Before I discuss some of the scaries and nasties in our deodorants/antiperspirants, I would like you to take a good look at your old friend Mr. or Ms. Epidermis. This may seem lame, but take a second or two to appreciate your skin’s smooth surface, its pores, sweat glands, and veins. Your skin is more than a protective surface for your body to the outside world – it is actually a permeable membrane that allows the inside of your body to interact with our external environment.
All of us, from beauty bombshells and gym rats to book worms and soccer moms have developed some sort of personal hygiene routine in the hopes of somehow taming or controlling our outer barrier; in fact, on average men and women spend anywhere from 200 to 400 hours a year applying lotions, potions, makeup, and hair products during their morning routines.
The Environmental Working Group (an environmental research and advocacy group in the US http://www.ewg.org) cites women as particularly heavy users of toxic chemicals from personal products, applying on average 515 chemicals on their faces and bodies daily; however, we must not forget that both men and women use an average of 9 personal care products daily, and while men might use fewer products, theirs tend to have heavy scents and extra harsh chemicals and can therefore be just as or more so toxic than the combined chemical stews women concoct and slather on themselves.
I have used the quite unappetising term ‘chemical stew’ for a reason: for one, maybe the nasty mental image alone will deter you from using items with high toxicities, but I use toxic ‘stew’ or ‘soup’ because I want to remind you that your skin is a massive organ and we ‘ingest’ ingredients at a more effective rate through our skin than we do through our mouths and digestive systems. When we swallow products, they go through a complex process that includes the digestive system, which allows some toxins to be eliminated from your body. Though we all learn in grade school that our skin is the body’s largest organ and a permeable membrane, we seem to be in denial as adults that it is indeed a living, breathing organ which likes to absorb what is applied to it, most of which is welcomed directly into the bloodstream.
Keep in mind that only 11% of the 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics have been tested for safety, and many of the most popular products we use daily (from toothpaste and deodorants to shampoo and lip gloss) have chemicals that have tested positive for carcinogens. To many of us, the thought of pouring a warm, steaming bowl of these chemicals to eat with a spoon for lunch sounds beyond crazy and dangerous, but we fail to recognise that it is almost equally dangerous for us to apply these chemicals to our skin.
You should give your skin the same thoughtful care you give your diet, because much of what goes ON you ends up going IN you.
Your skin is much more than a wrap to keep you from sliding down into a puddle of formless bio-goo. It is your body’s largest organ. (The following list is adapted from mercola.com).
You might not be aware of the many protective functions your skin serves. Consider that your skin:
- Protects your internal organs from injury and infection and is your primary and most important defence against infections.
- Helps eliminate waste through perspiration.
- Assists your immune system by providing a protective barrier to viruses and bad bacteria, thus preventing infections.
- Provides a friendly habitat for good bacteria.
- Helps maintain body temperature by controlling heat flow between you and your environment.
- Seals in moisture, maintaining your body’s delicate fluid balance.
- Produces vitamin D, which is crucial for your health.
- Sends sensory feedback to your brain because it is rich in receptors, such as hard/soft and hot/cold, so that you can react to dangerous conditions around you.
Antiperspirants and Deodorants: are the rumours skin deep?
With the above reminder about the amazingness that is our skin, let’s consider the effect just one step in your daily hygiene routine might have to your health: applying deodorants and antiperspirants. Now, this is a tough topic for many of us. Even some granola munching hipsters won’t compromise when it comes to avoiding sweaty, smelly armpits, and these products deal with natural processes about which the cosmetic industry has made us feel very self-conscious. The thought of suddenly dropping your trusty speed stick is akin to a woman deciding to stop shaving her underarms…
Yeah, to some of us, that thought is still cringe-worthy, but it’s an example of how Western culture has developed a skewed outlook on beauty, to a point where our natural body functions have more often than not been made to be embarrassing rather than, well, natural. It’s often difficult for Westerners to find deodorant products in certain parts of the world because other cultures haven’t vilified body odour as much as ours.
Now… I’m not advocating that we should all revert to Medieval times and refuse to wash, shave, or smell nice! If you ask most Westerners what their biggest pet peeve is, I’m sure many would say “poor body odour,” because it’s just not fun to be packed in a crammed subway in sweltering summer conditions with a bunch of smelly armpits! However, we must consider the amazing balances and functions Mr. or Ms. Epidermis provide for us, including the lymph nodes and glands around our arm pits, and why it is important to know the ingredients in deodorants to avoid suffocating and poisoning the unique habitat under our arms! Also, more and more people are becoming wary about deodorants and antiperspirants and their potential links to breast cancer.
“Research studies of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer have been completed and provide conflicting results”
A number of stories have floated around in the press and on the internet about studies linking the use of odour and sweat-blocking underarm products to breast cancer. Also, some studies suggest an increase in tumour development when the products are combined with shaving of the underarm area. Some of the news seems to definitively link the products (and chemicals like parabens and aluminium) to the disease, while some major sources – ones we would hope to be very reliable – like the FDA and the National Cancer Institute insist that “there is no conclusive research linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer” (cancer.gov 2008). However, even the Cancer Institute states that additional research is needed to truly understand the link between the products and tumour development, as some studies clearly link the two and some seem to provide concrete proof that the two are unrelated.
Here are the results of just two conflicting studies from cancer.gov:
In 2002, the results of a study looking for a relationship between breast cancer and underarm antiperspirants/deodorants were reported. This study did not show any increased risk for breast cancer in women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant. The results also showed no increased breast cancer risk for women who reported using a blade (nonelectric) razor and an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant, or for women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant within 1 hour of shaving with a blade razor. These conclusions were based on interviews with 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women with no history of breast cancer.
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.
Being the well-informed buyers that we are, and keeping in mind that governments of the past, in attempt to appease certain major companies, manipulated studies to try to prove that cigarettes weren’t bad for us, I think it is up to all of us to use common sense, trust our guts, and opt for alternatives. The fewer chemicals on our bodies, the better!
Since beginning my own personal journey into the land of natural deodorant products, I have definitely had mixed results! It seems that some smell like beautiful, natural, delicate flowers until actually being applied, at which point it it turns into the most potent natural people repellent ever imagined! So, I have a few words of advice.
1) Try the products first in the safety of your home … and preferably surrounded by people who have to love you regardless of how smelly you are.
2) Keep in mind that many natural websites have comments from people who love certain products and recommend them, but everyone’s Mr. or Ms. Epidermis is unique and responds better (or worse) to different products – so don’t be discouraged if certain brands don’t work for you.
3) Try not to compare the natural products to your tried and true – natural products aren’t meant to mimic directly what mainstream products do. Considering aluminium in mainstream products form a plug within your sweat ducts that stops the flow of sweat, it’s tough to find a product with the exact consistency and results but is magically natural.
4) Check the ingredients carefully, some companies claim their product is natural but still have parabens or petroleum products. Determine how natural you want to get and what chemicals you’ll concede.
5) I don’t really have anymore advice, but thought this video was amusing for anyone who has started out on this journey: (don’t be disheartened though – you’ll find something!)
I have tried a few different types of natural deodorant products, and since this can’t be a proper blog post about natural products without a product review, I will do a quick review of my personal favs and tragedies (though read with the above #2 in mind).
- Natural mineral salt deodorants (the little guy in the above picture) are the devil. Don’t be charmed by their wee size and convincing claims. One is to dampen the top with water and apply. Yeah… doesn’t work for anyone.
- Green Beaver Lavender 50g (above in blue) I’m pretty sure made me smell worse than before I applied. However, I do love their other products, especially their toothpaste.
- Nature’s Gate (white bottle) 70g has worked really well for me. Of course, it doesn’t keep sweat at bay completely, but the ‘Spring Fresh’ scented one smells really lovely and has witch hazel, oak galls, myrrh, eucalyptus, and sage to kill odour causing bacteria (no staining).
- If you are just stepping into the natural deodorant door and are unsure, a good ‘first step’ product is The Body Shop’s Maca Root Deodorant for men (75g). I think it smells great, even if it’s for the guys, and it works well to reduce odour and sweat, but the ingredients could be a bit more natural (no staining).
- LUSH Aramaco deodorant bar. Let’s just say it smells fantastic but it ended up being used as a closet freshener.
- Finally, and what I go for the most these days (you’ll probably hear me rave about other amazing uses for this product in later blogs) is 100% natural cold pressed virgin COCONUT OIL, which can be found in most grocery stores (around $7 for 500ml, I use Grace brand). Apply a thin layer to dry armpits and you’re good to go! Though it doesn’t block sweat really, I’ve never had a smelly day (no staining)!
So there, my friends, is the skinny on the natural deodorant scene. I hope this has been a helpful introduction for you, and please post your deodorant journey experiences!