Deodorant. It’s a daily necessity and a crucial part of modern personal hygiene. But, how harmful are traditional deodorants and antiperspirants to your body?
I was inspired to write this post after a significant amount of nagging from my other half to focus on how the products I use (and sometimes over-use) could be effecting my health. As a slight departure from my previous posts, I’ve chosen to focus this blog on health, rather than the wider issue of the impact of deodorant and antiperspirant products on the environment. This isn’t to say that I’m ignoring that side of the coin, far from it. More that I feel the environmental impact of beauty and cosmetic products deserves its own post. The products I’ve chosen to review are in fact all eco-friendly, using naturally derived ingredients, many organic, packaged in both glass and recyclable plastic.
So to begin, let’s face the taboo head on.
Sweat. It’s a natural process in order for the body to cool, shed excess heat from working muscles, detoxify, and send sodium back into the body to maintain healthy levels of salt. There are over 4 million sweat glands all over the human body. The apocrine gland (found in the armpits) is a sweat gland that produces sweat containing protein, fat and carbohydrates. This can create those unsightly yellow tinged stains on the underarm of your shirts as the sweat mixes with natural bacteria found on the skin. It also has a thicker, more milky consistency than secretions produced from other sweat glands. This can create a pungent smell, loosely known as body odour. This bacteria, however, is healthy bacteria. It may offend your nasal sensibilities, but it certainly isn’t harmful.
Next, let’s squash a bit of a myth sold to us by the beauty industry.
The skin doesn’t ‘breathe’. The skin, the largest organ of the human body is porous. These pores naturally secrete and absorb, and they do take on a small amount of oxygen from the atmosphere, but this is not akin to breathing. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, it is not healthy to block the skin’s pores. This is exactly how antiperspirants work. Containing active ingredients such as aluminium chlorohydrate (part of a group of aluminium salts) and aluminum-zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (a chemical plug), antiperspirants obstruct the pores to limit the natural flow of sweat towards the surface of the skin. Classic deodorants on the other hand are mostly alcohol-based. Consisting of compounds like sodium stearate, stearyl alcohol and sodium chloride, these ingredients target acids and salt in an attempt to limit fermentation by bacteria. There are also some ingredients like triclosan and EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), which are antimicrobials working to impede bacterial growth in the underarm region.
Now to address the extremely controversial and emotive topic of cancer. There has been a great deal of coverage in the media regarding potential links between deodorants/antiperspirants and breast cancer. Aluminium being applied and absorbed near the breast tissue has been suggested to have estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Some scientists have indicated that since estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells, that “the aluminium-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer. In addition, …aluminium may have direct activity in breast tissue.” At this point it essential to remember that this research has not (yet) been confirmed by the scientific community and that a 2014 review concluded that there was “no clear evidence showing that the use of aluminium-containing underarm antiperspirants or cosmetics increases the risk of breast cancer”
The debate clearly rages on, with research continuing to investigate any and all possible links. It is worth noting that I have personal experience of a handful of women who having recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, have been advised by their GP to stop using traditional antiperspirant deodorants, in favour of the natural alternatives.
I think from my perspective the approach is ‘better to be safe than sorry’.
So, with all this information in mind and my commitment to providing greener lifestyle (products) without compromise, I took it upon myself to test 5 natural deodorants to see how they stand up against the chemical alternatives. I have to confess, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I embarked on this task. I decided to purchase 2 of the 5 from local independent shops, and the other 3 from mainstream retail. I wanted to ensure that the products I tested were not only natural and environmentally friendly but that they would also be easy to obtain, and that there was an offering for both men and women. Here’s what I found:
Earth Conscious Natural Vegan Deodorant – Citrus
Made in the U.K. from 100% natural ingredients, this soft, creamy deodorant is applied with the fingertips. With ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter and fragranced with lemon and orange oils, the deodorant claims to have natural antibacterial properties.
- Fragrance: 4/5
- Application: 3/5
- Daily freshness: 3.5/5
- Overall Rating: 3.5/5
As you apply the deodorant it smells fantastic. It is a little messier than the other 4 as you apply with your fingers, however it does feel soft and creamy. The fragrance sadly fades throughout the day and having sat in the hot sun for a couple of hours it did make me feel rather damp. That said, I had no body odour and felt fresh again once I had dried out a little. This is as natural as they come and a great option but perhaps not one for those who are currently attached to their antiperspirant. Also available in Lavender, Pure and Strong Mint.
(Purchase direct from Earth Conscious, from Amazon UK, and at Boobalou Eco Living)
Close to Nature Natural Roll-on Deodorant – Soft Citrus
This natural deodorant claims to be kind to sensitive skin, leaving no white marks and offering 24hr protection against body odour.
- Fragrance: 5/5
- Application: 4/5
- Daily Freshness: 4/5
- Overall Rating: 4.3/5
I love the smell of this deodorant. The moment you apply it, you feel and smell fresh. However, heed my warning…if you apply this directly after shaving be prepared for pain. I made this mistake and spent the next 5 minutes holding a cold flannel to my armpit to cool the burn. The reason behind this, is that this deodorant contains alcohol. The overwhelming positive is that once the deodorant had been applied, the fragrance lasts all day. As your body heat rises it further triggers the aroma. After a long day in the sun and a run around the woods with my boys, I felt fresh, dry and odour free. It’s eco-credentials may not be as glowing as the other deodorants I’ve tried, but it’s a great transition for those who are attached to their current deodorant/antiperspirant. Also available in Water Lily and Pomegranate.
(Purchase from Waitrose)
Alva Crystal Deo Intensive Roll-on – Neutral
According to Alva, this deodorant provides 24hr fragrance free protection with crystal minerals to help prevent body odour. Organic aloe vera and comfrey care for sensitive underarms.
- Fragrance: N/A
- Application: 5/5
- Daily Freshness: 4/5
- Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I was really keen to trial a couple of fragrance-free deodorants. Free from perfume, this eco-deodorant is truly unisex. Since it contains no alcohol it is safe and comfortable to apply straight after shaving. It goes on smoothly and takes a couple of minutes to dry. Once dry, this really does offer all day, odour-free protection. Even though I’ve rated this deodorant very highly, I feel I should mention that I personally prefer deodorants with a scent. I find it reassuring to smell the product and find that it adds something to my feeling of freshness. Even without a scent, this deodorant really does live up to its eco-credentials.
(Purchase direct from Alva, from Big Green Smile, and Amazon UK)
Neal’s Yard state that this product is formulated to provide 24hr protection. Lightly and naturally scented, the deodorant uses moisture-absorbing bamboo powder to maintain a fresh, dry feeling.
- Fragrance: 3.5/5
- Application: 4/5
- Daily Freshness: 4/5
- Overall Rating: 3.8/5
This is a bit of a marmite deodorant. Some days I absolutely love this fragrance and imagine I’ve just entered a spa. Other days it just doesn’t quite do it for me. I’m not sure if it’s due to changing moods/hormones but the floral scent is very distinctive. Oddly, I particularly enjoy using this deodorant in the evenings as I find the scent very relaxing. In terms of feeling fresh and dry, this deodorant is up there with the Close to Nature offering and is certainly more eco-friendly. Also available as a roll on in Peppermint & Lime, and a spray in Lemon & Coriander and Lavender & Aloe Vera. I feel that I need to try the other fragrances in order to provide a more accurate rating.
(Purchase from your local Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic consultant, via the Neal’s Yard Remedies website, and from Waitrose)
PitROK Crystal Original Natural Deodorant Stick – Fragrance Free
According to PitROK, with natural bacteriostatic agent, this crystal helps to prevent odour causing bacteria from developing. Suitable for sensitive skin, gently wet the stick with fingertips, then apply as you would a regular deodorant to freshly cleansed skin.
- Fragrance: N/A
- Application: 4.5/5
- Daily Freshness: 5/5
- Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I have to admit, although I’ve tested this deodorant I defer to my husband for this review. Having used a traditional aerosol antiperspirant until a week ago, he’s been using this deodorant exclusively since. He leads a busy life and has been testing this product to its limits, heading out on his road bike in the evenings. Whilst he has been left with small damp patches on his t-shirt at times, he’s remained odour free and feeling fresh. I was surprised how effective this deodorant has been, although surprisingly I did find it very uncomfortable to apply directly post shaving. Naturally my husband didn’t have this issue! There is also a new Extra Sensitive version which looks to be geared towards women. I am keen to try this and anticipate that it may well solve the post-shave burn. I’ll keep you posted!
(Purchase from Boots, Superdrug, Big Green Smile, and Waitrose)
As an overview, I’ve been particularly impressed with all the deodorants I’ve tested. They’ve proven to be a lot more effective than I’d anticipated and both my husband and I are devout converts. It is worth noting that it can take your body a while (apparently up to 6 months) to get used to using a more natural product, especially if you’ve been clogging your pores with antiperspirant. Also, the amount people sweat varies a lot from person to person, as well as at different times of the month, during different activity levels etc. If you are really concerned about waving adieu to your antiperspirant, by all means begin the weaning process by switching to a traditional deodorant before making the move to a life of eco-armpits. Happy, healthy sweating!
As always if you have any recommendations/comments, I’d love to hear from you.