Deodorant is an $18 billion industry in America, with 95 percent of us using it every single day. Most of us don’t think twice about swiping our underarms every morning, but did you know that your deodorant likely contains a number of harmful ingredients that can have long-term negative health effects?
For starters, most deodorants and antiperspirants contain parabens as well as phthalates, which are well-known endocrine disruptors. This means that they can interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or elimination of hormones that are responsible for all types of functions in the body, such as healthy development, normal behavior, fertility, and maintenance of normal cell metabolism.
Antiperspirants also contain aluminum, which can cause “gene instability” in breast tissue, which could eventually lead to the growth of tumor or cancer cells. The European Journal of Cancer Prevention reports that breast cancer incidence tends to be associated with the usage of products that contain aluminum. Other studies have found a strong linkage between aluminum exposure and the development of Alzheimer’s disease, stating “aluminum may be the single most aggravating and avoidable factor related to Alzheimer’s disease”.
Do we even need deodorant?
Hormone disruption and increased exposure to disease are some serious risks to be taking on – all for a product that we may not even need. You see, before the start of the 20th century, no one used deodorant or placed much importance on body odor.
The first deodorant and antiperspirant products ever produced made an appearance around the late 1800s. These products were not popular until clever copywriting in the mid-1900s was able to convince the masses that their natural bodily smell was not attractive or acceptable, and must be remedied.
However, deodorants may be counterproductive and even completely unnecessary. One study found that not everyone produces the bacteria that leads to underarm odor. The study further found the majority of those who do not tend to have smelly armpits still purchase and use deodorant or antiperspirant. In this way, deodorant companies may be keeping themselves in business – since their products may actually increase odor-causing bacteria. The bacteria killed off by deodorants and antiperspirants allow other bacteria to thrive that produce even more pungent odors. In other words, they can mess with the microorganisms that live on and in your body – many of which are beneficial. Some say deodorants can make the odor more pronounced, while stopping the use of commercial underarm products may eventually lessen the smell.
One other food for thought – before you assume deodorants and antiperspirants can actually stop body odor as much as you might think, consider that the FDA only requires that a brand reduce sweat by 20 percent in order to claim it provides “all day protection.” Producers that claim their product is “extra strength,” need only reduce dampness by 30 percent to pass the grade.
Taking all of this into account, we start to understand that these products may be a clever marketing construct rather than a necessity for everyday hygiene.
How to stop body odor without deodorant
The good news is, sweat itself doesn’t actually stink. It’s the bacteria that grows on the sweat that causes odor. You smell, because the bacteria living in your armpits breaks down lipids and amino acids found in your sweat and turns them into substances that have a very distinct odor. We all know what that smell is, right?
Using natural things to keep the bacteria levels down can help combat the development of body odor. If you’re looking for safer alternatives to help keep your pits fresh and stink-free in natural and cost-effective ways, here are some easy things to try:
- Raw Apple Cider Vinegar: Apply a dilution of apple cider vinegar directly to your underarms. The antimicrobial properties and acid content destroy odor-causing bacteria naturally. Keep in mind, this will sting if you’ve just shaved.
- Witch Hazel: Apply witch hazel to your armpits with a cotton ball after showering. Witch hazel is a natural astringent, which means it contracts your skin tissue and reduces the production of sweat. Most commercial witch hazel extracts also include rubbing alcohol, which helps fight odor-causing bacteria that like to hang out in your armpits.
- Stress Relief: Practice deep breathing and meditation regularly. Since the stress reaction can cause glands to produce sweat, stress management, and anxiety-reduction techniques can help you modulate your stress reaction and minimize your physiological sweat response.
- Wear Natural Clothing: When it comes to making body odor worse, synthetic fabrics tend to trap odors at a greater rate than natural fabrics. Although many man-made fabrics, like polyester, are quick to wick moisture away from the skin and equally quick to dry, their construction can up the “stink” quotient. Try wearing natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and bamboo, which resist the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
- Use Essential Oils: Create your own deodorant blend using your favorite essential oils. Oils such as bergamot, blood orange, clove, cedarwood, patchouli, vetiver, ylang ylang, lavender, cypress, and geranium are very good at eliminating odor since they have antibacterial properties.
What happens when you stop using antiperspirant
Many people who have transitioned away from mainstream deodorants and antiperspirants will tell you that there is a transition period as your body readjusts. You’ll experience more of a change in your sweat levels and body odor if your typical deodorant is an antiperspirant versus an aluminum-free option, since these formulas do more than prevent your body odor. Antiperspirants work by blocking wetness from reaching the surface of the skin, using aluminum salts that form a plug or blockage within the sweat glands to physically prevent sweat. Without antiperspirant, your skin may better clear dirt, oil, and debris that accumulate on the skin and within the sweat glands. Unfortunately, during this “detox” phase, you may find you experience higher levels of body odor.
Right now might be the perfect time to make the switch: as everyone participates in social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be spending more time alone, or amongst loved ones who will support the choice you’re making. Because of this, now is the most convenient time to take a break from antiperspirant (and bras, underwear, and makeup, if you so desire).
Ease the transition by using a clay mask on your armpits to encourage detoxification, and exfoliate regularly. Once you ride out the initial adjustment period, your microbiome will find its natural balance again, and you’ll naturally experience less body odor.