I’ve been taking this time in quarantine to finally figure out my deodorant situation. About eight years ago, I stopped using aluminum-containing antiperspirants after reading about a potential link between aluminum and health issues, mainly Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer. Since then, research has shown there is little evidence to show a correlation, however some organizations feel that more data is needed. There is also a theory that sweat is a natural process and a way to rid your body of toxins. By blocking it with an ingredient like aluminum, you are preventing your body from doing something it does naturally.
I personally decide to err on the side of caution and not use aluminum-containing antiperspirants. For years, I have experimented with different non-aluminum containing antiperspirants and deodorants. I say for years because it’s difficult to find a natural deodorant that is effective. Many of the products I experimented with simply did not work or ironically, had a strange smell. I got so frustrated that I stopped using deodorant altogether, which I don’t recommend doing at all. Apologies to my family and friends.
Truthfully, I never felt like I found a product that compared to traditional deodorants on the market. There have been many times when I considered going back to my regular deodorant because I couldn’t take the lack of efficacy. Eventually, I found out that this is normal because there is something called the adjustment period. Meaning, our microbiome needs time to adjust when switching between a conventional and natural deodorant. More on that later.
In the meantime, here is some research on the controversy surrounding deodorants and antiperspirants and my experience with a deodorant that was released a few months ago, Nécessaire’s The Deodorant. First, some background information.
What is the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant?
We often use the term deodorant as an all-encompassing term but there are actually two different types of products that affect body odor, deodorant and antiperspirant. Deodorant increases the skin’s acidity and reduces or masks body odor while antiperspirant blocks sweat glands, thereby reducing wetness. Antiperspirants contain aluminum, which temporarily plugs the sweat duct and stops the flow of sweat to the skin’s surface. Some products do both.
Why is the use of certain deodorants potentially harmful?
Some research suggests that aluminum-containing antiperspirant may be absorbed by the skin and have hormonal (estrogen-like) effects. Estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells. Speaking of questionable ingredients, some deodorants have parabens, which also have estrogenic effects and have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. There is also a hypothesis is that there is an increased incidence of tumors in the upper, outer quadrant of the breast and therefore deodorant applied to the underarm area may be a contributing factor.
What does the data say?
♥ A systemic review published in 2016 (Allam MF et al) concluded there is no risk between antiperspirant use and breast cancer risk. The author notes that there were not enough studies to obtain reliable results and that further prospective studies are strongly needed.
♥ A systemic review published in 2014 (Willhite CC et al) concluded no clear evidence that aluminum-containing underarm antiperspirants increase the risk of breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
♥ A study published in 2006 (Fakri et al) found no association between antiperspirant use and breast cancer risk. Of note, the study had a smaller sample size.
♥ A 2003 study (McGrath KG et al) concluded that the frequency and earlier onset of antiperspirant/deodorant use with underarm shaving were associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis. This study has been criticized for not having a control group of women without breast cancer.
♥ A 2002 case-control study (Mirick DK et al) did not find that antiperspirant use increases the risk of developing breast cancer
There is no convincing data that highlights a strong correlation between the use of deodorants/antiperspirants and breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute concluded that additional research is needed to determine a relationship since studies have provided conflicting results. The American Cancer Society has published statements indicating there is no clear link between chemicals like parabens and aluminum to cancer. One thing that is clear is that more research is needed to definitely establish or reject a connection between antiperspirant use and breast cancer risk.
In the 1960s, some data indicated that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have higher levels of aluminum.
♥ A 1990 study (Graves AB et al) suggested a possible link between aluminum and AD. The study compared the habits of 130 patients with the disease to a group of healthy subjects. It was largely discredited because it relied on surrogates to answer questions for the patients.
The findings from earlier studies were never replicated. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.”
However, the subject is controversial, with some researchers indicating, “while a direct causal role for aluminum in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has not yet been demonstrated definitively, epidemiological evidence suggests that elevated levels of aluminum in brain tissue may be linked to the progression of AD.”
The data are conflicting. There is skepticism and companies are reacting to consumer demands by removing these questionable chemicals as consumers are looking for “cleaner” alternatives.
Switching to natural deodorant
The adjustment period
One important thing to remember is that it takes time for your body to adjust to “natural” deodorants if you’ve been using conventional options. Conventional, meaning aluminum-containing antiperspirants and natural, although difficult to define, referring to products without potentially harmful ingredients.
You may notice that in the first few weeks of using natural deodorant, you stink, to put it bluntly. At least, I definitely did. It made me want to write off my natural deodorant for lack of efficacy and general annoyance. Lucky for me, I’m home in quarantine so the only people that have to suffer through my deodorant detox are my family members. It’s not pretty, especially when you’ve just had a baby and pregnancy hormones and night sweats are raging. Elle magazine got it right – self-isolation truly is the perfect time to try natural deodorant.
There is an adjustment period that occurs when switching from conventional to aluminum-free formulas because your sweat glands overcompensate from being blocked for so long. You therefore start overproducing sweat and smell like you haven’t showered in a week. Essentially, your underarm bacteria is adjusting to the switch. One study found that antiperspirants use can lead to an increase of Actinobacteria, a poor-smelling bacteria, so your body needs time to acclimate when switching. If you can get through a few weeks of potentially smelling as your body adjusts between conventional and natural deodorant, it’s worth the wait.
Nécessaire’s The Deodorant
After becoming a fan of the Nécessaire’s eucalyptus body wash, I decided to purchase their deodorant, appropriately called The Deodorant. This is one of many natural deodorants I have tried over the years. Initially, I was skeptical. Every other natural deodorant I tried in the past did not do the job, which could be either the deodorant or my particular brand of perspiration. Even if a deodorant did work, it would be for a short period of time before I would need to reapply.
The Deodorant is a clean multi-acid and multi-mineral treatment that helps with odor control. Mandelic and lactic acids help to neutralize odor while silica, zinc, and kaolin clay help keep you dry.
For the past five weeks, I have used this deodorant nearly everyday. I admit I have lazy days when I don’t use anything. I blame that on the postpartum life but overall, I’ve been using it consistently except for a few missed days. I have used it while suffering through postpartum sweats that leave me drenched throughout the night and well into the morning. I have used it while having dance parties with my four- and three-year old. I have used it while walking in on my kids wreaking havoc in my closet and pulling my clothes down from the hangers so they can “go to a wedding.” I have used it while all three kids have cried at the same time and I quite literally froze in place contemplating my plan of attack.
I have used it while coordinating a Zoom call for my two older kids so they could make pizza with their class as I helped them measure out flour with one hand while balancing my infant on my boob with the other hand because he happened to wake up at the same time and he is not a patient man. That is to say, like most of us, I’ve had quite a few stressful moments these past few weeks and this deodorant has held up. It also has a subtle eucalyptus smell but not in an overpowering way. I also noticed that it doesn’t leave any residue on my clothes like many other deodorants do. The product has a white creamy appearance but once you apply it, the film becomes transparent so you don’t need to worry about white flakes coming off.
One thing I didn’t love is the price point. At $20, it’s more expensive than many other natural deodorants on the market but to me, it’s worth it. Another disclaimer – I haven’t used it during an intense cardio-heavy workout yet because I’m slightly ashamed to say I haven’t worked out that intensely in months. As an everyday deodorant, it passed the test.
Not that packaging matters in terms of efficacy but I really like the minimalist packaging and don’t mind this product taking up space in my bathroom. It also feels really nice from the moment you pick it up to the moment you put it back on the counter. You can also feel good about using it because the brand is sustainable. According to the website, they use 85% post-consumer waste boxes and 100% recyclable paper for boxes and shippers so that no virgin forest materials are ever used. They use recyclable materials for the their jars, bottles and tubes and hope to bring in repurposed plastics and/or other materials in the future to avoid the production of new plastics.
When it comes to natural deodorant, you may need to do some trial-and-error but if you’d like to start the experimentation process now, you can purchase The Deodorant on the Nécessaire website.
Do you use a natural deodorant? What has your experience been like?
1. Dieterich M, Stubert J, Reimer T, Erickson N, Berling A. Influence of lifestyle factors on breast cancer risk. Breast Care 2014; 9(6):407-414. [PubMed]
2. Hardefeldt PJ, Edirimanne S, Eslick GD: Deodorant use and breast cancer risk. Epidemiology 2013;24:172. [Link]
3. Allam MF. Breast cancer and deodorants/antiperspirants: a systemic review. Cent Eur J Public Health;24(3):245-247. [Link]
4. Willhite CC, Karyakina NA, Yokel RA, et al. Systematic review of potential health risks posed by pharmaceutical, occupational and consumer exposures to metallic and nanoscale aluminum, aluminum oxides, aluminum hydroxide and its soluble salts. Critical Reviews in Toxicology 2014; 44 Suppl 4:1-80. [PubMed]
5. Fakri S, Al-Azzawi A, Al-Tawil N. Antiperspirant use as a risk factor for breast cancer in Iraq. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal 2006; 12(3–4):478–482. [PubMed]
6. McGrath KG. An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2003;12:479–485. [PubMed]
7. Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94:1578-1580. [PubMed]
8. National Cancer Institute. Antiperspirants/Deodorant and Breast Cancer. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet#r8. Accessed May 10, 2020. [Link]
9. American Cancer Society. Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html. Accessed May 10, 2020. [Link]
10. Graves AB, White E, Koepsell TD, et al. The association between aluminum-containing products and Alzheimer’s disease. J Clin Epidemiol 1990;43(1):35-44.[PubMed]
11. Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s disease: myths. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/myths. Accessed May 11, 2020. [Link]
12. Campbell A. The potential role of aluminum in Alzheimer’s disease. Nephrol Dial Transplant 2002;17(Suppl 2):17–20. [PubMed][/one_half_last]
13. Callewaert C, Hutapea P, Van de Wiele T, et al. Deodorants and antiperspirants affect the axillary bacterial community. Arch Dermatol Res 2014;306(701-710). [PubMed]