is one that many people don’t want to take. Aluminum has other faults, too, though; it’s responsible for the yellow armpit stains you find on your white shirts and many people are sensitive to aluminum, breaking into a rash with use.
Oh, but that’s not all. Let’s not forget about added fragrance. If a company does not list out every single ingredient that goes into the fragrance of their deodorant or antiperspirant, don’t buy it. The word “fragrance” on the label may as well say “toxic substances.” Companies can and do use anything they want to scent their products, even harmful chemicals. Want to know what you’ve been putting on your underarms? The Environmental Working Group has put together a searchable database that breaks down the ingredients in a product to tell you how safe it is.
What are some alternatives to traditional antiperspirant and deodorant?
A guy I know doesn’t wear any antiperspirant or deodorant at all. He said that all he has to do is lather and rinse his armpits three times with soap and water every morning, and he’s good to go. I haven’t tested this myself, but I thought I’d pass his method along, just in case. If that’s a little too risky for you, read on.
DIY antiperspirant options
I will forewarn you here, the only natural options available for antiperspirant are in the form of moisture-absorption. Only chemicals will prevent the armpits from excreting sweat; but a change in diet can reduce the amount of sweat your body produces (more on this below).
If you enjoy do-it-yourself projects, here is a recipe for homemade deodorant (and a few other DIY skincare recipes). The all-natural ingredients include only coconut oil, baking soda and arrowroot powder. I would suggest storing it in the refrigerator if you live in a hot climate, though; as coconut oil liquefies in warm temperatures.
Here is a link to a second deodorant recipe by Angry Chicken, sent to me by a friend after reading this blog post. It’s made with shea butter, cocoa butter, baking soda, corn starch, vitamin E oil and essential oils.
A third alternative would be to use a cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar to swab your armpits (this is an antiseptic to kill bacteria). After the area has dried, powder under the arms with a 50/50 mixture of corn starch and baking soda (this will absorb moisture).
Crystal Body Deodorant is, essentially, a rock made out of mineral salts called “Alum.” The company emphasizes that while this is still aluminum, it is not to be confused with Aluminum Chlorohydrate or Aluminum Zirconium, which can be absorbed by the skin. Crystal deodorant is free of fragrance and chemicals, won’t rub off on your clothes, lasts a long time and has decent reviews. It doesn’t stop perspiration, but it prevents odor by inhibiting bacterial growth. You simply wet it and apply as you would a stick of deodorant.
Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural Deodorant – obviously baking soda is the effective ingredient here, and it is also aluminum and paraben free. However, some die hard naturalists take offense to the anti-bacterial ingredient, triclosan; and I can see their point, honestly. But it has great reviews, so I’ve listed it here anyway.
Milk of Magnesia (magnesium hydroxide) – Apparently enough people were using this liquid laxative as deodorant that People’s Pharmacy decided to turn it into an actual stick of deodorant. There is also a magnesium oil spray on the market, if you would prefer that to a deodorant stick (and people are using the oil for treating everything from muscle cramps and soreness to menstrual cramps, arthritis and anxiety). If you want to test it out first, to make sure it will work for you, you can just buy a bottle of Phillips’ and apply the milk to your armpits using your fingers (you might want to blast the blow dryer on it for a second to get it to dry quickly). You won’t have to worry about it going to waste, because milk of magnesia has lots of other uses as home remedies.
There are many other “natural” deodorant and antiperspirant options available, but most of them don’t actually work very well, and others are outrageously expensive. The three listed above seem to be the most effective, from what people are saying and sharing all over the web. When shopping for an alternative deodorant, remember that in order for a deodorant to prevent odor, it must contain an antiseptic ingredient, otherwise it’s nothing more than armpit perfume.
Reduce sweating and odor through diet
Some foods and beverages encourage the body to sweat more
- Spicy foods
- Garlic and onion – these also make body odor worse, as do strong spices like curry.
- Processed foods – they just put more toxins into your body, which will come back out via perspiration.
Foods that help reduce sweating and odor:
- Drinking lots of water keeps your internal body temperature lower.
- Eating foods with a high water content, like fruits and vegetables, will have the same effect as drinking water.
- Tea – tannic acid is a natural astringent (i.e., odor reducer).
- Cook with olive oil to encourage digestion – you sweat less when your body doesn’t have to work as hard to move food through the digestive system.
- Sage – cook with it or make tea out of it to reduce the activity of your sweat glands over time.
Dietary supplements that reduce sweating:
- B vitamins and vitamin C – these encourage the elimination of toxins through the urine instead of through the skin
- Magnesium – low magnesium levels contribute to both sweating and body odor. If you don’t get much calcium in your diet, you’ll have to take your magnesium with a calcium supplement or you won’t absorb it very well. Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin, so another use for the magnesium oil I mentioned earlier is magnesium supplementation. See the example at right.
I hope you feel a little more informed about the toxic substances found in deodorant and antiperspirants, and why an alternative method should be sought out for dealing with sweat and odor. If you have success with any methods I haven’t listed above, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!