Sweat the Small Stuff
Of all our daily grooming habits, swiping a deodorant stick or squirting antiperspirant under our arms may be the one we dare not neglect. Hot yoga classes and subway etiquette practically demand it. But when it comes to choosing a BO buster, we should care just as much about how it affects us as it does others—and that means avoiding the harmful ingredients many deodorants contain.
Why? Unlike soaps or shampoos, “these cosmetics are not rinsed off,” says Philippa Darbre, breast cancer researcher at the University of Reading in England. “The entire application is left on the skin each time, allowing for the accumulation of chemicals in the underarm and upper breast area.”
The sensitive skin in these areas eventually absorbs this chemical overload—some of which is toxic—into the underlying tissue, where it can wreak havoc in the body. Beware of these primary offenders:
Found only in antiperspirants, aluminum zirconium and aluminum chlorohydrate work by blocking pores that release sweat. Aluminum, like other heavy metals, may interfere with the ability of estrogen receptors to correctly process the hormone.
Because this ingredient functions as a penetration enhancer, it can be more harmful when paired with other chemical additives. The ingredient—even in concentrations as low as 2 percent—provokes skin irritation in some people, yet manufacturers can create a product with 50 percent propylene glycol content. Believe it or not, you’re likely to find this in many “natural” deodorants.
Used as an antibacterial agent and preservative, triclosan reacts with tap water to create chloroform gas, a potential carcinogen. Triclosan also exhibits endocrine-disrupting properties in marine animals—which should concern everyone because it also has shown up in human breast milk and blood.
Usually listed with a number (like steareth-15), these additives come from a cheap process that makes harsh ingredients more mild. The process (known as ethoxylation) produces carcinogenic 1,4-dioxanes during manufacturing.
You can say no to toxin-laced deodorants and still stay sweet smelling by choosing products that rely on more natural (and side effect-free) ingredients such as:
Ammonium or potassium alum, the ingredients in solid crystal deodorants, work by constricting the protein in sweat so that malodorous bacteria have less to feed on.
Clay and powders.
Clay minerals such as kaolin and bentonite and natural powders like cornstarch or arrowroot help absorb moisture.
Witch hazel, sage, alcohol, and other astringents work by evaporating the moisture on the skin and constricting the pores. They are usually used in conjunction with essential oils that have antibacterial properties.
Making the switch
When you swap any conventional cosmetic for a more natural one, you need to give your body time to readjust. With deodorants, a few simple steps can make the transition a little less, um, stinky. Stephanie Greenwood of Bubble and Bee Organic shares her tips.
Don’t forget to dry brush.
“Conventional antiperspirants work by blocking and shrinking your pores, so you need to get the glands and pores functioning again,” says Greenwood. Start by gently dry brushing your armpits with a dry washcloth or natural skin brush. In the bath or shower, apply a hot washcloth for a few minutes to help melt away solidified antiperspirant material. Scrub well with a natural soap, and repeat again the next day.
Give change a chance.
“The first week of your underarm detox may be aromatic,” she says. “Your underarms are ridding themselves of dead skin cells, chemical residue, and fluid buildup.”
Try different deodorants.
“Everyone’s body chemistry is different—what works for some won’t work for others,” says Greenwood. “It may take time to find the right natural deodorant for you, but once you do, you’ll never look back.”
The Pit Stop
Dr. Hauschka Deodorant Fresh
Witch hazel and sage extracts absorb odor without clogging pores, and essential oils provide a light citrus scent for all-day freshness. ($19.95, 1.7 oz; www.drhauschka.com)
Erbaviva Jasmine Grapefruit Organic Deodorant
Essential oils of jasmine, grapefruit, ginger, cedarwood, cypress, sage, and lemon give this spray a subtle, sweet scent. ($16, 3.4 oz; www.erbaviva.com)
Origins Totally Pure Deodorant
Organic white willow bark and lavender-infused alcohol control odor. The spice-scented blend is USDA certified organic. ($15, 3.4 oz; www.origins.com)
Bubble and Bee Organic Pit Putty
Arrowroot powder absorbs moisture while organic lemon and clove oils work to leave the skin smelling fresh. ($8.95, 2.5 oz; www.bubbleandbee.com)
Terressentials Lavender Fresh Deodorant
The lavender formula helps neutralize odors—even the sulfur compounds that can result from eating garlic. ($10, 3 oz; www.terressentials.com)
Kiss My Face Liquid Rock Roll-On Deodorant
This liquefied crystal deodorant rolls on easily and neutralizes body odors without covering them up with other scents. ($4.99, 3 oz; www.kissmyfacewebstore.com)