Embracing natural beauty goes beyond creams, moisturizers, lotions and makeup—it encompasses anything we put in and on our bodies, including deodorants and antiperspirants. Although we may be proud to toss body-care products made with harsh ingredients, (understandably) few of us are willing to compromise on the topic of body odor.
Lack of knowledge and a fear of sweaty armpits—a subject no one wants to talk about—may make you shy away from natural deodorants. But you shouldn’t disregard the concerns surrounding some of the ingredients in conventional deodorants and antiperspirants. Every day we slather these products under our arms, an area where many lymph nodes lie close to the surface of the skin. And even though these products effectively block sweat, many of the popular drugstore brands are loaded with questionable ingredients that are worth examining, if not also replacing with safe alternatives.
Aluminum is the active ingredient antiperspirants rely on to keep our underarms fresh. This is how it works: Aluminum salts—in the form of aluminum chloride, aluminum zirconium, aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum hydroxybromide—prevent us from sweating when aluminum ions are drawn into the cells that line the sweat ducts, causing the cells to swell and squeezing the ducts closed so sweat cannot get out.
Unfortunately, aluminum is also a known neurotoxin that has been linked to breast cancer and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s briefly break down these risks. Most breast cancers develop in the upper outer part of the breast—the area closest to the armpit—and some research has suggested that aluminum compounds absorbed by the skin may cause changes in the estrogen receptors of breast cells. In addition, high levels of aluminum have been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and a recent study from Saint Louis University found that aluminum may cause liver toxicity, a contributing factor to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The most concerning risk factor for many of these ingredients—especially aluminum—is long-term exposure. Although studies about such health risks are not yet definitive, it makes sense to investigate safe alternatives. Fortunately, as more information comes to light on these chemical ingredients, more companies are developing safer alternatives—and with more products come more options. It’s becoming easier than ever to turn to safe, effective alternatives. Here are a few types you will find on the market.
Crystal deodorant stones contain a naturally occurring form of aluminum made up of molecules too large to be absorbed by the skin. This helps make these products effective at preventing bacteria-causing odor found in sweat from developing, rather than artificially clogging pores as antiperspirants do.
There are also plenty of gentle deodorants on the market. Such alternatives kill odor-causing bacteria and neutralize the smell of sweat rather than trying to stop it. (Sweat, after all, is a necessary part of our bodies’ natural cooling process.) Look for deodorants with natural antibacterial ingredients such as tea tree oil, witch hazel, baking soda, hops, sage or lemon peel. Or turn to the products at right. Alternatively, you can make your own deodorant at home (Try our recipe in 11 Household Uses for Tea Tree Oil).
Natural Deodorant Options
Nourish Organic Almond Vanilla Fresh & Dry Deodorant; $10
Lafes Fresh Roll-On Deodorant; $6
Lavilin Roll-On Deodorant; $16
Soapwalla Deodorant Cream; $14
Iwilla Remedy Baby Powder I Love My Armpits Deodorant; $10
Crystal Body Deodorant Stick; $4
Deodorant Ingredients to Avoid
These ingredients are used in many conventional antiperspirants.
Penetration enhancers: Ingredients such as propylene glycol and disodium EDTA are penetration enhancers, meaning they help carry active ingredients (for example, aluminum) into our bodies. These ingredients may not be bad on their own, but they can become hazardous when they help harsh ingredients absorb into our bodies faster.
Triclosan: An antibacterial also used in hand sanitizers, triclosan is a powerful endocrine disrupter and a suspected contributor to the development of certain strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Talc powder: A fine powder made from talc, a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen, talc powder absorbs moisture and helps cut down on friction. This makes it useful for keeping skin dry and preventing rashes. Unfortunately, it is also a suspected carcinogen.
Fragrance: Among the most ubiquitous ingredients in body-care products, synthetic fragrance is a blanket term for a blend of chemicals. Phthalates, chemicals used in plastics and regularly labeled “fragrance,” have been found to accumulate in the body and have been linked to hormone disruption, possible birth defects, infertility and some cancers.
BHT: In low doses, BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) has been linked to nervous-system effects. It also causes hyperactivity in children and is a suspected carcinogen.