Why is aluminum potentially harmful?
Cancer.gov provides some insight that “because estrogen can 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.” However, no studies to date have confirmed these adverse effects or provided clear evidence.(1)
When you flip over your products and review the label, look for the active ingredient at the top of your product, and it may be listed as aluminum chloralhydrate or aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly. “Aside from the cancer factor, some people are simply concerned that aluminum, and antiperspirants in general, keep the body from sweating out toxins that need to be released,” Teen Vogue article on deodorant. (2)
Are deodorants and antiperspirants the same thing?
Deodorants and antiperspirants have become a part of the daily routine of many Americans. Penn Medicine says that “deodorants target the armpit bacteria that create odors but they don’t keep you from sweating. Antiperspirants contain ingredients--usually an aluminum compound-- that can prevent sweat glands from releasing sweat” The products you purchase today are usually “two-in-one,” with both a deodorant and an antiperspirant component.
Penn Medicine also noted that recent research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at NIH suggests that frequent use of antiperspirants can cause aluminum to accumulate in breast tissue, but this doesn’t prove that aluminum salts can cause breast cancer. Breast cancer tissue doesn’t seem to contain more aluminum than normal breast tissue. Dr. Benjamin Chan, a physician at Penn Family Medicine explains that “Aluminum might be of greater concern if you have kidney problems, especially if your kidney function is about 30 percent or less...Too much aluminum in your body can cause bone diseases or dementia. Usually, excess aluminum is filtered out of your body by your kidneys. So, people with weakened kidney function can’t filter aluminum fast enough. However, if you have normal kidney function, your kidneys can usually process the amount of aluminum from antiperspirants and cosmetics that is absorbed through your skin.” The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires antiperspirant manufacturers to include warnings specifically for people with kidney disease.(3)
What’s in traditional deodorant and antiperspirants?
In addition to aluminum, antiperspirants are commonly formulated with parabens, triclosan, phthalates and propylene glycol. To learn more about these ingredients, check out Truly’s blog on these ingredients. Erbaviva stated that “exposure to these toxic compounds has been linked to alzheimer’s, certain cancers and reproductive/developmental issues. and because the skin is highly porous, anything that’s applied topically can be absorbed into the bloodstream and even potentially stored in the cells and tissue.”
Deodorants also usually contain fragrances that are larged unregulated due to an FDA loophole that classifies them as ‘trade secrets.’ According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “the average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label. among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products.” (4)
What happens to your underarms when you switch to natural deodorant?
My personal journey with switching was a personal choice to try to go aluminum free. After trying several natural brands, I did face a few hurdles in the beginning, including strong odor and severe armpit irritation from baking soda based formulas. Pretty Frank’s blog hit on the head, and is a good read if it is your first time giving it a go. To summarize, you will smell (a lot) at first, which to me proved that my body really was releasing some toxins in the first few months(!!). In my personal experience, I tried about 8 different deodorants when I first started out, and I did get severe bumps in my underarm area. When first trying new natural deodorant that uses baking soda, I would monitor your underarms daily and make a log of how your body is reacting.
Is there such a thing as ‘baking soda’ allergy?
A person may get a skin reaction (not necessarily an allergy) from baking soda, also known as contact dermatitis. Bubble and Bee wrote that “Baking soda reactions fall under the category of irritant contact dermatitis. Baking soda is alkaline, so if high amounts are left on skin for a long time it can irritate skin because it disrupts the skin's acid mantle, leading to moisture loss. Brief exposures can cause reactions in someone that has severely impaired skin function, such as someone who has been through radiation treatment for cancer, or been through other serious illnesses.” (5)
After everything you just explained, is it worth It?
It is a personal choice-- always remember you hold the choice as a consumer and as a human being. In my experience, I am over 1 year into switching to natural deodorants, and I work out about 10-12 hours per week (so let’s just say I sweat a lot). With all that I have researched and personally experienced, it is absolutely worth it. After my personal experience with baking soda based natural deodorants, I switched to finding other active ingredients, including alcohol based products. Here are two of my favorite brands:
As far as application, I usually apply in the morning and then again before working out. On some days, I do wipe my armpit with witch hazel to make sure there are no bacteria before applying in between showers.
I am here to answer any questions you might have as you travel down the path of natural deodorants.
Xx Sara Theresa