Natural Alternatives to Commercial Deodorants

Ever since I became interested in healing, I have found the ingredients in anti-perspirants unacceptable. They invariably contain aluminum based compounds. Aluminum has been linked in a variety of studies to Alzheimer’s disease (see the following studies –  New evidence for an active role of aluminum in Alzheimer’s diseaseAluminum and Alzheimer’s disease,  Aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease: a new look ). Many medical researchers note that the evidence is not conclusive. As healthcare providers, our job is to not only treat illness, but to help our patients not get sick in the first place (a practice known as “preventative medicine”). Thinking in terms of the precautionary principle – the precept that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous – should guide us. So, I do not recommend the use of anti-perspirant, and this article will suggest several different natural alternatives.

Just another note on anti-perspirant – sweating has at least two important functions in the body. It cools the body down. It also allows various toxic substances to be released from the body without being processed by the kidneys or liver. The following page on the greenmedinfo.com site cites two significant studies proving that toxic substances like cadmium, lead, BPA’s, etc. come out in our sweat. Suppressing armpit sweat with anti-perspirant not only exposes a person to aluminum, but it reduces that same person’s ability to detoxify from heavy metals (and other toxins in the body). It is an unnecessary double whammy!

But very few of us want to walk around smelling strongly of body odor. For those of us who are primarily concerned about the smell, deodorants are usually not as bad as anti-perspirants. However, standard deodorants (like Old Spice, Speed Stick, etc.) contain propylene glycol, phthalates, some contain triclosan, and despite these toxic sounding ingredients coupled with some very strong scents, I’ve never found them to work particularly well.

When I learned the health benefits of using natural products, I tried Tom’s of Maine. These seem to be pretty good products, free from propylene glycol, parabens, etc. Again, the ones I tried did not seem to work that well for me (I did not try them all). Nonetheless, I know several people who do use them and have good results.

I then tried crystal deodorant sticks. Again, these appeared to be excellent, environmentally sound products that did not work well for me. I know several people who do use them and have good results.

Eventually, I began putting baking soda under my arms. This was actually pretty effective at neutralizing body odor. Some of you may be aware of the rumors around aluminum in baking soda. Here is an interesting blog post about this from the Crunchy Betty blog, which I think is correct. She explains that there is never aluminum in baking soda, but there is often aluminum in baking powder. Well, my problem was solved for a time. But then, it quit working for whatever reason.

Then I read a recipe for home made deodorant with 3 ingredients  – borax, baking soda, and coconut oil. I made some the next day and it worked! It continues to work to this day. It is highly satisfying to find effective alternatives to commercially produced, chemical laden products. While it is fine and good to recommend natural products, actually having natural products that work means that you no longer need these products. For those of you that want a pleasant odor, I found some further recipes on the Crunchy Betty site, which I have not tried.

Just as a further incentive to use natural deodorant, either DIY or store bought, here are some quotes from the National Cancer Institute’s web page about Breast Cancer and Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant. A great effort is made to lead with the ever present statement that “there is no conclusive evidence…” Here it is: “There is no conclusive research linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer.” Yet I also found the following statement on their page – “Some 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.” This is a strong enough statement for me to recommend avoiding aluminum based anti-perspirants! Here is a link to that page.

Then here is a statement regarding deodorants – “Some research has focused on parabens, which are preservatives used in some deodorants and antiperspirants that have been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body’s cells…” (link to this part of the article) It continues, “…The belief that parabens build up in breast tissue was supported by a 2004 study, which found parabens in 18 of 20 samples of tissue from human breast tumors.” (link to this part of the article) They go on to state why the study was incomplete and what would need to be done to properly test the theory of a relationship between parabens and breast cancer. This was an excellent analysis. Now, I wonder what the chances are of the NIH funding such studies?

Here is a far stronger study they discuss (you can find the discussion here) –

Findings from a different study examining the frequency of underarm shaving and antiperspirant/deodorant use among 437 breast cancer survivors were released in 2003. This study found that the age of breast cancer diagnosis was significantly earlier in women who used these products and shaved their underarms more frequently. Furthermore, women who began both of these underarm hygiene habits before 16 years of age were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than those who began these habits later. While these results suggest that underarm shaving with the use of antiperspirants/deodorants may be related to breast cancer, it does not demonstrate a conclusive link between these underarm hygiene habits and breast cancer. (italics and bold added by me)

In my opinion, the “it does not demonstrate a conclusive link” statements should be replaced by the statement – “Given these associations, it seems highly advisable that individuals concerned about their breast cancer risk immediately stop using these products. In fact, given that there are more natural forms of deodorant, we would recommend that every person in the United States switch to these products immediately.” Such statements would give the NIH and NCI actual credibility that they are truly interested in cancer prevention. In the article’s current form, they seem only interested in appeasing the makers of these chemical laden anti-perspirants and deodorants (which is, by the way, an industry worth well over 10 billion dollars).

4 Comments

  1. Marija · November 24, 2014 Reply

    Most tumours occur in the upper outer qnadraut the breast qnadrauts are not of equal size, and the upper outer one, and here’s the surprise, is the largest. So, statistically, one would expect the incidence to be greater in this qnadraut an assertion that Darbre has vigorously disputed, rather illogically IMO.Another factor that Darbre conveniently ingores is the fact that both the blood and lymph circulatory systems flow AWAY from the breast, so it is not logical to surmise that products applied to the underarm area will migrate to the breast. Unless, of course, it can be proven that antiperspirants contain specific molecules that are able to swim upstream!

    • Michael · December 31, 2014 Reply

      Hi Marija, I am not clear on which study you are referring to. The ones that I have quoted here are from the National Cancer Institute’s web page. The quote regarding aluminum – “Some 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.” – would not require anything to swim upstream. Estrogen like hormonal effects are systemic.

      Also, “The belief that parabens build up in breast tissue was supported by a 2004 study, which found parabens in 18 of 20 samples of tissue from human breast tumors.” So, these chemicals are getting into breast tissue (though it could be from other personal care products).

      Note the following: “This study found that the age of breast cancer diagnosis was significantly earlier in women who used these products and shaved their underarms more frequently. Furthermore, women who began both of these underarm hygiene habits before 16 years of age were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than those who began these habits later. While these results suggest that underarm shaving with the use of antiperspirants/deodorants may be related to breast cancer…” I understand your objections, but based on the precautionary principle, I would avoid these products based on the previous study results.

  2. Elden · January 27, 2015 Reply

    Good answer back in return of this difficulty
    with solid arguments and telling the whole thing regarding that.

  3. Michael · August 22, 2015 Reply

    Thank you Elden. Marija’s comments, which do make sense, do not directly address any of the points that I made in my post.

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