Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant
The first major distinction we need to make is between products that control odor (deodorants) and products that control wetness (antiperspirants). You’ve probably seen the emails from years ago talking about how antiperspirants are a leading cause of breast cancer. And, like me, you probably went right to Snopes and then decided they were probably OK and forgot all about it.
But here’s the thing: Even Snopes indicated that the validity of those concerns was simply undetermined, not false. And that research is from 2005, with the last study quoted being from 2004. Is anything more conclusive now? Well, I will let you be the judge.
Breast Cancer Connection
The first ingredient at issue is aluminum (along with aluminum-based compounds). They are the active ingredient in antiperspirants, and they work by forming a temporary plug within the sweat duct. Perspiration is still created; it just doesn’t get to flow to the skin’s surface (and out of the body). The National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the NIH admits that “(s)ome research suggests that aluminum-based compounds, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Because estrogen has the ability to promote the growth of breast cancer cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer.”
The second group of troublesome ingredients are parabens, which are preservatives used in some antiperspirants (and deodorants, along with many other cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical products). Parabens have been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body’s cells. The NCI quotes another 2004 study, which found parabens in 18 of 20 samples of human breast tumors. (Admittedly, this was a small study, did not study healthy breast tissue and did not prove causation.)
For me, these connections are enough. I don’t want to play with chemicals that we know build up in our tissues, and that we suspect may cause our cells to mutate. Even the NCI states: More research is needed to specifically examine whether the use of deodorants or antiperspirants can cause the buildup of parabens and aluminum-based compounds in breast tissue. Additional research is also necessary to determine whether these chemicals can either alter the DNA in some cells or cause other breast cell changes that may lead to the development of breast cancer. So is it conclusive? Well, it’s certainly not conclusive that those ingredients are safe, is it?
The Alzheimer’s Connection
As if that’s not enough, remember that we’ve discussed further dangers of aluminum. As a toxic metal, it is linked to bone and brain damage, and is most often linked to Alzheimer’s and other dementia disorders. While the medical community disagrees on the conclusiveness of this connection, Robert Yokel, a University of Kentucky pharmacy professor who is studying aluminum for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (another division of NIH) says, “The Alzheimer’s risk with aluminum hasn’t been well defined. You have to weigh risks and benefits. My personal opinion is if you can make simple choices to avoid it until we sort this thing out, why not?”
Some research also shows a relationship between aluminum and other nervous-system disorders, such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.
As If That’s Not Enough…
…there are actually other garbage ingredients they add to underarm products, including hormone disrupters, petrochemicals and lung irritants. These are particularly dangerous to our teenagers who are still developing, unborn babies, breastfeeding children (internally and externally as they’re often skin-to-skin up near the armpit) and even our waterways (and their inhabitants).
So, you’ll want to avoid all antiperspirants (your body will adjust, I promise). When looking at deodorants, you’ll need to watch the ingredients.
Here’s a cheat-sheet of what you want to avoid:
Parabens: Discussed above, parabens are usually easy to identify by name, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben, among others. (These are found everywhere when it comes to personal care items. Take five minutes to go through your bathroom and purse today and you’ll be appalled at what you’ll find.)
Aluminum, etc. Also discussed above, aluminum may be listed on an ingredient list as aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (or glycine), or even alum (most often on “natural” deodorants).
Triclosan. We already know about this one, right? Remember that this suspected carcinogen is stored in body fat.
Talc. Among other issues, the seemingly benign powder is often contaminated with asbestos (which is carcinogenic). And despite that fact that we most often use talc to dust the bottoms of the most vulnerable humans, the amount of asbestos in talc is unregulated.
Propylene glycol. This is actually believed to be a neurotoxin that may also cause kidney or liver damage. (Check out the Material Safety Data Sheet for some interesting reading, particularly Section 11.)
So, Are You Ready to Go Au Naturale?
I didn’t think so. The good news is that I have a few other options for you.
I tested a whole gaggle of healthier deodorants, from those easily available at big-box stores to specialty ones available online.
Here’s my big disclaimer: I didn’t like most of them. Actually… it was closer to hate. Yes, I hated most of them. However, it may not have been their fault. You see, somewhere on the second or third one that I tested (OK, fourth or fifth… I’m not that swift) I realized that I was going through some kind of detox. It makes sense, given that by using conventional deodorant/ antiperspirant blends, I had been preventing my body from purging toxins through those plentiful sweat glands. And I should have realized sooner… You see, the, uh… aroma was less a sweat smell than an acrid, chemical smell. It was strange, especially as someone who didn’t have an odor issue before, but really confirmed for me that I was making the right choice for my health.
Now, don’t be afraid. I have a friend who is a self-described “stinker.” When she switched from conventional deodorant to homemade (see below) she didn’t notice any detox period at all.
So, on to the deodorants (I’ll include their EWG rating in parentheses, if available):
Burt’s Bees solid (1) (tested by my son), Tom’s of Maine (2), J/A/S/O/N (2), Alba (1) – The review is the same: Eh. Most of them felt nice going on (I’ve heard it said that they’re a bit sticky). But not only were they not stellar performers, their ingredient lists, while not awful, often contained things that were still a bit chemical-ish for my taste.
Weleda (5-7!)- With such a high EWG rating, it’s not surprising that this spray deodorant would sometimes sting a bit after shaving. The Wild Rose scent is pleasant enough. The Sage and Citrus scents are supposed to be unisex.
Aubrey Organics – I tested only the Calendula Blossom spray (2). I preferred this to the Weleda spray, although it also stung a tad at times.
Miessence – I’ve tried only the Aroma Free variety (0). This roll-on was, by far, my favorite of the non-homemade deodorants. My husband liked it too and will often still use it in his gym back when we are short on homemade.
Some other natural deodorants that are very popular, but I did not test myself, are: Dr. Hauschka’s (which is considered to be the most effective and has both feminine and unisex scents, but is the most expensive and is not EWG rated), Erbaviva (1), Bubble & Bee (0), Lafe’s (0), Burt’s Bees Herbal (1) (usually popular with men) and Terressentials (0).
You’ll notice I didn’t review any of the “crystal” deodorants. They don’t have a reputation for being very effective, and beyond that, their make-up is a concern to me. Being salt-based crystals, I just feel like they are, or are mimicking, aluminum compounds and it’s not worth the risk for me, even if they are deemed safe.
So What Did I End Up Choosing?
I hinted at it above… That’s right! Homemade deodorant!
OK, I know what you’re thinking. This is just too much. But it’s not like I’m saying you need to wake up early each morning to whip up a batch of deodorant for the day. You make up a big batch at once, and it’s easy. You can even put it in re-purposed deodorant containers for easy application. This is especially helpful if you need to trick someone into trying it…
I’ll share the recipe tomorrow (along with my whole drama about perfecting it). See you then!
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